Neil Lennon's summer sweat over Celtic stars

THE predators are circling Celtic's Champions League heroes – but Neil Lennon believes they will not pounce until the summer.

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Celtic striker Gary Hooper is a target for English top flight clubs
Celtic striker Gary Hooper is a target for English top flight clubs

That's when the new £3billion TV deal will give English clubs even more cash with which to launch cross-border raids for the likes of Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper, Fraser Forster, Georgios Samaras and Mikael Lustig.

Everton, Arsenal and Sunderland were represented at Rugby Park on Saturday as Celtic crushed Killie 3-1 to move three points clear at the top of the SPL.

Lennon believes the ball is in Celtic's court with regards to anyone leaving, and warned any unwanted suitors: "They would have to pay a lot of money, and I don't know if these clubs have the money.

"They may have it next year with the new Sky deal coming in down south."

That's when even the bottom team in the Premiership will receive more than £60m per year as their share.

Lennon is delighted the rough diamonds he helped unearth are catching the eye of so many.

But he remains steadfast in his determination to protect Celtic's interests, and negotiations over extending the contracts of Hooper and Wanyama are continuing.

It is on the Champions League stage where clubs really judge Celtic's players, and in the recent Group G game in Lisbon scouts from a dozen clubs were confirmed in attendance, among them Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Everton, Juventus, Sampdoria, Werder Bremen, FC Hannover and Montpellier.

Lennon is confident he will still have all of his big hitters when the last 16 of the Champions League comes around in February.

However, he knows that at the end of the season it could be harder to repel predators.

"January, compared to the window in the summer, there is not a lot done," he explained.

"But we will be ready. I don't think anyone will want to go. They have put so much into it this season, and now they are reaping the benefits."

He added: "The only clubs I think that would entice them away are clubs who are still in the Champions League.

"And, for this season, our players are cup-tied, so there would be no point in doing that – unless it was one of THE clubs where I would say to a player, 'Look, I can't stand in your way of going there'.

"But we are a big club. We are financially flush at the minute, so we're in a position where we don't need to sell."

January could see some movement in the fringe player ranks, however, and Paddy McCourt – who is out of contract at the end of the season – is already being linked to a move to Crystal Palace, now managed by Ian Holloway, who tried to sign him for Blackpool when he was in charge there.

Finance

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