Monday 22 January 2018

Stokes rejects new deal at Celtic

Celtic's Anthony Stokes fights for the ball with Jordon Foster of Hibernian Photo: PA
Celtic's Anthony Stokes fights for the ball with Jordon Foster of Hibernian Photo: PA

OUT-OF-CONTRACT Celtic striker Anthony Stokes has rejected the offer of a new deal with the Clydesdale Bank Premier League champions.

 

The 24-year-old Irishman endured a season of frustration as an ankle injury kept him on the sidelines for four and a half months while his team-mates made a major impact in the Champions League.

 

But the former Falkirk, Sunderland and Hibernian frontman returned to fitness in time to score the winning goal in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United, while he put in a man-of-the-match display against his old Leith side in the final.

 

Boss Neil Lennon, however, faces losing the player after he turned down a new deal.

 

But the Hoops manager said: "We have already made him an offer - he has knocked that back, but negotiations will be ongoing.

 

"We really saw the best of him towards the end of the season. He looks physically in the best shape he has been in.

 

"He was such a pivotal player for us towards the end of the season, and his cup final performance was absolutely fantastic.

 

"The opportunity is there for him to go and make a good career for himself. He is very important to me."

 

Meanwhile, Lennon has admitted he still has a lot to learn as he prepares for a fresh assault on the Champions League.

 

The 41-year-old guided the Bhoys to the last 16 of last year's competition with a glorious run which included a famous victory over Barcelona.

 

However, as he starts the process of reinforcing his side to do battle on the domestic and European fronts once again, he knows there are important lessons ahead for him.

 

Lennon said: "You never stop learning. You could speak to Sir Alex [Ferguson] tomorrow and he would say, 'Did I learn it all? Probably not'.

 

"You all make mistakes - even guys who have been in the game for 20-odd years make mistakes, so you never stop learning.

 

"I have plenty to learn - whether I do it at Celtic or I do it elsewhere, who knows?"

 

Whether Lennon's future lies away from Parkhead remains a topic for debate with the former Northern Ireland international having been linked with the vacant post at Everton, where Roberto Martinez is expected to be installed.

 

However, while he admits the rumours are flattering, he insists he has had no offers to ply his trade elsewhere and is perfectly happy where he is.

 

Lennon said: "I have had no offers. It's just speculation. It's nice to be linked with these things, but you take it all with a pinch of salt. It's just rumour, speculation.

 

"I love what I do. The size of Celtic sometimes gets underestimated, not by people here, but by people elsewhere.

 

"You saw Celtic in all it's glory last season with the Champions League run that we had and the supporters, the way they behave impeccably, not just at home but away from home as well. They turned the games into a carnival atmosphere.

 

"The players we have got, we have got a very good young side who have performed very, very well at a high level, and it augurs well for the future."

 

Lennon may yet have to fight to hang on to some of those players with Victor Wanyama and striker Gary Hooper apparently in demand.

 

However, the manager is determined to hang on to both men and to bolster what he already has.

 

Asked if Wanyama would still be a Celtic player in August, he said: "I certainly hope so.

 

"There's a lot of speculation surrounding Victor at the minute, but that's all it is, it's just speculation."

 

His answer when asked further about Hooper, was in similar vein.

 

He said: "Nothing, it's as you were. That's all it is, speculation. There are no offers in and one of my priorities will be to try to keep Gary at the club.

 

"There have been no approaches for any of our players at the minute.

 

"It is what it is, the speculation, but we get that a lot. It's a back-handed compliment to what we have done with the players over the last two or three years that we have got so many young prized assets in the squad now."

 

Lennon will look to land his own targets as quickly as possible, and is hoping last season's success in Europe will give him greater pulling power.

 

He said: "What we achieved last year, with it being broadcast throughout Europe, they see Celtic now as a viable club, whereas maybe a couple of years ago, we might have been in the doldrums in terms of European nature.

 

"But our strategy will always be the same, we will try to find young, talented players, develop them and eventually if the money is right, we will move them on."

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