Lennon's quest for a compromise key for links of Canaries and Co to fly

IT'S A true measure of where Celtic are, in terms of facing competition in their quest for a third title in a row, that the future of Neil Lennon was more engrossing for fans than what was unfolding in front of them when Motherwell came to town.

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Celtic midfielder Kris Commons converted from the spot and open play to take his league tally to 14
Celtic midfielder Kris Commons converted from the spot and open play to take his league tally to 14

That, and who would be walking in - or out - of the door before the transfer window closes.

The fact a side who had put together six straight wins and were looking to set a new club record for consecutive victories in the league was swatted aside 3-0 seemed to merit nothing more than a footnote appended alongside Celtic taking their clean sheet record to nine-in-a-row and unbeaten run in the league to 21.

That Kris Commons had banged in another two goals to take his tally for the season to 19 was discussed, but only in a see-he's-done-it-again sort of way.

With old Bhoy Stephen McManus putting through his own goal, and Anthony Stokes becoming the first Celtic player to pick up a red card in the league this season for a foul on Keith Lasley - which smacked of old scores being settled - the paperwork was complete.

But, still the main core of conversation was what is happening behind the scenes, not out on the pitch.

Lennon's link to Norwich, where Chris Hughton enjoyed a stay of execution thanks to the Canaries' 1-0 win over Hull, should indeed be of concern to the Celtic support.

They must be able to see the domestic challenge - such as it is currently is - is not guaranteed to satisfy the hunger which burns within Lennon.

With second-placed Aberdeen losing at home to Inverness, the Hoops are now 13 points clear with two games in hand.

Technically, they need to win a maximum 12 of their remaining 17 games to be crowned champions again.

But the coronation will come much, much sooner than that.

Will making it three-in-a-row float Lennon's boat, even if they do become the first Hoops side in over a century to become champions without losing a game?

Would back-to-back domestic doubles sate his thirst for continuous improvement and development?

Approaching his fourth anniversary of becoming manager, it's very difficult to be sure because, in reality, the only way Lennon is really going to be measured is by what he achieves outwith the confines of the Scottish game.

That can be with his team in Europe, or as a manager of a club beyond these borders.

The Celtic board and support must hope he is focusing on the former, even if, as Norwich shows, opportunities will arise to offer him the chance to make it the latter.

To ensure he is not open to temptation to look elsewhere, a compromise must be reached in terms of recruiting the quality Lennon believes is required to be competitive in Europe and bringing in the men who will not make the club vulnerable to more than losing their boss.

No one - least of all Lennon - expects or, indeed, wants Celtic to go into debt to make available the amount of money it would take to allow them to compete in the market with the big hitters in England and on the Continent.

That would be preposterous and negligent.

However, having stated this is going to be their main window for business this year as they look to lay the foundations for a successful Champions League qualifying campaign, a lot more is going to have to be spent than the £2million put down to sign Stefan Johansen and Holmbert Fridjonsson.

The window is 11 days from closing, and seeds which have been sown must now bear fruit to deliver the bounty Lennon has made it clear he needs.

The worst-case scenario would be a February 1 post-mortem, dissecting tales of 'tried hard, but couldn't get them over the line'.

Transer activity is being played out against the backdrop of Georgios Samaras and Joe Ledley remaining free to sign pre-contract agreements with other clubs.

That game of poker has gone on too long for Celtic's good, as they need to know if these are players who will require to be replaced, or if significant wages are now available to be used to bring in fresh faces.

Caught in the middle of all of this is Lennon, who is continuing to keep his own counsel over what the level of investment should be, but is subtly cranking up the pressure by insisting the club can still afford to buy at the £6m sales counter.

The next couple of weeks are going to be very interesting for everyone looking in, and the focus is going to move even more and more away from the pitch to the transfer market.

Ironically, the more dominant his current team are in the league - the gateway to the millions from the Champions League -from an accountants' point of view, the more undermined is the case for bringing in more quality.

No matter what Celtic do in the market - bar becoming the next plaything of an oligarch or fabulously-wealthy sheikh - they are not going to win the Champions League.

However, the fright given to them just six months ago by Shakhter Karagandy in their play-off for the group stage must not be forgotten.

It certainly has not been by Lennon, who did not hide how exposed he felt he had been left going into those games.

He is right to insist that, with the £50m accrued through two Champions League qualifications and the sale of star players, he is fully supported in his determination to reinvest in genuine quality and not just raw talent.

If not, other chairmen and club owners will join Celtic fans in taking a very keen interest in what happens next.


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