Enjoy it while it lasts: Hooper hits heights to prove his worth

WHAT exactly do you do with Gary Hooper?

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Sir Alex Ferguson watched on from the stand
Sir Alex Ferguson watched on from the stand

If you are a Celtic fan, it's simple – enjoy him, while you still can.

The striker's future is the hot topic, not only among fans, but among managers of clubs in the Barclays Premier League.

Norwich's Chris Hughton appears to be acting as the stalking horse. But the second offer from the Canaries – which Neil Lennon confirmed did not amount to £6million – does not sing with the Hoops.

Indeed, it has rattled their cage, and Lennon is incensed that their business is being done in public.

Likewise, the Parkhead boss is very unhappy details of the negotiations between the club and the in-demand striker's representatives have also made their way into every form of the media.

The timing of both revelations comes as no surprise to Lennon, who knows how the murkier side of this business works. However, he remains resolute that the club's hand will not be forced, nor their position altered.

What Lennon did elect to do was put the record straight, explaining that it was not a new or a final offer which Hooper had rejected, but the one which was made back in October.

He also confirmed it will be removed from the table on February 1, when the transfer window closes again until the summer.

And, on that day, Lennon is adamant Hooper – who has 18 months of his current deal to run – will still be a Celtic player.

In the meantime, Lennon will manage the situation to the best of his growing ability.

And while answering questions on Hooper's future is becoming more irritating by the day, he has to accept it is merely part of being manager at a club with good players.

Hooper certainly falls into that category, and he added another few pounds on to his value with another impressive performance and two goals in the 4-0 dismantling of Dundee United.

The good news for worried Cetic fans is that the manager continues to pick him and the player continues to give his all whenever he wears the green and white hoops.

Watching him do so this time was Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, though Victor Wanyama – imperious against Hearts on Saturday – was a more likely target for the Old Trafford manager.

Given all the build up pre-match, it was little surprise when Hooper opened the scoring after just 18 minutes. What was a surprise was that it came from a United corner.

The cross was cleared and should have been recycled, but Lassad Nouioui – in from the start following his scoring appearance as a substitute at

the weekend – advanced into enemy territory and ignored the obvious pass to the charging Hooper.

Instead, the Tunisian showed poise and intelligence to wait for Georgios Samaras to appear on the left. The pass to the Greek was crisp, and, in turn, Sami's first-time ball into Hooper was precise, allowing him to shoot below Radoslaw Cierzniak for his 21st strike of the campaign.

Truth be told, there could have been a handful of goals even that early in the open match, which started more like basketball than football.

Samaras and Hooper twice had missed the target from very good positions, while at the other end Gary Mackay-Steven and Willo Flood also shot just wide when neatly set up.

Lukasz Zaluska – again deputising for the injured Fraser Forster – was happy to witness their profligate finishing, but almost gifted his old club the opener when he blasted a clearance off Jon Daly only to see it spin wide after sailing back over his head.

All very entertaining for the fans, but not good for the heart of Lennon or his United counterpart, Peter Houston.

The Tannadice boss had even more cause to regret the spurned chances when Wanyama doubled Celtic's lead 11 minutes before the break.

Lassad had taken too long to get his shot off after latching onto a highly-intelligent fist-time pass from Hooper, allowing Gavin Gunning to get back and block.

Charlie Mulgrew played the corner all the way back to Mikael Lustig, and his looping cross to the back post gave the Kenyan the opportunity to find space and time to head low into the net.

Fergie must have been impressed.

Whether it was Celtic's defence tightening up or United's attack losing its edge, the game was over by the time the teams enjoyed their half-time cuppa.

The early threat posed by Johnny Russell and Mackay-Steven was blunted.

Indeed, the kid who famously called his skill masterclass at Kilmarnock at the weekend the GMS Juggle, was kept very quiet by Lustig.

So much so, GMS would have needed GPS to find his way back into the match, and was replaced by Rudi Skacel.

Hooper showed the kid how to showboat with purpose with Celtic's third goal 10 minutes from time, audaciously flicking another Samaras cross in at the near post.

To confirm his all-round prowess, Hooper then set up Scott Brown for Celtic's fourth four minutes later.

What had promised to be a test fizzled out long before then and Lennon's side sailed 12 points clear in the SPL.

Hearts had similarly failed to offer much resistance at the weekend.

Which is perhaps indicative of the way Scottish football is changing, and another reason – along with the money sure to be on offer – why even the lure of Champions League glory nights is not enough to prevent players like Hooper yearning for the road south.


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