Celtic: European signing dilemma for Neil Lennon

Tony Watt impressed Neil Lennon with his two goals against Inverness Caley Thistle
Tony Watt impressed Neil Lennon with his two goals against Inverness Caley Thistle

Neil Lennon has expressed his intent to strengthen his squad before the end of the transfer window, with European football already guaranteed and Champions League participation a real likelihood.

But the Celtic manager may well have been given genuine food for thought about where he needs to strengthen - or, indeed, the need to strengthen at all - by the hungry performances against Inverness Caley Thistle of Filip Twardzik and, particularly, Tony Watt.

Now, the defences Celtic come up against in Europe are likely to prove significantly more difficult to unlock than Caley Thistle's.

However, Watt's instinctive finishing, great pace and his willingness to forage for opportunities makes him a serious option for Lennon, if not in the European arena, then at the very least as a more than competent leader-of-the-line when the manager has to shuffle his pack for domestic games.

Neil Lennon is looking for a defensive partner for Charlie Mulgrew
Neil Lennon is looking for a defensive partner for Charlie Mulgrew

Furthermore, buying a striker with those attributes and who is perhaps a more proven performer at senior level than Watt would cost Celtic serious money that might be better spent strengthening other areas of the team.

So, for argument's sake, let's say the Celtic board sanction a spend of £5m, if and when Champions League football is secured on Wednesday. Which area of his team could Lennon measurably improve with the addition of a couple of players at between £2-3m each?

The Celtic boss has chopped and changed his central defence for most of his time in charge, but Charlie Mulgrew is perhaps the only player who has established himself as a first-pick there.

Thomas Rogne is probably the closest Lennon has to a regular partner for Mulgrew, with Kelvin Wilson still to convince.

But, again, bringing in a player who could be guaranteed to improve that position for the kind of money Celtic could feasibly spend is nigh on impossible.

Do they go for a young player with potential, who might be sold on, a la Ki Sung-Yeung, in future years?

That is obviously a gamble, but an established player who could genuinely enhance Celtic's chances of progressing in Europe - for they do not need to buy to be fairly certain of domestic success - will be extremely difficult.

That, however, is the challenge for Lennon and Celtic's scouting network.

Ki has been transferred to Swansea City for a fee of nearly £6m
Ki has been transferred to Swansea City for a fee of nearly £6m

Can they unearth another Victor Wanyama, a Ki or a Gary Hooper?

Beyond centre-half then, where else could be improved?

Let's take striker out of the equation for the reasons given above.

Celtic are pretty well-served in central midfield when everyone is fit, despite the departure of Ki, with Wanyama, Beram Kayal, Scott Brown and Joe Ledley.

Perhaps, then, another wide player or advanced midfielder is what Celtic need.

If James Forrest reproduces his form from the first-half of last season, he will surely be a starter on big European nights.

Kris Commons looks to have started the season in something like his best form and the fact he can play either wide or off the main striker gives Lennon good options.

Georgios Samaras, too, seems to relish the big occasions and his ability to play wide or as a central striker is another bonus for Lennon.

However, Paddy McCourt remains an enigma and is not likely to be given a starting berth in Europe, so a more reliable creative player could be the difference between finishing bottom of the Champions League group and either third, to move into the Europa League, or the mouthwatering prospect of progress to the knockout stage.

One other conundrum for the Celtic manager is how to persuade players to join the club when, other than European matches, the level of competition has diminished further.

Is the lure of playing for a club like Celtic and the prospect of maybe half-a-dozen Champions League matches enough to convince a really top-class player to sign?

That question will be answered over the course of the next week.

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