GEORGIOS Samaras delivered the biggest surprise of the week when the striker stated he did not wish to leave Celtic.
In a post-match BBC interview he said that it was neither Neil Lennon’s nor his own choice for him to leave Parkhead, suggesting the move had been enforced by Peter Lawwell.
“It was not the manager’s decision,” he said. “It was people from on high. I never had an offer from the club. I never had an offer from Peter Lawwell.
“I was full of respect for Celtic. I have not signed for any other club, I have not spoken to other clubs. I was waiting until the end to see if they made me an offer, but I think that’s the end.
“I cannot lie to the people. I had a chat with the manager. He would have loved me to stay at the club. But me and the gaffer, we don’t make the decisions — there are people above us who make the decisions and they never approached me.”
It was only the season before last that Samaras became the first player in Celtic’s illustrious history to score in five consecutive European games away from home. The Greek international’s understanding of what it means to play for Celtic is clear and to discount that mentality and experience next season is a grave error.
Meanwhile, Celtic look set to offer Kris Commons a new contract. The player picked up a well-deserved Scottish football writers’ player of the year award last week. However, domestic eulogies tend to have a shrivelling effect when tested in Europe, particularly in the group stages of the Champions League where his limitations become clear.
The loss of Gary Hooper, Victor Wanyama and Kelvin Wilson last summer neutered European hopes which were depleted further when captain Scott Brown was served with a three-match Champions League ban for his kick at Barcelona’s Neymar during a discouraging campaign.
When Celtic finished bottom of Group H in the Champions League it was in stark contrast to the season before where they entered the knock-out stages against Juventus. Despite the 3-0 defeat most fans were positive about the team’s overall performance as this was the most convincing European side in nearly a decade.
With Norwich’s relegation confirmed the return of Gary Hooper would be welcomed, his former Celtic teammate Kris Commons said: “In an ideal world I would like to get Hoops back. I had a very strong relationship with him on the park. He is one of the best players I have ever performed alongside.
“I don’t think it is totally unrealistic that we could get him back one day. It would be magic to have him in our side again. Look at the amount of goals he scored. In addition, his movement and link-up play were second to none.”
Celtic clearly lack a striker that defenders dread, what’s needed is a proven force who can settle in quickly. Lennon didn’t rule out the option of Hooper’s return: “I’d imagine the Hooper thing would rumble on but whether we could tempt him back or not I don’t know. ‘I don’t like talking about a player who’s under contract at another club. But we think very highly of Gary, put it that way.
Anthony Stokes is currently enjoying convincing form with his new strike partner Leigh Griffiths but it remains to be seen if the pair can replicate their success in Europe.
Both players have recently made headlines for behaviour off the park, but Lennon was philosophical when asked about it: “Sometimes I think these stories are blown way out of proportion. They are not bad boys and people try to make them out to be something that they are not.
“They are a bit loose sometimes but I like that in their personalities, as long as we can channel it in the right directions. I will wait and see what the police investigation brings for Leigh.”
Between now and the Champions League qualifiers Neil Lennon will aim to secure funds to sign a centre forward while recruiting a new No 2. Despite constant speculation it is hoped Virgil van Dijk and Fraser Forster will remain at the club, there’s no doubt the side is strengthening and the hopes are great for players such as Stephan Johansen who has become an automatic first choice in midfield after making an influential mark on the team since January.
Domestic games at Celtic Park now bear the stamp of a testimonial atmosphere, with that in mind it’s understandable that Lennon has made it clear Europe is the goal for next season.
When Lennon was asked about Balde, Boerrigter and Teemu Pukki this season, he agreed with many supporters when suggesting their time at Parkhead had been “disappointing”, before adding “Teemu has got better as the season has gone on.
“Amido will probably say that he hasn’t had enough game time. “Derk has been littered with injuries. They will maybe think that they haven’t had the opportunity but they must do better.”
Both Balde and Boerrigter were given starts against St Johnstone last week, despite excuses these players and others clearly lack what it takes to break into a top Celtic side, Peter Lawwell should consider what Samaras could do for the team next season before he allows him to exit Glasgow as a Celtic player for the last time.
Richard Purden is the author of We Are Celtic Supporters and Faithful Through and Through