Big interview: Hibs boss Neil Lennon has potential signings lined up
Neil Lennon has insisted he has plenty of potential signing targets waiting in the wings as he looks to rebuild his squad for next season.
Although Hibs went into the summer break with just one player out of contract, midfielder Dylan McGeouch, four who had spent the season on loan in Edinburgh, Flo Kamberi, Jamie Maclaren, Scott Allan and Brandon Barker, all returned to their parent clubs.
While other teams, most notably city neighbours Hearts and Rangers under new boss Steven Gerrard, have already been conspicuously busy on the transfer front, Lennon insisted he’s totally relaxed about the situation, revealing his backroom staff have been working for months on identifying possible new arrivals.
The Hibs head coach had a four-hour meeting with his recruitment team, headed by Graeme Mathie, at the end of last week and, although talks are ongoing with Swiss hitman Kamberi, a January transfer window arrival alongside Aussie striker Maclaren and Celtic midfielder Allan, in a bid to bring him back to the Capital on a permanent basis, Lennon conceded that at the minute “a few things are up in the air”.
“It was interesting,” said Lennon of his sitdown with his scouts. “The meeting was quite lengthy and I should give more credit to my scouting department, who have done a very good job, as they did in January.
“They’ve been working away all season on getting things ready for the summer. Whether we lose a player or not – and we’ve lost players before – I don’t think it’s a major rebuilding job. If we can’t get some deals done with current players then we’ve got a few decent ones lined up.
“We’ve had good success after two years and it’s always difficult to rip it up and start again. I’m quite relaxed about it all. There’s going to be a bit of work and the frustrating thing is a few are up in the air but we have plenty of options and players to look at.
“It’s very early in the process and some of the guys are away for a wee break. But when they come back we’ll be hoping to get a couple over the line.”
Lennon revealed, however, that Simon Murray – off-loaded on loan to Dundee for the second half of the season despite the 14 goals he’d scored at that point meaning he ended up as Hibs’ top scorer – would return to fight for his place while youngsters Oli Shaw, Ryan Porteous and Fraser Murray will all be expected to play more prominent roles.
He said: “Simon will come back, no question. He wasn’t going to play a major part in the second half of the season and it was important for him to go out and get games.
“Rather than him maybe being on the periphery of the squad, for his own benefit it was good for him to go out and get games. He played 17 for Dundee.
“Oli will be one of the strikers and Ryan will come into the first-team squad at centre-half while Fraser has a little bit of work to do – but having them has saved us a bit of money.”
As in his first season at Easter Road, Lennon will kick off with Europa League football thanks to Celtic’s historic “double treble” meaning their fourth-place finish in the Ladbrokes Premiership was good enough for Hibs fans to begin reaching for their passports.
Although a veteran of many European trips in his time playing and managing Celtic, Lennon understands the excitement it has caused among the club’s support and, he insisted, Hibs deserve to be in the draw for the first qualifying round which will be made at UEFA’s headquarters in the Swiss town of Nyon on June 19 with the two legs to be played in the middle of July.
He said: “It’s brilliant to have European football. It was obviously out of our hands until we knew the result of the Scottish Cup final, but we’ve earned the right to have a crack at it.
“It’s an exciting aspect of the season ahead. It gets the fans’ juices going already despite the season having just finished.
“But it’s also an added dimension for the players. We got knocked out by Brondby a couple of years ago but it was very early days in my reign and I felt if it had been two or three weeks later we could have come through it.”
Lennon admitted to having been pleasantly surprised by what he’d seen, skipper David Gray’s goal in the Danish capital of Copenhagen which forced the match into a penalty shoot-out, convincing him he had “a decent team”, the nucleus of which went on to win the Championship title before confounding everyone by coming within a whisker of pipping Aberdeen and Rangers for second place.
He said: “To go to Brondby and win and unfortunately lose on penalty kicks was a respectable result. It’s difficult because you’re back so early and you could get a team who are midway through their season – and I’ve had that with Celtic – but we’re in it to try and qualify. It’s a financial boost for the club.”
Lennon, though, will have to watch from the stand as he still has to serve a touchline ban imposed by UEFA after he was sent off as Hibs lost the first leg of that tie against Brondby.
And he’s also likely to be absent from the dug-out for the opening domestic matches of next season following his “aeroplane” celebration as his side came from 5-3 down to draw with a last-minute goal against Rangers on the final day of the season.
He said: “I expected the SFA charge after the last game of the season because them’s the rules.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. It was a spontaneous moment, a bit of fun.
“The last kick of a very good season so nobody should look too much into it – I moved so quickly I pulled my hamstring! And I’ll just have to deal with the fact I’ll be serving a UEFA ban. My staff are well used to it by now.”
Lennon insisted he’ll be looking for “more of the same next season” but refrained from making a prediction as to where Hibs might finish having famously claimed they were the second best team in Scotland.
He said: “If I make a prediction now and we do it then I’m a genius. If not I’m an idiot.
“I felt we were good enough to finish second and we nearly were. I haven’t got my squad together so I might be clearer on targets at the start of the season.”
• Neil Lennon was speaking at the SPFL Trust’s Annual Golf Day at The Carrick. All proceeds raised will be used towards mental health first aid training in Scottish football in partnership with the Chris Mitchell Foundation. For more information visit www.spfltrust.org.uk.