Hooper could shine anywhere, says boss

Neil Lennon believes five-goal Gary Hooper is good enough to play in any league in Europe but hopes to keep him at Celtic next season.

The English striker helped himself to a handful against Hearts to take his tally for the season to 29 as he and Celtic ended their campaign in style with a 5-0 victory yesterday.

Lennon is hoping the Celtic board will resist any summer bids for Hooper, who picked up the Golden Boot award after the game for finishing top scorer in the SPL.

The Parkhead boss said: “I think he is happy here but I’m sure there are people out there who will pay for his talent.

“He is a goalscorer, they are priceless but we want to keep him here and we will do our very best to do that.

“It was a tremendous individual performance and a great achievement.

“He is a special player. If you look at Nikica Jelavic [former Rangers striker] and what he has achieved since going to Everton there is no reason why Gary Hooper can’t do that, in any division, whether that be in the Premier League, or in Spain or Italy.

“He scores big goals in big games, he has a good record against Rangers and he has scored in Europe.

“He is only 24 and has got the world at his feet so we would like to keep him.”

Hooper, who last scored five when he played Sunday League football, admitted it had been a perfect day for him and gave no indication that he was looking for pastures new.

“Scoring five goals and picking the SPL trophy up — you can’t ask for much more,” he said.

“I thought we were outstanding from start to finish. Finishing top scorer was my aim after winning the league at Kilmarnock. I haven’t scored five in a top-class game before but maybe I should have had six.

“I should have scored another in the first half or near the end but Paddy McCourt put too much on the pass.

“My next challenge is to score six goals in one game and score more goals next season than I did this season.

“And the Champions League is massive in anyone’s career. I would love to play in it and score.”

Lennon explained his reason for pointedly taking the SPL trophy over to the section of the ground which houses the Green Brigade, the vociferous, hard-line section of the Hoops support.

“I just wanted to say thank you to them,” he said.

“Week-in, week-out, they have created a great atmosphere, they sing non-stop and add colour.

“Sometimes they are a little bit controversial but in the main they have behaved themselves impeccably and have changed the culture of the stadium.”

Asked if there was any prospect of him not being Hoops boss next season, the former Celtic skipper said: “I wouldn’t have thought so.

“We have a board meeting on the 25th and I hope to speak to Peter Lawwell [chief executive] before that but there is nothing to resolve there, just a few things that need [to be] ironed out.”

As Celtic players and management celebrated on the pitch, Hearts manager Paulo Sergio addressed the media.

Asked if he’ll be celebrating the end of the Scottish Cup final against Hibernian next week, he said: “I hope so. I believe that we are going to be able to do that but we have to respect our opponents.

“I respect Hibs, I respect their work, their players, everybody there so let’s prepare ourselves for a hard game, it’s not going to be easy.”

With St Johnstone losing at home to Rangers, Hearts held on to a Europa League qualifying spot but Sergio attempted to deflect the poor performance away from his players.

He said: “I take all the responsibility for the result, no criticism for my players. I knew the risks I was taking changing seven players.

“We made some mistakes and lost some stupid goals.

“Congratulations to Celtic, they played very well and now we are going to focus on our bigger game next week.”


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