It was instructive, then, to listen to Anthony Stokes yesterday and find out that players, too, can be exasperated by how some of their peers behave. Stokes used to play for Sunderland and at Lennoxtown yesterday he told a story which illustrated the excesses of which some modern players can be guilty. "When I was at Sunderland you had boys on £100,000-a-week," said Stokes. "There were incidents where boys wouldn't do gym or swimming sessions because they were getting braids put in their hair."
It was the sort of anecdote which, on the telling, deserves to be met with a few seconds of stunned silence. Stokes was discussing the matter to highlight an example of a squad infected by one or two bad influences, contrary to the one he is currently in at Celtic. This week he finally agreed a three-year contract to stay with the club after months of speculation that he might leave. In fact, neither player nor club ever sought a parting. Despite some disciplinary issues of his own, which tested Neil Lennon's patience at times, Stokes was always a valued part of the manager's plans.
One of the things that can pollute a squad is a big discrepancy in what players are being paid. If one or two earn two or three-times as much as the rest, it creates jealousy and resentment. The salary scale is narrow at Celtic so that problem does not exist. "Most of the boys are all on there or thereabouts [the same money]. There is no-one on massive, ridiculous money. There isn't that marquee player who is on 10 times everyone else. A 'marquee' signing can create tension. Thankfully everyone is quite level-headed and that helps us because we have that togetherness."
When he was asked what would happen at Celtic if a player refused to swim because he was braiding his hair, Stokes smiled and said: "I think the gaffer would have him out the door."
Clearly three years at Celtic has enabled Stokes to figure out how his manger's mind works, because Lennon soon confirmed his view was entirely accurate. "A player doing that wouldn't play for me again," said Lennon. "Either that or I'd get his braids cut off. I'm sure whoever it is Anthony is talking about was getting paid handsomely. For me that's breaking your contract, or not honouring it. There would have to be come retribution for that, some punishment. Players need to make sure they're out on the training ground doing what they're paid for."
Stokes's confirmation that one higher-paid individual can unwittingly disrupt a dressing room was an interesting insight into how clubs work. Usually the only reason for not signing a marquee name is seen as financial, but Lennon agreed that the situation is more nuanced than that. "I'm with Peter [Lawwell, Celtic's chief executive] on this. We don't want a big differential between players. There's no need for it. I don't like the idea of a player coming in on £35,000-£40,000-a-week when my best current player is on substantially less. That only creates upheaval and disharmony in the group.
"There can be a jealousy issue. There could be a player who comes in on £60,000 when the guy on £30,000 is playing better. Eventually that guy is going to knock on your door and say 'c'mon'. You have to be very careful and weigh these things up when you're signing players and giving in to their wage demands. We just don't do that."
Celtic had walked away from "loads" of potential deals because a target would not reduce his wage demands, he said. "If we have a player we really like, but he's asking for x-amount, we'll say 'sorry, go somewhere else, we're not prepared to do that'. It's a very difficult thing to balance at times. I think we do the right thing in terms of keeping the group together whilst paying the players a wage that keeps them happy here. For me footballers are overpaid for a start. I don't begrudge any player getting good money. But I think some players are overpaid."
Celtic are six points clear at the top of the SPFL Premiership going into this afternoon's home game against Dundee United. A long injury list is clearing in time for the game and next Wednesday's Ajax tie. Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest, Derk Boerriger, Emilo Izaguirre and Joe Ledley are available today while Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons are due to be ready in time for Amsterdam.