NEIL Lennon has predicted the return of striker Leigh Griffiths next season will be like Celtic signing a £6 million player.

But Lennon has told the forward he is expecting him to repay the Parkhead club for standing by him while he addressed personal issues - with goals.

Griffiths was given time out of the game back in December and didn’t feature in the second half of the 2018/19 campaign.

The 28-year-old, who has netted 104 times in the five-and-a-half seasons he has spent in the East End of Glasgow, returned to training at Lennoxtown in March.


Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths set for phased return

Lennon has been pleased with the progress the Scotland internationalist has made and is hopeful he will be available for selection once again next term.

The Northern Irishman, who was unveiled as Celtic manager on Friday, is set to strengthen his squad in the coming weeks by making several new signings.

He is keen to increase his options up front in the summer as Odsonne Edouard was the only specialist striker he had available to him after taking over from Brendan Rodgers in February.

However, he feels having Griffiths, who he signed from Wolves for £1 million back in 2014 during his first spell in charge, involved again will be akin to bringing in a big money transfer.

“It will be like a new signing,” said Lennon. “He’ll need to get up to speed with his conditioning. He’s working hard and we’ll see where he is football wise.

“We could have a £6 million striker on our hands for nothing. He’s missed the last 18 months and he’ll need to knuckle down, but he’ll have our full support.”

But he added: “Leigh’s had the club’s full support throughout this so it’s payback time. He’s good at what he does. He scores goals and we want to see him back doing what he does best.”


Karamoko Dembele can live up to expectations after shining on his Celtic debut

Meanwhile, Lennon has stressed that he will continue to give game time to the talented youngsters at Parkhead despite his plans to dip into the transfer market this summer.

Karamoko Dembele, Ewan Henderson and Mikey Johnston have all featured for the treble treble winners in recent months.

Elsewhere, Lewis Morgan is set to return to Parkhead after a loan spell at English League One club Sunderland.

“I am excited about them,” said Lennon. “Dembele lit the place up the other week. He is very important to the club, as are the likes of Henderson.

“Michael Johnston played in the cup final and that will be a huge shot in the arm for him. We think he’s good enough.

“It’s important for me as a manger to bring players through from the academy. It’s vital we develop our own.

“We have fantastic examples and role models in players like (Kieran) Tierney and (Callum) McGregor.

“We need new ones coming through and I believe some of them will be good enough to do that. It’s not easy. But they know the requirements and the demands we will ask of them.”

Lennon confirmed he will give the Celtic players involved in international duty this month – Scott Bain, James Forrest, McGregor and Morgan have all been called up by Scotland for their Euro 2020 qualifiers against Cyprus and Belgium – a longer break.

“We start back on June 17 and we will give all the international players extra time off,” he said. “It may be a case of players coming back in bits and pieces but that’s the reality of it and we understand that.

“There are far more games and with the season we’ve just had, guys finished on May 25 with us and then are going away with their countries. They could then be playing Champions League qualifiers in early July.

“It’s hugely difficult, but if you can get players in early enough, you can help that. That’s what we are looking to do at the minute.”