Soccer Digest: Celtic manager Neil Lennon wants Anthony Stokes to step up


Celtic manager Neil Lennon has thrown down the gauntlet to Irish striker Anthony Stokes as he prepares for life in the Champions League without midfielder Victor Wanyama.

Stokes has yet to accept the offer of a new contract from the Scottish title holders, but Lennon believes the Ireland star will remain at Parkhead.

Wanyama is a different story altogether, with the manager irked by the behavior of his player’s agents as they attempt to complete a move to the Premier League and the likes of Cardiff City or Southampton.

Celtic are already back in pre-season training ahead of their Champions League opener against Irish League side Cliftonville, with Lennon keen to tie Stokes down to a long term deal.

Lennon said, “He rejected our initial offer but I would imagine we’ll come back again and get it done. I’d like to him to stay, so we’ll speak to his agent over the next week or so.

“It’s not that it’s taken longer than I thought.  He has to think about his future and is well within his rights to turn to down the offer. I never doubted his commitment, just the rascal in him.

“You don’t want to take the devil out of him, but it was affecting his performances on the field too.”
An ankle injury curtailed Stokes’ involvement as Celtic retained their title last season, but Lennon is convinced there is more to come from the Dubliner, on and off the field.

He added, “I think the injury, and sitting out of the Champions League games sort of sparked something in him. He worked really hard, came back and he was a little bit inconsistent at first which you understand after so long out but he towards the end of the season he was playing well.

“And he showed what a very, very good player he can be when he puts his mind to it. He’s naturally a very strong boy, having done all the tests.

“He’s come back in very good condition so he’s got a good 10 or 15 years in him, and if he puts his mind to it he can have a very good career.

“I’d like him to stay. His goal scoring record is good and in the cup final I thought he had his best game for us in a lot of aspects.

“His scoring record is good -- 20 plus in his first two seasons and then I think he got seven in 12 starts when he came back after January. He has goals in him and as you saw in the final there are other good aspects to his game. The penny should drop with him.

“What he has been is inconsistent. But if you can be consistent and put that together over a more concerted period of time, then I think we’ll have another good player on our hands.

“I think he’s coming to that age when he’s maturing and is physically getting stronger. He’s been around long enough to know what’s expected of him now and I think he’ll play more of a part in the bigger games.

“He’s always been a good trainer, so I’m hoping for a big season from him. He’s a great lad -- he just lets himself down. He has that self-destruct button at times but more and more he’s tending to shy away from it now. He’s still only 24, he’s not fully matured yet, but he is definitely intelligent enough to know.

“He has retracted to some of the stuff from last year as well, he knows he let himself and the club down. There have been other indiscretions but in the main his behavior was exemplary.”

Lennon has also defended Celtic against claims by Wanyama’s agents that they are railroading the Kenyan midfielder’s move to Southampton in the Premier League in England.

The Celtic boss said, “There is a bit of mud-slinging going on which we feel is unnecessary. We have done nothing wrong apart from accept a bid from a club for a player we value very highly.

“It is not up to us regarding a player’s negotiations, personal terms or the agent’s personal terms. We have simply done nothing wrong.

“I spoke to Victor last week. He was due to speak to his agent regarding the offer on the table. I’ve not had a chance to speak to him since then.

“But everyone knows that we did offer him a contract extension and we did offer him a pay rise, which was rejected. I think they have been pretty economical with the truth.

“We feel we have done our business in the proper manner. It’s a pity they have decided to go public and have not really told the whole story.

“I don’t even know if QPR made a bid last season. If they did, then it was nowhere near the valuation we have of Victor, so it never materialized.

“It is a bit of a stand-off at the minute and you hope that can be resolved in the next week or so. I would stress our relationship as a club with Victor is as good as ever. If the deal doesn’t go through, or no other offers come in, we’ll welcome him back with open arms.

“The policy over the last few years has been to bring younger players in, develop them and sell them on for decent money.