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Lawwell: we'll be even stronger

Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, has predicted that Rangers will return as a major force in Scottish football but insisted that his own club planned always to remain one step ahead.

Peter Lawwell is hopeful that managing Celtic will continue to stimulate Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS
Peter Lawwell is hopeful that managing Celtic will continue to stimulate Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS

Lawwell reflected on Celtic's latest league championship victory, their 45th in total and third in a row, by saying it was inevitable that richer clubs might be interested in talented figures such as Neil Lennon, Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk. So far, though, there have been no approaches made for their manager, goalkeeper or centre-half.

On the day that Rangers posted losses of £3.5m over the last six months of 2013, and revealed staff costs of £7.5m while still in SPFL League 1, Lawwell nevertheless acknowledged the Ibrox club's "fundamentals", namely its huge fanbase, and said that they would return as a challenger in the top flight eventually. When asked if they could again be as strong as Celtic, he replied: "We would plan not."

Two of Celtic's three consecutive championships have been won while their great rivals were in the Scottish Third Division last season and then, after restructuring, the SPFL League 1 in this campaign. That has led some to disparage the achievement but Lawwell insisted winning this season's title, which was clinched on Wednesday when they moved on to 84 points, was as sweet as any triumph secured when Rangers were in the division.

"If you ask Neil Lennon, ask the players, they all want to win," he said in an interview on BBC Radio Scotland. "You can only beat what's in front of you. The other night we saw Bayern Munich win the Bundesliga, one of the greatest leagues in the world, with seven games to go. They have the same satisfaction that the Celtic players are having. To make it three in a row, to keep the run going, and to get us back in the Champions League, is fantastic."

Lawwell was asked whether he expected Lennon, van Dijk and Forster to stay on at Celtic Park. "I hope so. I think one of the consequences of being successful as a club and as a manager is that people notice and ultimately they might court you," he said.

"There has been nothing, no approaches for Neil as yet. He's a great young manager but Celtic is a big part of Neil Lennon as much as Neil Lennon is a big part of Celtic. I am hopeful that Celtic can provide for his ambitions and aspirations as a young manager.

"I haven't spoken with him about it. I think if there was something there that was of interest then we probably would, but at the moment we are getting on [with things]. The focus was all about winning the league. Thankfully we've now done that and we start planning for the future and the summer and the Champions League qualifiers.

"There has been no interest [shown in van Dijk or Forster], no call for any of our players at the moment. I think they are outstanding players. Hopefully Fraser will go to the World Cup with England. Virgil van Dijk has been here for less than a year and he has been an amazing success. We don't have to sell them. Then again, these players hopefully can find what they need and what they want at Celtic. Who knows? Maybe we will get some interest over the transfer window but we don't need to sell. I hope we can meet the career needs for these guys."

Lawwell again expressed his ­frustration over Celtic's limited broadcasting income, compared to the vast riches which pour into all clubs in the Barclays Premier League in England. Celtic's attendances are down this season and a section of the support has turned its back on a championship in which they are currently 26 points ahead and are missing the cut-and-thrust of a challenge from Rangers.

"In context we still have the third highest [number of] season-book holders in the UK," said Lawwell. "Man United, Arsenal and Celtic. And in terms of the average paid attendance - people who pay to come to watch the match - I think we are third or fourth in the UK.

"So that is the context and the fundamentals. But clearly you can see from our support empty seats and maybe people even paying for the games and not turning up. I guess that is an issue and it's an issue based on meaningful games. We need to find a solution here and have more meaningful games within the Scottish game, that allows competition to thrive and people to come out and be interested."

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