Lennon angered by Izaguirre exit talk

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The Independent Football

Celtic manager Neil Lennon today emphatically shot down suggestions the impressive form of Emilio Izaguirre could make it difficult to hold onto him this summer.

Manchester United and Liverpool have been linked with the Honduras left-back during his first season at Celtic Park.

More attention came the 24-year-old's way on Sunday when he was presented with the PFA Scotland Player of the Year award.

Lennon's assistant, Johan Mjallby, later tipped Izaguirre to become one of the world's best left-backs and admitted he anticipated interest in the player.

But Izaguirre, who joined Celtic for £600,000 from Motagua in his homeland, insisted on Monday that he wanted to stay at Celtic.

And Lennon was in no mood to discuss the prospect of Izaguirre leaving during his media conference ahead of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League trip to Inverness, as he interrupted a question on potential interest in the player.

"Listen, I know what you're going to ask me and you guys do it all the time," Lennon said.

"As soon as we get a decent player in this club you want him out the door.

"He wants to stay, we want him to stay. He is on a three-year contract so I don't even know why we're having this discussion.

"We have had no bids from anyone, all of the speculation is coming from you lot, so just drop it."

Lennon rebuilt his squad last summer following the £10million sale of Aiden McGeady to Spartak Moscow and is apparently under no pressure to make another major sale.

"We did that with Aiden, we felt it was good business at the time," he said.

"We had a decent offer, whether we get decent offers in for other players remains to be seen. We're trying to build a team, not dismantle it."

Lennon was delighted for Izaguirre's "thoroughly deserved" accolade from his fellow players.

"He has been fantastic from day one since his debut at Motherwell," the former Celtic captain said.

"He has been a breath of fresh air, he has given us an extra dimension to our play.

"He is a hungry boy, very grounded, a consummate professional.

"He comes in every day with a smile on his face, and makes this place better.

"He has unbelievable humility. He has come a long way from home with a very young family, he has great faith and lives his life properly, a very happy person in life and in work. You can see that in the way he plays.

"He is a terrific defender, he makes it look easy, which it's not.

"Then he has that will to get forward and gives us the width on the left-hand side, with no shortage of quality as well."

Izaguirre, like the equally impressive Israel midfielder Beram Kayal, was largely unknown in Scotland before Celtic signed him last summer.

And Lennon revealed the signing had come about because of hard work from scouting supremo John Park and his team.

"His name had been flagged up in the recruitment office a couple of times," Lennon said.

"John and his guys had done a project on the World Cup. He played well against Spain, against (Jesus) Navas.

"The recruitment team did some groundwork on him after that. When we knew he could be available, we had other options in that area, but we felt he was the pick of the lot.

"You don't know what the players are going to be like temperament-wise, attitude wise, so you need a bit of luck in that respect. It has turned out to be a great bit of business."

Izaguirre was one of eight players who started Sunday's 4-1 win over Dundee United who Lennon had signed since taking over on a permanent basis in June last year.

Scott Brown believes some hard work off the park has helped the integration of a team who will go top of the SPL if they avoid defeat in their game in hand at Inverness.

"We have gelled really well together and had a lot of time to get to know each other, a few team nights out," Brown said.

"All the boys are so much more comfortable with each other now."

As captain, Brown has had much of responsibility for building the team spirit, but he added: "A few of the lads came and said it to me as well, it's not just me that does it.

"Marc Crosas when he was here was a big organiser and (Glenn) Loovens and Mark Wilson have helped out too. We are great mates on the field and off the field as well."

When asked how difficult it was to unify such a multi-national squad, Brown joked: "I speak all the languages, I'm brilliant at that. It's quite hard but hand signals do wonders, don't they?"

Brown's jovial mood belied the perceived pressure Celtic are under to retain control over the destiny of the title.

But Lennon stressed his players knew the scale of the task awaiting them against Terry Butcher's seventh-placed Caley Thistle.

"They had a great run before Christmas where they were right in the top six for a long time," Lennon said.

"As is the case with clubs with smaller squads, the season bites them a little bit. If they lose a couple of their bigger players they tend to miss that quality.

"But Terry has done a fantastic job and the away record has been exemplary.

"It's always a tough stadium for us to go to, we have messed up a couple of times there over the years. So we have to be at our best but the players know that.

"I think they are pretty focused on what is ahead of them, a different type of football that we have to overcome."