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Saturday 18 November 2017

All change as Lennon battles on in Stein's shadow

Ronnie Esplin

CELTIC manager Neil Lennon denies there has been a dilution of the Scottish identity which characterised Jock Stein's all-conquering time at the club during the 1960s and 70s.

There will be a minute's applause at Celtic Park ahead of the SPL game against Hearts to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of the club's legendary former boss, who died at Ninian Park in Cardiff, just after his Scotland side had drawn against Wales to qualify for the play-offs for the 1986 World Cup final.

Among myriad triumphs at Parkhead, Stein most famously won the European Cup in 1967 with a team of players born within a 30-mile radius of Celtic Park.

Lennon has only a handful of Scots in his squad and only one of the 11 players he signed in summer, Charlie Mulgrew, is Scottish. Yesterday came the news that he has invited 18-year-old Trinidad and Tobago star Shahdon Winchester on trial.

However, the Armagh man insists changing circumstances in football have dictated his signing policy.

He said: "I'm happy with the Scottish boys I've got. Shaun Maloney is playing very well, Scott Brown is playing very well, as is young James Forrest. They are talented players, allied to Mark Wilson who is a good professional and a consistent performer and Charlie Mulgrew can also be a consistent performer. So, I'm happy with the boys in the first team squad.

"But the game has gone global. There has been a big shift in the game even since I started playing in 1987.

"The doors opened in the mid-90s and you have to be aware of the financial ramifications and players, for whatever reasons, are cheaper when we look abroad in other markets.

Lennon accepts that Stein will forever be the benchmark for Celtic managers. The former skipper said: "He is the greatest manager in the club's history and one of the greatest managers in football history. He's an iconic fixture at the club and he is one that we all aspire to get even close to.

"If you look back at his record in the 1960s and 70s, it is nothing short of remarkable. It is right that the club should remember him."

Lennon hinted that recent signing Anthony Stokes could make his debut against Hearts.

"Anthony has been able to train with us all week," he said. "I have liked him for a while, even when he was at Falkirk. I like his style and I think his style will suit us. He has SPL experience, he's fit and he's ready to play and so he is in contention for a place."

Irish Independent

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