CHRIS SUTTON insists this is not the time for Celtic to gamble on their No.1 with the record-breaking 10 in a row on the horizon.
The former Hoops striker believes the Hoops will have to push the boat out for Fraser Forster to make certain he in place for the push towards the history books.
The towering shotstopper is, of course, a massive favourite with the Parkhead faithful and was a key component in last season’s success when the ninth title on the trot was delivered.
And the six times-capped England international was unbeatable when the holders picked up their tenth consecutive piece of domestic silverware in the Betfred League Cup Final against Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox outfit at Hampden in December.
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “Fraser Forster deciding not to sign for Celtic would be a devastating blow to Neil Lennon.
“There’d be no point in trying to dress it up any other way.
“My belief is that the two main pieces of business which had to be concluded at Parkhead this summer were keeping Odsonne Edouard and getting Forster back up the road.
“If it becomes fact that he has chosen against it would be a big disappointment for Lennon and it would hurt.
IT TAKES TWO…Fraser Forster and Neil Lennon celebrate the Betfred League Cup win in December.
“This is a manager who gave Forster his big chance by signing him in the first place from Newcastle when he was untested and he helped him become a star in Europe and get into the England squad.
“Last summer, when Forster was stuck out in the cold and no-one wanted to take him from Southampton, it was Lennon who went out and resurrected his career.
“He gave Forster the platform again to go out and show what he’s all about.
“They say there’s no loyalty in football any more and, if it’s the case that Forster does snub Celtic, that’d be a slap in the face to a manager who’s done more for him than anyone.”
Sutton continued: “Now, of course, I am not armed with all of the details. I don’t know the intricacies of the deal – who is due what financially, what the demands where and who was going to pay and lose what.
“But one thing I do know is that players have ultimate power these days. Regardless of a situation, if they want to get out of a club or make a deal happen, it genuinely happens.
ON THE BALL…Scott Bain is waiting in the wings.
“My gut feeling is that if Forster really, really wants to be at Celtic, he can still make it happen, even if it’s not looking likely right at this moment in time.
“I can only think that any decision to stay at Saints would come if Ralf Hassenhuttl has promised him he’ll be the No.1 at for 2020/21 or that he’s got another lucrative and exciting deal in the pipeline because why else would you choose not to come back?
“Sitting on a bench every week to collect money and rot when you could be helping Celtic in one of the most-important seasons in their history and working for a boss who rates you and a support who adore you.”
The one-time England international frontman added: “You never say never in football, but if it doesn’t come off, the big question is where to Celtic go from here?
“I’ll tell you one place they shouldn’t go anywhere near and that’s Joe Hart.
“He was a top-class goalkeeper at his peak, but he’s too much of a gamble having had a bad spell in his career.
“If you want my opinion, he won’t be anywhere near Celtic Park.
“This is a crucial decision for the club. Missing out on Forster would leave a gaping hole and Lennon is going to want a proper No.1 who can command and also provide some calm during a tense season.
“Scott Bain is there just now, but if Lennon thought he was a first choice, he wouldn’t have signed Forster last summer, so it’s not going to be him.
“Sure, you could dig out a top foreign goalkeeper like an Artur Boruc and strike gold. Find a potential superstar or a current top-class operator who steps right into the position with ease.
INTERNATIONAL STAR…David Marshall is the current Scotland No.1.
“However, go into unknown territory and you could also land a Magnus Hedman or a Dimitri Kharine and see 10 In A Row go down the plughole.
“I don’t know if Lennon rates David Marshall or thinks he’s good enough to be his out-and-out No.1, but he’s the one that I would be looking at just now in terms of a safe bet.
“Is he as good as Forster? No. But he does have an awful lot going for him in terms of Celtic’s situation right now.
“By that I mean he knows the environment, he knows the pressures of playing for the club. He was doing it as a teenager in the team I played in alongside the likes of Henrik Larsson and Lennon himself.
“Marshall lost his spot to Boruc when Gordon Strachan arrived and didn’t reach massive heights in England.
“But the fact of the matter is that he’s the Scotland No.1 at the moment.
“He has gained lots of experiences in over 10 years south of the border and you wouldn’t imagine he’d be panicked or fazed.”
Bain is Lennon’s only experienced shotstopper at the moment with Craig Gordon electing to sign a two-year deal with former club Hearts at the end of his contract.
Youngsters Conor Hazard and Ross Doohan will have to step up if business is not done before the Premiership’s scheduled kick-off on August 1.