BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
NEIL Lennon has confessed that enlisting the help of a galaxy of stars in Paris this summer has given him confidence Hibernian can hang on to in-demand top scorer Jason Cummings.
Lennon wooed Cummings with a trip to France, where he has revealed he charged the likes of Alan Shearer, Rio Ferdinand and Martin Keown with getting in the 21-year-old’s ear to aid Hibs’ cause.
Lennon feared Cummings was of a mind to leave the club after a season of intense speculation linking him with the likes of Rangers and a host of clubs south of the border.
And, despite having convinced the Scotland under-21 cap to pen a new four-year deal, the striker’s future remains the subject of debate after Hibs turned down a bid of up to £1.7 million from English League One side Peterborough United.
However, Lennon hopes the groundwork laid during a meeting whilst he was working as a BBC pundit at Euro 2016 will reap its rewards.
The former Celtic boss explained: “I would have made time no matter where I was. That was my priority.
“The agent had talked to me about his mindset but I’d said we had to sit down and talk things through.
“Whether that was in France, Ireland or Timbuktu, I’d have got my point across to him eventually.
“Thankfully they were receptive to it.
“The caveat to the whole thing was getting these guys to speak to him – I’d pre-empted it all by speaking to them in advance!
“I’m not sure how much that swayed him but it was a big decision for him to make and we feel he’s made the right one.
“I got about 15 of them to speak! There was Alan Shearer, Rio Ferdinand, Martin Keown – who you don’t want to get on the wrong side of – Chris Waddle, Dean Saunders.
“They didn’t talk about Hibs. It was about football in general and he really enjoyed himself.
“I spoke to him the next day, before he flew back, and told him to work with us for a while.
“There was, and is, genuine interest from other clubs but we’re not under any pressure to sell. I’m of the mindset that he’s not going anywhere. I need him and the club needs him. He needs us as well.
“There’s no question he can go on to play at a higher level but we want him to be with us for the time being.
“It’s good that he’s creating interest. That’s testament to him.
“It’s good that we’ve got him on a four-year contract. That’s testament to how much he wants to be here and how much the club want him.
“There’s going to be interest in him but we are not going to sell.”
Cummings began the domestic season with a bang at the weekend, brushing off the pressure of the most recent speculation to net a clinical double in the 2-1 win over Falkirk.
The victory, over a team assumed to be one of their main rivals for the title this season, got the campaign off to a flier and the attention now turns to the Betfred Cup tonight for the visit of Queen of the South.
After agonising losses in the League Cup final and play-off semi-final last season, previous manager Alan Stubbs was mocked for having earlier claimed the Easter Road men could win the treble.
And, until their historic Scottish Cup triumph over Rangers, some questioned whether battling on all three fronts had made the chances of success even slimmer.
However, despite making the Championship title his number one goal, Lennon is not about to dismiss his team’s hopes in the first cup of the season.
The Northern Irishman, who is still waiting for paperwork to conclude the capture of Israel keeper Ofir Marciano, commented: “I think you can win the league and a cup. The players have a good pedigree. They made two cup finals last year and won one and were unlucky not to win the other.
“They have shown they can compete against the best teams in the country.
“Getting out of the division is the main focal point. But I am quite happy to have cup runs as well – if we can.
“I am not putting all my eggs in the one basket in terms of the league, but certainly we are concentrating more on that than the other competitions.”