WHEN Neil Lennon was told of Olivier Ntcham’s ill-judged comments in the French press about wanting to leave Celtic in the summer, you would have got long odds on the midfielder ever pulling on the hoops again, never mind the armband.

Tonight, here in Romania though, he will do just that, completing a remarkable turnaround in terms of his attitude and in his place in his manager’s favours since returning to the club.

Ntcham’s footballing ability cannot be questioned, and while getting regular game-time has been difficult for him so far this term, he proved his worth to the squad and then some with his dazzling and decisive cameo against Lazio in Rome last month.

It is perhaps fitting then that the 23-year-old will be the team’s leader as they round off that successful Europa League campaign, and Lennon has no doubts whatsoever that he is the right man for the job.

“Olivier Ntcham will be captain,” said Lennon. “I’m really pleased with his attitude and the way he’s training.

“He was unfortunate not to get game time on Sunday and I’m delighted with what he’s doing around the place. I want him to take that responsibility [on Thursday] night so he will be captain.

“He said some things [in the summer] that he probably meant at the time but maybe some of it was taken out of context. We had a chat about it at the start of the season and he parked it and since then he has been absolutely terrific, so I have no qualms about making him captain.

“It’s nice to give someone different that responsibility and we’ll see if he can thrive on it.

“I think he has the personality and he certainly has the respect of his team-mates to do that.”

Ntcham’s opportunity to lead the team of course comes from Lennon taking advantage of Celtic’s early qualification for the last 32 of the competition in order to rest some weary legs. Club captain Scott Brown didn’t travel with the squad, and neither did Fraser Forster, Callum McGregor, Tom Rogic, Ryan Christie nor Odsonne Edouard.

The decision to leave out some of his key regulars was a no-brainer for Lennon, borne of a necessity to protect those players as much as it was from a desire to see some of his fringe men in action.

“I can’t run the risk of injury in a game where there’s really nothing riding on it, with the five league games still to go before the break,” he said.

“The league is the priority for us. We have 12 wins in a row but we’ve picked up a lot of injuries along the way and I need to protect some of the players who have played a high volume of games, and I need to get some of them up to speed as well for these games coming up.

“It’s a nice luxury to have, having already qualified, but we still have a strong team and a strong squad with us and it’s an opportunity for some of the younger ones to get that experience as well.

“A few will play tomorrow who haven’t played for a while, a few are coming back from injury and who need the games, and it’s important for me as a manager to balance that off.

"A few of them need a rest as well. I could have done without the game, but we’ve got the game, so for the guys who haven’t played that much it’s great for them and they’ll get a really tough 90 minutes, a good work out. We’re coming here to be competitive and to get something out of the game.

“What I’m looking for are the guys to work and get that feel of playing in a big game again and get the rustiness out of them. They will be part of the squad going forward.”

Among those who will get a chance to impress may well be some of the younger members of the Celtic squad, with the likes of 18-year-old midfielder Scott Robertson and 16-year-old Karamoko Dembele in contention.

“Even if the game’s not going so well I might pitch them in anyway just to give them that experience and give them a taste of it,” said Lennon.

“I’m pleased with the progress both those kids are making. They don’t often get the chance to be around it, so I’m pleased they have this opportunity. I might even start one or two of them.

“I’m looking forward to it because there is no pressure on it and I’m looking forward to seeing some of them play. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the younger ones around this environment.”