Keeping Odsonne Edouard is pivotal to Celtic’s pursuit of a 10th successive title, says former manager Martin O’Neill, as he likened the striker’s impact to Henrik Larsson.
Edouard, 22 – Celtic’s 28-goal top scorer last season – has been linked with Leicester City and Arsenal.
The French forward is contracted until 2022 and is in talks over a new deal.
Asked if Edouard is as vital to Neil Lennon as Larsson was to his Celtic side, O’Neill said: “Of course, yes.”
Speaking to BBC Scotland’s Scottish Football Podcast, he added: “In my five years there we didn’t have Henrik for the final year and you’re always trying to make do.
“It’s very important to hold on to your best players, because these are the ones that will win matches for you. They will turn the tide for you if games are even or if you’re losing with 20 minutes to go.
“You know when the likes of Larsson is still on the field you still have a chance of winning that game. And that is exactly now the situation Neil finds himself in [with Edouard].”
Lennon excelled as a Celtic midfielder – helping the club to win seven trophies and reach the Uefa Cup final during O’Neill’s five-year tenure – after his fellow Northern Irishman signed him from Leicester City in 2000.
Having added all four domestic honours available since returning for a second spell as manager in February last year, Lennon has spoken of needing European success to be bracketed alongside predecessors like O’Neill, Jock Stein and Willie Maley.
But O’Neill believes leading Celtic to 10 in a row next season will cement his compatriot’s iconic status.
“Neil has done both; he’s done it as a player and as a manager. He deserves to take his place among the legends of Celtic,” he said.
“To come back after Brendan [Rodgers] went to Leicester, he was coming into a totally different set-up, a different philosophy, and he had to win those games from day one.
“He’s done that exceptionally well. Now he’s set his sights on European football. Of course that’s very important, but if he clinches 10 in a row – which he has a good chance of doing – that would be fantastic.
“He’s very much an iconic figure at Celtic Park and that might not be sufficient for Neil, but the fans would be absolutely ecstatic about it.”
O’Neill believes Celtic’s fortunate 1-0 Scottish League Cup final win over Rangers in early December was “the turning point” last season.
They then raced clear in the title race in the new year to open up a 13-point lead at the top over the Ibrox side before the season was curtailed.
And O’Neill says Rangers boss Steven Gerrard must strengthen his squad if they hope to stop Celtic sealing a record 10th consecutive title.
“You take great confidence from that final. You’ve won when you didn’t play well against your rivals, and from that moment onwards Celtic got stronger and Rangers got weaker,” O’Neill added.
“I think Celtic are a stronger side. For them to compete with Celtic over a whole season, they [Rangers] need a stronger team. They need more strength and depth.”