Don't get your Hoops up: Lenny insists striker is for keeps

CELTIC are refusing to blink in the game of poker over Gary Hooper – and Neil Lennon reckons they are in a win-win situation.

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Lennon believes Hooper is in the best form of his career
Lennon believes Hooper is in the best form of his career

The Hoops striker hit another two goals in last night's 4-0 rout of Dundee United, confirming to his boss that their goal-den Bhoy is bringing even more to the table as the speculation over his future grows. The double – taking his tally to 22 for the season – came in front of a crowd which included Sir Alex Ferguson.

And it arrived just hours after Lennon confirmed Hooper had rejected Celtic's contract offer, and that the club had, in turn, knocked back Norwich's second bid for the striker.

This "improved" offer was only slightly up on the £5million the Canaries put on the table last week, and still well short of the Parkhead side's valuation.

Lennon said: "An offer came in for Gary. It was not much more than the original offer, and it is nowhere near our valuation of the player. The contract offer we have made Gary has been there since October.

"It was rejected then, and nothing has changed in that respect. So, it is as we were."

Just over a week before the transfer window closes, the leaking of news of the second offer from Norwich and the rejection by Hooper of a new, longer contract, comes as no surprise to Lennon.

He said: "It is natural. It's people trying to unsettle the player, people trying to get him moved.

"But he has 18 months of his contract to go. We're happy with him, and he is happy to be here.

"His ambitions are eventually to move on. But, for the short term, he will be here."

Lennon confirmed he's had that conversation with Hooper, and is pleased by the response from the ambitious Englishman.

"You can see the way he is playing, he's at the very top of his game," said the manager.

"I think he's playing better than he has ever played.

"Probably since the beginning of December, Gary has really hit top form. It's not just his goals. His all-round game is fantastic. His vision, awareness, hold up play.

"I think he is one of the best around now.

"It would take a huge offer (to make us sell him), and, even then, we still don't want to sell.

"We want Gary here until at least the summer, and the offer is still there."

That will change on February 1, when Celtic will withdraw the improved terms, which would push Hooper up among the top three earners at Parkhead.

Before then, however, Norwich are expected to make another bid to land him, and Lennon said: "The club (Norwich) may come again. I don't know."

Asked if the offers from Chris Hughton's side may smoke out other suitors, Lennon answered: "It usually does.

"But we are not entertaining them, and I can't emphasise that enough.

"To be honest, I am putting this to bed and won't be answering any more questions on this unless something changes."

Sport

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