Celtic, despite the Champions League exit, have started this season in dominant fashion, the 1-1 draw against Hibernian on Saturday being the only blemish on an otherwise perfect start to the 2019/20 season.
The Hoops started with a strong line up against Hibs having rested most of the first choice XI against Partick Thistle in midweek but after the game – in an almost throw away comment – Neil Lennon mentioned that Head of Recruitment, Nick Hammond was working “feverishly” behind the scenes on potential targets via The Daily Express.
The statement raised a few questions as to where the Parkhead side were looking to strengthen but the fact that five players will be out of contract next summer is the key issue in their recruitment drive as reported in The Daily Express.
Craig Gordon, Nir Bitton, Scott Sinclair, Jonny Hayes and Calvin Miller are all able to speak to other clubs from January and, as yet, have not been offered new contracts.
Gordon is now clear understudy to Fraser Forster and Scott Bain and may want a return to first-team football, Bitton had been playing regularly at the start of this season but is not a first pick and didn’t even make the squad on Saturday. Hayes is a versatile player and may be offered a new deal on this basis alone but with Celtic stronger at left-back he is no longer needed to provide cover there. Miller is yet to make the breakthrough at Parkhead but the club may take up the option of retaining him for another year.
The biggest question mark remains over Scott Sinclair. He has returned to the Celtic squad following an unsettled summer where he was the subject of interest from Preston amongst others and will looking to make an impact over the next few months. He would offer greater balance on Celtic’s left hand side of attack and has a proven track record. His contract was extended last summer, cynically some would say, so that Celtic could get a transfer fee for him but he remains at the club. As a high earner it is unlikely he will be offered a new deal but his situation will be one to watch.
So, Lennon’s remarks raised more questions than they answered, it’s unlikely that the board will feel that he should be backed again given the significant outlay in the summer, particularly on the defence. Dealing with the players that are out of contract and then identifying potential replacements for Olivier Ntcham and Odsonne Edouard, who were both close to leaving in the summer, will be key to Celtic maintaining their impregnable grip on Scottish football.
Hammond has his work cut out but now is the time for him to earn his money.