CELTIC manager Ronny Deila has confirmed his admiration for Hearts captain Danny Wilson as he assesses his central defensive options for next season.
The future of Celtic’s current first choice centre-halves, Virgil van Dijk and Jason Denayer, is uncertain with both players potentially in line to be performing in the English Premier League after the summer.
It has emerged that Wilson, who has skippered Hearts to their emphatic Scottish Championship title success this season, is on a list of potential replacements drawn up by Deila’s scouting department.
“He [Wilson] is one of many names we are looking at,” said Deila. “I know all about him, of course. He is a good player but there is nothing in that right now. We are looking for central defenders.”
Former Rangers and Liverpool defender Wilson has a year left on his contract at Hearts, meaning the 23-year-old Scotland international could represent a relative bargain for Celtic in the transfer market.
Hearts owner Ann Budge was typically pragmatic in her response to queries over possible bids for Wilson or any of the Tynecastle club’s promotion-winning squad. She said: “There has been and will be a lot of interest in our players and management team.
“If we lose one or two players, we will be disappointed. But it won’t bring everything to a standstill.
“Am I confident we can hang on to the majority of the people we currently have? Yes I am. The majority have bought into what we are doing and that’s good. But, that said, it is a commercial world out there and, if someone comes along and offers someone something hugely substantial, then who knows?”
Deila and Celtic will have no control over the immediate future of Denayer, currently on a season-long loan from Manchester City.
The 19-year-old has been highly impressive and on Tuesday night earned his first senior appearance for Belgium as a substitute in their Euro 2016 qualifying win over Israel in Tel Aviv.
“I was delighted for Jason and it shows to other players that we are doing something right at Celtic,” said Deila. “He came to us having never played first team football to now playing for the Belgian national team. That’s credit to Jason and to us as well.
“I think it is so important for Jason to play first team football and that’s so hard to do at Manchester City. If he gets into their team, he is a world class player.
“He is still not 20 years old yet, so I think he should get more experience. He knows that he’s in the right environment here, going in the right direction, and it’s important to keep consistency in that. I have told Manchester City about it and I told him about it and hopefully we can arrange something. As it is now, though, he is going to go back to Manchester for pre-season.”
Deila, however, is adamant that van Dijk will remain a Celtic player beyond the summer, at least for the duration of their Champions League qualifying campaign which will begin on 14 or 15 July if they retain their domestic title.
The 23-year-old is under contract until 2017 but has been consistently linked with a move to the English Premier League where Southampton, Sunderland, Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion have all been credited with an interest in him recently.
“First of all, Virgil is our player,” said Deila. “He will stay. That’s what we want, to have him through the Champions League.
“He is so important to us. He still has things to work on to become even better. His chance will come in the future, but he is one of the players we really want to keep. Jason is a young player, a very good player as well. It is easy to get one player in for him, but not if we need two. That’s a totally different thing. Virgil is the leader in the defence, so he is vital for us. Any money we could get for Virgil can’t compare with the money we would get from the Champions League.”
Van Dijk is still waiting to win his first senior cap for Holland, having again been left out of their squad last week by Guus Hiddink.
But Deila believes Denayer’s appearance for Belgium proves that playing in the Scottish Premiership should not necessarily harm a player’s international ambitions.
“I don’t think the Belgian national team is any worse than the Dutch one,” said Deila. “Right now, in fact, it is better. So I don’t think that is the answer. I don’t know the level of the other central defenders in Holland but they must be very, very good to be better than Virgil.”
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