Grif­fiths warned over fu­ture be­hav­iour

‘That’s his one strike. He un­der­stands his role now at the club,’ says Celtic man­ager


NEIL LEN­NON has warned Leigh Grif­fiths his Celtic ca­reer will be in jeop­ardy if he has to be dis­ci­plined again for his off-field be­hav­iour.

Len­non spoke calmly, but firmly, about Grif­fiths’s weekend pub episode, when he was filmed stand­ing on a ta­ble singing about Hearts go­ing bust. The footage was posted on Youtube. Grif­fiths at­tended Sun­day’s Ed­in­burgh derby and sat in the Hibs ends with his mates.

The singing episode led to the 23-year-old be­ing fined by Celtic and at­tract­ing a Scot­tish Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion no­tice of com­plaint, which could re­sult in a sus­pen­sion. Grif­fiths apol­o­gised pub­licly and has also done so to Len­non, but his man­ager warned him yes­ter­day that his be­hav­iour must im­prove. When Grif­fiths joined Celtic in Jan­uary Len­non had said he was pre­pared to man­age his be­hav­iour, but the first is­sue with the con­tro­ver­sial Scot­land striker did not take long to arise.

“I think he was daft, but he’s got to stop be­ing daft,” said Len­non. “We’ve dealt with it in­ter­nally and I wasn’t over en­am­oured with it. I didn’t think it was ag­gres­sive and nor was there any foul lan­guage used. But there’s a code of con­duct he has to ad­here to now. He did cross the line in that as­pect. It is a bit of fun, but in this day and age, with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, people want to drop you in it. A lot of people would have found it funny, but I’m sure a lot of Hearts sup­port­ers would have found the op­po­site. Look, we’ve all been guilty of do­ing daft things at times, but that’s his one strike. I don’t want him do­ing any more.”

Len­non was asked if Grif­fiths un­der­stood that his be­hav­iour has to im­prove. “He has to, other­wise his ca­reer at Celtic won’t be as long as he maybe wants it to be. I think he knows that, whilst he may feel he hasn’t done a lot wrong, I think he un­der­stands the rea­sons why we are dis­ci­plin­ing him. I want him to make the head­lines for the right rea­sons, i.e. foot­balling rea­sons. He’s started his ca­reer here very well, but I don’t want him to get car­ried away with that.”

Grif­fiths, who has scored five times in nine ap­pear­ances for Celtic, will re­ceive a for­mal let­ter from the club de­tail­ing his in­ter­nal pun­ish­ment.

“I haven’t ham­mered him or overem­pha­sised it – you have to give play­ers a bit of space. But I don’t want to have any more con­ver­sa­tions about it, put it that way. He needs to un­der­stand that there is a cer­tain ex­am­ple he has to set.

“Play­ers have got to live a bit as well. But I don’t want him singing with Hibs fans about other clubs. He’s a Celtic player and his whole fo­cus should be on Celtic. He knows he’s done wrong. But we’ve had play­ers here who have done a lot worse than that.

“He had his prob­lems at Hibs as well. He’s got to just tidy a few things up. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s ob­vi­ously deroga­tory to some people, and some people are sen­si­tive to these things, par­tic­u­larly in Scot­land and par­tic­u­larly when it comes to Old Firm play­ers.

“[Other­wise] he has been the con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional since he’s come in. We’ve dealt with it, we’ve drawn a line through it, and we will go and sup­port him at the SFA hear­ing. But I’m not go­ing to have these con­ver­sa­tions with him time and time again, I think he un­der­stands his role now at the club.”

Grif­fiths’ SFA hear­ing, on a charge of not act­ing in foot­ball’s best in­ter­ests, is sched­uled for April 24.

NEIL LEN­NON has been voted the SPFL Pre­mier­ship man­ager of the month for March. These monthly awards nat­u­rally tend to be de­cided pri­mar­ily on the ba­sis of re­sults, and Celtic’s four wins and a draw, with 17 goals scored and only two con­ceded, were enough to se­cure a third con­sec­u­tive league ti­tle for the club last month. It was as Len­non spoke about club is­sues at Len­nox­town yes­ter­day, though, that re­minders emerged of how much more there is to the job than mere wins, draws and losses.

First he spoke at length about Leigh Grif­fiths. Then, ef­fort­lessly, the me­dia’s line of in­quiry switched to an­other of his play­ers who has caused him a mi­nor headache, Bi­ram Kayal. The Is­raeli mid­fielder was once one of Celtic and Len­non’s crown jewels. Ear­lier this week Kayal gave an in­ter­view in the Is­raeli me­dia – in­evitably it made its way back to Scot­land – in which he said he no longer en­joyed foot­ball in this coun­try, be­moan­ing its pace, power and lack of tech­nique. There were also head­lines from the fact he blamed Rangers’ Lee McCulloch for his first se­ri­ous in­jury set­back in 2011.

The in­ter­view cast Kayal as an un­happy, frus­trated fig­ure. He made a daz­zling early im­pres­sion at Celtic af­ter sign­ing from Mac­cabi Haifa in 2010 but that in­jury, and then a bro­ken foot suf­fered against AC Mi­lan in a Cham­pi­ons League group game last Novem­ber, cut down his ef­fec­tive­ness for Len­non. The man­ager was un­a­mused by the con­tent of this week’s in­ter­view. Kayal, he said, had got it into his head that he was li­able to suf­fer fur­ther in­juries. Un­less he ad­dressed that men­tal is­sue he would not be as ef­fec­tive for Celtic as he was in his open­ing sea­son, said his man­ager.

“I spoke to him this morn­ing,” said Len­non when asked about the in­ter­view. “He’s very up­set about it be­cause he feels that a lot of them are mis­con­strued. My only prob­lem with Bi­ram and the in­ter­view is that he didn’t have club con­sent [to speak to any re­porter]. That is al­ways a prob­lem when you do in­ter­views away from this coun­try. I think there was a bit of spin put on some of the quotes. Again, he will be dis­ci­plined by my­self on that.

“I don’t be­lieve he meant to be dis­parag­ing to the Scot­tish game. He may have his own per­sonal views on the McCulloch tackle and that is his right, but I don’t want them aired in pub­lic ei­ther. You keep that to yourself. I’ve told him that. He will be dealt with in­ter­nally.”

Len­non ac­cepted that Kayal was at a “cross­roads” in his Celtic ca­reer. “He was look­ing more like him­self to­wards the back half of last year, and then he had an­other re­ally bad in­jury against AC Mi­lan that’s kept him out for two or three months. He’s found it re­ally hard to get back in, such has been the form of Char­lie Mul­grew, Ste­fan Jo­hansen, Scott Brown and Nir Bi­ton, but he will play be­tween now and the end of the sea­son. There’s no ques­tion the in­juries have had a psy­cho­log­i­cally detri­men­tal ef­fect on him. He needs to get past that. He’s fit and train­ing well. I think that player is still there, he just needs to find it. I think it’s more psy­cho­log­i­cal than phys­i­cal.”

There were glimpses of Kayal at his best when he played well and scored in Celtic’s only Cham­pi­ons League group stage win this sea­son, at home to Ajax in Oc­to­ber. “I think at that stage he was start­ing to be the Kayal of old. I just think the in­jury against Mi­lan set him back again. But he’s fit now, he’s train­ing, and he may start against Dundee United.” Celtic are at Tan­nadice at lunchtime to­day.

“I don’t know if the is­sue is fear of tack­les, lack of con­fi­dence, or pos­si­bly both,” said Len­non. “He’s said ‘I need to play’ and I told him he needs to show his best form in train­ing. He has to try and knock his way past these guys [ahead of him in the squad]. If he gets the chance to play he has to show us the Kayal of old. He’s only 25. I haven’t seen the ruth­less­ness in him for a while. It was start­ing to man­i­fest it­self again in the lat­ter stages of last year up un­til his in­jury. I do be­lieve that player of old is still in there.”

Mean­while, Len­non said he would like to see Liam Hen­der­son make enough ap­pear­ances to qual­ify for an SPFL Pre­mier­ship win­ner’s medal. The 17-year-old has played five times and would need to ap­pear in five of their re­main­ing six games to reach the thresh­old of 10 re­quired for an au­to­matic medal, al­though it is at Celtic’s dis­cre­tion to give him one of the batch they will re­ceive from the gov­ern­ing body.

Len­non said there had been no con­tact from Bel­gian clubs Zulte Waregem or KV Oos­tende about Tony Watt, with whom they have been linked, and that his in­ten­tion was to have the 20–year-old striker back for the start of Celtic’s pre-sea­son train­ing on June 24. Watt will soon con­clude his sea­son­long loan at Lierse.

De­spite re­ported in­ter­est in goal­keep­ers Lukasz Fabi­an­ski of Ar­se­nal and Fer­nando Monetti from Gim­na­sia in Ar­gentina, Len­non said they were not play­ers he was pur­su­ing.

Pic­ture: SNS

CROSS­ROADS: Bi­ram Kayal’s is­sues may be ‘more psy­cho­log­i­cal than phys­i­cal’ ac­cord­ing to his man­ager.

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