Neil Lennon hopes 'maturing' Anthony Stokes signs new Celtic deal
Neil Lennon insists he can trust the "maturing" Anthony Stokes and hopes the striker signs a new deal at Celtic.
Last Updated: 30/06/13 2:02pm
The 24-year-old has scored 31 goals in 80 SPL appearances for the Hoops since moving from Hibernian three summers ago, but has rejected the Scottish champions' initial offer of a new contract.
Last season, ankle injury problems meant he missed the first half of the campaign, while a series of off-field misdemeanours tested the patience of Lennon and the club hierarchy.
However, Lennon refuses to give up on Stokes, having seen enough from him on the pitch since the turn of the year to keep him in his plans for 2013/14, when Celtic will again be looking to qualify for the Champions League group stages. The Dubliner ended the campaign by setting up both of Gary Hooper's goals in the 3-0 Scottish Cup final win over his old club Hibs at Hampden.
"His record is good," Lennon told the Sunday Mail. "Twenty plus in his first two seasons, and then I think he got seven in 12 starts when he came back after January.
"He has goals in him and as you saw in the cup final, there are other good aspects to his game.
"Can I trust him at European level? I think so, yeah. I think he's coming to that age when he's maturing and physically he's getting stronger.
"He's been around long enough to know what's expected of him now and I think he'll play more of a part in the bigger games."
Lennon is optimistic that the contract wrangle with Stokes can be solved to the satisfaction of all parties.
"He rejected our initial offer but I would imagine we'll come again and get him done," added the Bhoys manager.
"I'd like him to stay and I don't really think he wants to go, so we'll speak to his agent over the next week or so.
"It's not that it's taken longer than I thought. He has to think about his own future and is well within his rights to turn down the offer. I never doubted his commitment, just his discipline problems - the rascal in him."
Stokes was reprimanded by Celtic for attending a memorial event dedicated to a Real IRA commander midway through last season. Three weeks ago, also in Dublin, he was accused of breaking the nose of an Elvis impersonator at a nightclub - an incident which Lennon believes was "blown out of proportion".
The Celtic boss acknowledges Stokes' capacity to cause trouble but he claims the positives far outweigh the negatives.
"You don't want to take the devil out of him, but it was affecting his performances on the field as well," he added.
"I think the injury, and sitting out the Champions League games sparked something in him.
"He worked really hard, came back - he was a little bit inconsistent at first which you understand after so long out - but towards the end of the season, he was playing well.
"I saw a difference in him last year. He's always been a good trainer, so I'm hoping for a big season from him.
"He's a great lad - he just lets himself down. He has that self-destruct button at times but more and more, he's tending to shy away from that now."