IT isn’t often that you hear club managers waxing lyrical about the benefits of international football, but as far as Neil Lennon is concerned, the recent break has been a massive help to his players.

Far from moaning about the knock-on effects of tiredness or injury, Lennon has come back to Celtic’s Lennoxtown training base to find his men bouncing back into training following the success of their countries over the last week or so.

The likes of Ryan Christie, James Forrest and Callum McGregor have come back revitalised following Scotland’s victories over Cyprus and Kazakhstan despite the heavy workload they have already shouldered so early in the season. And in fact, the international games have in fact helped a couple of his players in the shape of Nir Bitton and Greg Taylor get some much-needed game-time under their belts.

Taylor’s showings for Scotland in particular pleased Lennon, with Celtic supporters getting a glimpse of how effective a player he can be as he linked up with his club teammates to good effect for his country.


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“There’s too much negativity around players who want to go and play for their country,” Lennon said. “I have a group of Scottish lads who’ve come back buzzing after winning two games.

“Greg Taylor hasn’t been playing here but he’s now had two good international performances under his belt.

“Some people say they play too much football but the flip side of that is Greg and Nir Bitton, who haven’t had much game time, coming back into our group fully fit, match fit and happy.

“Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and James Forrest were also pleased with the round of games and three wins in a row will be good for them psychologically. You can cast aspersions on the quality of the opposition but that doesn’t matter – winning is vital and now they have the most important matches for years coming in March.

“I’m pleased with Greg full stop. I know he’s found it difficult not to be starting but he’s trained well and he’s a very good pro, so I’m delighted with how things went for him with Scotland.

“He has a good understanding with James, which comes from working with him every day – you can see Christie, McGregor and Forrest having that telepathy as well for the same reasons.

“We’ve got 11 games in this next block, so he’ll play. It’s not like he’s completely in the wilderness. We’ve had Bolingoli playing well, Hayes has come in and done well.

“Greg played against St Mirren. You could see he was a little bit short of match practice but, after these two games for Scotland, that should be him fully up to speed. So, he’s ready to be picked and play.

“It’s good for his confidence. Absolutely. He knows Clarke very well from his time [at Kilmarnock]. He’s taken the opportunity with Kieran (Tierney) and Andy Robertson not being there.


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“That’s another thing for Scotland’s to look forward to. You’ve got those two to come back. You’ve got (Scott) McTominay to come into that as well.

“The squad has already done reasonably well in the last few games. There’s going to be some world class players added to that as well which augers well.”

Lennon’s genuine interest in helping Scotland extends to him being happy to accept the cancellation of any Celtic fixtures in the lead-up to the nation’s Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Israel in March, though he concedes it may well be impossible to accommodate a break in such a packed schedule.

“It would’ve been good but it’s difficult,” he said. “Scotland have a real chance of qualifying for the first time in a long time and you’d like to think everyone will be pulling the same way and giving the national team all the help they can get. But cancelling fixtures seems a difficult thing to do.

“I know other countries do it, they seem to find ways. But with the congestion and the inclement weather, there might be a few postponements here and there as well. Hopefully we’ll still be in the Europa League at that stage as well.”

One man in Celtic’s squad who could maybe do with a little respite now and again is striker Odsonne Edouard, with Lennon leaning heavily on the Frenchman as Leigh Griffiths and Vakoun Issouf Bayo have spent time on the sidelines.


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With Griffiths back in the squad for the visit of Livingston to Celtic Park today though, there may be scope for Edouard to at least be brought off in games if his side are comfortably ahead, not that Lennon feels he necessarily needs too much of a rest.

“I was thinking about that the other day, when you look at all the great players, they all play in all the games,” Lennon said.

“They all go away with their countries but play with their clubs. Messi was away in Saudi Arabia with Argentina but comes back to play for Barcelona.

“Firmino, Mane, Salah…they played Champions League, Premier League and internationals.

“Listen, eventually we will want to give him a break when we feel it’s necessary for him but at the moment there’s no need to do that.

“We know he’s one injury away, but everyone is whether that be in training or in games.

“He’s in brilliant form so he’s playing. He’s never given me any inclination that he wants a rest. He just keeps going.”