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'He can turn into a very, very good acquisition for Celtic . . .'

THE sentence was brief.

Celtic have decided that their main transfer target is the former Hibernian striker Leigh Griffiths. Picture: SNS
Celtic have decided that their main transfer target is the former Hibernian striker Leigh Griffiths. Picture: SNS

The message, though, was conveyed fully. Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, was asked about the social media reaction to the possible signing of Leigh Griffiths, the Wolverhampton Wanderers forward.

Twitter, apparently, is all a twitter with Celtic fans protesting that the forward is not of the required quality. "I will be the judge of that," said Lennon in a tone as icy and solid as Siberian permafrost.

The proposed move of the 23-year-old from the Black Country to Glasgow has a number of hurdles to negotiate but scepticism from the Celtic manager is not one of them.

He has been monitoring the form of the Scottish internationalist for 18 months and has been impressed by what he has seen.

Lennon has to look at potential rather than certainty. He was brisk in his assessment that Griffiths was "maybe not" of the quality needed at the very highest level. This may disturb some Celtic fans but not those in the realist tendency.

Lennon has admitted Celtic could pay £6m for a striker but Griffiths is not in that bracket and this does not excite some supporters, who pine for the marquee signing.

But, firstly, marquee signings come in at more than £6m and, secondly, they are not guaranteed to score in the Champions League.

Gary Hooper, whose reputation soars every day he is estranged from Celtic Park, only scored two goals in the Champions League group stages in his career at Parkhead where he became almost a £6m player after arriving at the club as one of the £2m variety.

Lennon, then, has to look at the form of Griffiths and take a punt. He saw talent in Hooper that escaped other managers who were left to rue their reluctance to buy the striker from Scunthorpe United. Can Griffiths prove another bargain buy at considerably less than the £2.4m it took to acquire Hooper from his previous club?

"I think he can do a job for Celtic," said Lennon. "And speaking to a lot of people in the game whose opinion I trust, they are in agreement as well. He is not a £10m player.

"But I think he can turn into a very, very good acquisition for us and I do think he will bring goals to the club.

"I thought he was quite an exciting player to watch last year. When you have got it you don't lose it, and we just have to nurture him on and I think he will get better.

"He is quick, his movement has always been very good, and he is a very good finisher with both feet and he scores different varieties of goals. He scores from different angles as well. There is very little back lift, a bit like [Kris] Commons when he hits the ball.

"He hits it with real accuracy and good power as well. Whenever we played Hibs you were always looking at him as a threat."

At 23, Lennon views Griffiths as a prospect that can both be mined and polished. He is also aware that the striker scores a goal roughly once every two games whether he is playing at Livingston, Dundee, Hibernian or Wolverhampton Wanderers.

There is, of course, the character question. Griffiths has a somewhat colourful history that marks him as a player who may need managed closely and with some dexterity.

Lennon has few fears on this count. "If you look at his demeanour on the pitch then he is very hard-working and he is not a sulker.

"He never throws his hands in the air and is always on the move. He has matured into a very good player.

But what about the controversies in his private life?

"I know he has baggage off the field but we all did," said Lennon. "You can manage that. If he comes here then he is here for the football and not the controversy. You have to treat every individual on their own merits. It is not a concern, not at all."

The bargaining for Griffiths will continue but Lennon's comments suggested that he was hopeful of acquiring the striker and optimistic about improving him as a player.

It may surprise some in the Celtic support, but the forward fits snugly into the club model.

He is young, he has talent, he can be improved and he could be sold on at a higher value.

Of course, he may not be of Champions League group stage quality - yet - but the realists among the fanbase will surely contend that may not be his immediate purpose.

If Griffiths signs, his most important task will be to score the goals in July and August that will take Celtic from the qualifiers of the Champions League into the land of milk and honey - and the television revenue - of the competition proper.

There are no racing certainties but Griffiths is more than a decent bet to succeed on that account.

n Neil Lennon was speaking at a news conference to announce the Ireland Fund of Great Britain has invested £45,000 over a three-year period to deliver community projects through a partnership with Celtic FC Foundation and North Lanarkshire Leisure. Each geographical area has targets and within North Lanarkshire poor health, diet and lack of exercise have been identified as the key issues.

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