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Top of the league, but another summit looms

THE summit meeting will not lack for an agenda.

Celtic players celebrate their league win -- but how many will be playing for the club next season? Picture: Stewart Attwood
Celtic players celebrate their league win -- but how many will be playing for the club next season? Picture: Stewart Attwood

When Peter Lawwell, chief executive of Celtic, sits down with manager Neil Lennon, his assistants and the scouting staff to discuss the squad for next season, there is scope for an extended session.

Lawwell talked of the campaign ahead after Celtic won the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title on Saturday, noting "there will be one or two coming in and one or two going out". This makes the close season sound routine but it will be far from that, and Lawwell's work on team matters has started. Jaroslaw Fojut, the 24-year-old Polish centre-back, has signed a pre-contract agreement but the quality and quantity of further reinforcements depends on by how much a large squad is trimmed and by the prices attracted for the "one or two going out".

Any departures will not cause a schism between Lennon and Lawwell. The chief executive has spoken of how the manager has "bought into" the philosophy of trying to build while selling on. The high-profile sales may be Gary Hooper, the English striker, and Ki Sung-Yueng, the Korean midfielder. Hooper has been courted by Southampton with a £6m bid and their imminent ascent into the Barclays Premier League will not make them less keen to attract a striker. Ki has been the subject of inquiries from England and these will be renewed in the summer. The total cost of both players was about £4m and Celtic will be looking for treble that sum to allow both to leave. This is a realistic expectation.

The other departures could include Paddy McCourt. The Northern Irishman has become increasingly frustrated at his lack of opportunities at the club and he could be headed to the Championship where Ian Holloway of Blackpool has been a constant admirer. McCourt's farewell from Celtic will be met from some wailing by the traditionalists in the support who delight in his occasional cameos. Kris Commons, too, has become a peripheral figure after a sensational start to his life at Celtic. The Championship also beckons for the Scottish internationalist.

Defenders Daniel Majstorovic and Glenn Loovens may be in the sunset of Celtic careers. Mark Wilson, cursed by injuries to his knees, will have to venture elsewhere for regular football. Efrain Juarez, who faded after a bright start, will be off-loaded, as will Morten Rasmussen, who has amassed all of 13 games since signing in December 2009. He has, of course, spent a considerable time on loan and this is another area where the summit talks will have ample subject for discussion.

There are eight players with other clubs, including Daryl Murphy, a £1m signing from Sunderland. The Irish striker seems resigned to leaving, and all that remains is a deal suiting both parties. Darren O'Dea, on loan at Leeds United, is unlikely to again play in Glasgow and Josh Thompson, at Chesterfield, and Niall McGinn at Brentford are fringe players at best and will leave if deals can be done.

Lennon's recruitment priority will be a striker and another central defender. The likely departure of Hooper leaves Celtic with Anthony Stokes, Georgios Samaras and Mo Bangura as front-two candidates. The Sierra Leone striker has not impressed and has been hampered by injury but he came to Celtic on the back of high recommendations and many inside the club still have faith in his ability to produce.

Pawel Brozek, the striker on loan from Trabzonspor, has twice come on as a substitute and needs to make his case quickly before the season ends. With the league wrapped up, there is an opportunity for the 28-year-old Pole to feature in the remaining fixtures but Lennon will be assessing other strikers with his scouting staff.

Lennon's main task in the interim is to secure the services of Fraser Forster, the 24-year-old goalkeeper, signed from Newcastle United. A £2m fee has been agreed but personal terms are still a matter for discussion. Lukasz Zaluska, the Polish custodian, has been tied up on a long-term contract but Lennon has always stated that Forster was and is his unequivocal No.1.

The club has, however, secured a strong foundation in the team. Talks are starting with Thomas Rogne, the Norwegian defender, over a contract extension while Scott Brown, Emilio Izaguirre, Charlie Mulgrew, Joe Ledley and, most importantly, James Forrest are committed in the short term. Harassed chief executives will attest there is no long term when it comes to players' futures.

Lennon, too, may consider he has another signing already under wraps at Parkhead. Biram Kayal's season has been severely compromised by injury but the Israeli has the capacity to be a major force for Celtic.

Like all managers, Lennon will be stressing to his employers the need to strengthen. He may have to accept a hit on the quantity of players at Lennoxtown while seeking an increase in the quality.

Replacing big-name departures will be a major trial. Lennon can afford to lose a midfielder without too much angst but if Hooper goes there will be a significant gap in technique and goalscoring in the front line. To fill that shortfall takes significant cash. This discussion may be the most animated of the summit.

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