NEIL Lennon expects Norwich City to make an improved offer for Gary Hooper in the next few days and is bracing himself for bigger clubs to join the bidding war for the player before the transfer window closes.
The Celtic manager spoke with Hooper and his representatives on Friday night to clarify the club's position after a £5 million bid from the East Anglian club was rejected.
The 24-year-old, who moved on to 20 goals for the season with two strikes against Hearts yesterday, has 18 months left on his current contract, and has yet to agree any extension with the club.
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Lennon is clearly desperate to keep the player ahead of the Champions League last-16 meeting with Juventus next month. But Liverpool, Newcastle United and Sunderland are all thought to be admirers and Lennon yesterday admitted his hand may be forced should serious money come in for the player in the next 11 days.
"I have made it clear, Peter [Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive] has made it clear and the board made it clear yesterday that we are not selling him," said Lennon of Hooper, who cost £2.4m when he arrived from Scunthorpe in the summer of 2010. "We don't want to, particularly at this juncture. However, everyone has their price. What Gary's price is will be down to myself and the board to decide if a club comes up with that figure. What we were offered on Thursday was nowhere near our valuation. I am hearing they might come again, but good luck to them on that.
"I don't have a set figure in mind. However, goalscorers are at a premium and Gary's a goalscorer. We'll set the bar pretty high for him. I am not going to stop any of the players' progress because I wouldn't have wanted that done to myself. However, I have to do what Peter and I think is in the club's best interests and in the short-term future anyway it is keeping Gary Hooper here. The last week [of the transfer window] gets pretty heavy. It's always a difficult time to acquire players, but I am sure he is on the radar of plenty of clubs, it is just Norwich have come in first."
l Celtic v Hearts, Page 4