Neil Lennon has urged Hibs’ Scottish Cup hero Anthony Stokes to breathe new life into his career by rejoining the Capital club, telling the striker “Easter Road is the best place for you. If I were you, I would be coming here”.
The Hibs boss, who hopes to tie up a season long loan deal for Juventus’ Lithuanian midfielder Vykintas Slivka in the next few days, revealed Stokes has been made “a strong offer” from the club but, as yet, the player who turns 29 today hasn’t given him a reply.
However, Lennon, who was Stokes’ manager for four years at Celtic, is convinced a third spell in Edinburgh is not only his best option but one which could also help him force his way back into the Republic of Ireland squad. Arguing that the happiest spells of Stokes’ well-documented career have come in Scotland at Falkirk, Hibs (twice) and Celtic, Lennon said: “He knows he’s a hero after the Scottish Cup final, he knows the management team and the majority of the players. He knows we can get the best out of him.
“At this juncture of his career, I think he needs to play, and play for a club that wants him here and for a manager who knows him inside out – and can deal with all his little issues because we’ve all had them.”
Stokes currently stands at a crossroads having negotiated his release from Blackburn Rovers where he played only 12 first-team games in a troubled season and Lennon, having lost Jason Cummings, Hibs’ top scorer in each of the past three seasons, has made no secret of his desire to see him back in Edinburgh.
But while he is willing to wait for an answer, Lennon admitted he doesn’t want the issue to drag on too long. He said: “We’ve made him a strong offer, a very, very good offer from the club’s point of view.
“We’re certainly not holding a gun to his head at the minute, although we might eventually if he doesn’t hurry up. Of course we’d like an answer sooner rather than later. But it’s like every other deal. There may be other options for him, I don’t know. He’s certainly not mentioned that to me. And we have other options to look at. If the deal doesn’t materialise then we move on.”
Asked what he would do if he was in Stokes’ situation, Lennon said: “If I was him I would be coming here. He’s happy here, he was pretty happy at Celtic as well. Certainly in Scotland he’s at his happiest.
“At this juncture of his career he needs to get back to playing. He’s well out of the Republic of Ireland fold now. He’s not played enough football to even get himself a mention for that. Possibly he could come again for that but he needs to find the right environment.”
Lennon believes the Premiership is becoming “more sexy again” as clubs strengthen and could well appeal to Stokes who he sees as a big-game player. He said: “Anthony’s experienced and has won a lot of trophies in Scotland, obviously with Hibs as well as Celtic. He had a great time when he was younger at Falkirk so the environment suits him.
“He’s a very talented player. He scored a lot of very important goals for me over the four years I was at Celtic and he contributed to a lot of goals as well. His partnership with [Gary] Hooper was spectacular at times.
“If you look at his performance in the cup final – it’s 14 months ago now – it shows he’s a big-game player. He likes the big games – it really floats his boat.
“Coming here, there would be plenty of big games to get his teeth into. Whether he would get that pressurised situation by going somewhere else, I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, Lennon revealed only paperwork is preventing Slivka joining his countryman Deivydas Matulevicius at Easter Road. He said: “We are waiting for clearance from Juventus now to get the deal done. Slivka is here, he wants to come here.
“Tactically, he is very good. He’s an athlete, two-footed and has an eye for a goal. He covers the ground very well. He looks composed on the ball. He played against Scotland last season and for Den Bosch on loan. Juventus have a catalogue of young players and they put them out on loan. We are just waiting for the paperwork and the confirmation to come through.”