Neil Lennon today insisted Hibs have done all they can to persuade Anthony Stokes to rejoin the Easter Road club – but conceded it may not be enough.
The Capital outfit have pulled out all the stops to sign the striker for a third time, Lennon adamant they have made the 29-year-old a “very, very strong offer” but, as yet, Stokes has yet to make a decision, with one report claiming interest from clubs as far afield as Poland, Turkey and China.
Lennon admitted he’s aware of such talk, but disclosed he’s been speaking to the Republic of Ireland player on a regular basis, describing the possibility of a deal as being in the balance although he hopes Hibs – where Stokes would be welcomed back by supporters following his goals in last year’s Scottish Cup triumph – remain in “a strong position”.
The Hibs boss, who was Stokes’ manager at Celtic for four years, said: “I spoke to Anthony on Wednesday so talks have moved forward. I cannot compliment the board enough on what we have done over the close season and certainly throughout July in terms of backing me in getting players in. They have done all they can to make the deal happen. I am delighted with that, but the ball is firmly in Anthony’s court.”
Lennon insisted he hadn’t placed a time limit on Stokes for a reply, but admitted he’d like an answer sooner or later to allow him to explore other avenues, saying: “We have made a really great offer and it’s down to Anthony and his representatives now. It’s still in the balance.
“We have other players in mind, but Anthony has been the main priority for a while and I think we are getting closer.”
Although Lennon is on record as stating Easter Road would be the best place for Stokes, who negotiated an early release from his contract with Blackburn Rovers to become a free agent to resurrect his chequered career, he knows more money elsewhere could prove too great a temptation.
He said: “That’s the bottom line. There are more lucrative offers. I don’t know if there’s anything in writing for him at the minute, but there’s talk of it. He has to do what’s best for him and his family I suppose, but I think we have done as best we possible could to make the deal happen.
“Anthony is not holding us over a barrel, he is not being greedy. The talks have, for him, been sensible so it looks like there’s a maturity there and that’s good.
“We are not a million miles away, but obviously time is driving on and we need to get some sort of closure on it one way or another.”
Lennon hopes the fact Stokes would be joining a club he knows well and one which the manager believes is “on the up and hoping to challenge for trophies” could hold sway with the player.
He said: “He has had success before in the Premiership, it’s where he made his name, whether here, at Falkirk or Celtic. He has not played a lot of football over the last few years and while you are not guaranteed first-team football, he will be a main player here. He likes that responsibility.
“He’s loved here and he still would be if it doesn’t happen, but it would be a pretty good start walking in the door to somewhere he is adored to play his football.”
Lennon admitted he’d be disappointed if Stokes didn’t sign, but added: “I wouldn’t be locking myself away for a few days in a strop. He has made his point very amicably and we have made ours. It could be 50/50, or we could have put ourselves in a strong position.”