What Lennon told Benkovic before his 2019 Celtic departure

By David Walton

January 7, 2021

It’s clear Neil Lennon was a fan of Filip Benkovic before he departed Celtic in 2019.

Benkovic’s season-long loan spell in Glasgow during the 2018/19 campaign was an odd one. He shined under Brendan Rodgers during the first half of the campaign before picking up a nasty injury at Ibrox. Lennon arrived in Februrary after Rodgers left for Leicester. Benkovic would only play a further four games under Neil.

As the Croatian becomes available again after Leicester recalled him from Cardiff, this has been brought up. Many on social media have pointed to the fact that Celtic return is unlikely given how rarely he played under Lennon.

But in actual fact, the current manager actually wanted Benkovic to return. The player also sounded up for it too. Before he left Celtic, Benkovic provided supporters with a key message given to him by Lennon. It all but sounded as though he was going to come back.

Speaking to Croatian outlet Sports Novosti before he left, Benkovic said: “I have been really pleased with my season at Celtic. Of course, you can always do better, but I have played a lot of games at a very high level. Everyone at Celtic has told me they are happy with me.

“I have spoken to Neil Lennon. He told me that he would like me to stay at Celtic for another season.

“During my time at Celtic, I have gained great experience. The Scottish Premiership is extremely intense and it was great playing in Europe. It’s helped me a lot.”

Lennon didn’t rule out Benkovic to Celtic last year either

A year ago after it was clear Benkovic was out of the picture at Leicester, Celtic were again linked with a move for him. Lennon was asked about it. As quoted by the Scotsman, he responded by saying: “I only worked with Filip for a short term, but I know he had a good impact here last season, so hopefully we’ll be looking to bring one or two in this week.”

That certainly didn’t sound like a rumour Lennon was dismissing. In fact, when there is a story that has no truth, Neil’s always quick to shut it down. He never did so with the Benkovic one last January.

In the end, he moved to Bristol City for the second half of the campaign. A switch to Cardiff was next up for him, but the Croat never managed to find a place as homely as he found Parkhead.

Filip Benkovic impressed at Celtic (Photo credit should read ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Judging by these comments, Lennon is clearly a fan of Benkovic. That’s despite the fact he barely played him. Considering he was only at the club for a temporary spell, you could understand why. Lennon perhaps wanted to build a centre-back pairing he could trust heading into the next campaign.

Both were clearly all for a reunion. For one reason or another, however, it didn’t happen. The club and player moved in different directions and that was that.

But with Celtic looking for a centre-back and Benkovic needing games, the link has come up again. And it’s important not to be fooled, Lennon clearly liked what he saw from the young defender.

In other news, an SPFL boss is absolutely fizzing with the idea of Celtic and Rangers colts in League Two.