CELTIC legend Bertie Auld has warned Gary Hooper to carefully consider what he will be leaving behind if he chooses to make a move to the English Premier League this summer.
Hooper, whose 31 goals in the season just ended played a significant role in Celtic winning the domestic double for the first time in six years, is likely to be sold by the Scottish champions if he does not agree an extension to his existing contract, which has just one year left to run.
Newly promoted Hull City are the latest Premier League club to be linked with Hooper, prompting a scornful response from Auld, who believes the 25-year-old would be placing money before ambition if he joined the Humberside outfit.
“Hull is beautiful – if you’re a fisherman,” said Auld. “He will need an umbrella and a sou’wester if he goes down there.
“I certainly don’t think Hull City is a more attractive option for Gary Hooper than Celtic. Listen, I admire the Hull manager Steve Bruce and he has done exceptionally well. But, when you talk about Hull, or even about some of the other clubs linked with Hooper like Norwich City, Southampton and Everton, then they don’t compare to Celtic.
“Wherever any Celtic player chooses to go, unless it is to Manchester United or Liverpool, then they will be going to a lesser club as far as I’m concerned. But Manchester United don’t need a striker and Liverpool have just bought one. So why would Gary Hooper go to Hull City? He will achieve more staying at Celtic Park and he will adore it because he will never play in front of fans like the Celtic fans anywhere else in his life again.
“When you become a Celtic player, you learn through time about the history of the club and how important it is. Gary is a very good player and he has become a big part of Celtic because he has got that presence on the park. Off the ball, he reads the game well and shuts people down. On the ball, if he has a chance, he hits the target nine times out of ten.
“But he’s also good for the team because, once they go 1-0 up, he drops into the hole and picks up the ball. You can’t deny Gary Hooper has top quality because, every time you pick up a paper, he’s in the headlines because he hits the back of the net.
“I think he should stay at Celtic but you wonder how much players listen to their agents these days. It’s not like these guys need money. Once you get to a certain stage in life with the bank manager, then you just want happiness. You want enjoyment, to be able to get up in the morning and look yourself in the mirror and say ‘I want to go here and play’. Agents are good at getting you money but there are times when it’s not the be all and end all. Sometimes you really enjoy the environment you’re in and the way the team play. In my day people wanted to be Celtic players. I don’t think money changes anyone. How much can you spend?
“I remember a few years ago sitting in Jimmy Johnstone’s house and watching Celtic play Dundee United on TV. Craig Bellamy scored twice and we agreed they were great goals and that Bellamy was a good player.
“I said to Jinky ‘Just imagine you and I were playing just now, we’d get £15,000 a week’. The wee man said ‘Bert, that’s for mediocre players!’ But money isn’t everything. When you pull on that Celtic jersey and walk down that tunnel, there isn’t another feeling like it.”
With Celtic manager Neil Lennon due to hold talks with the club’s major shareholder Dermot Desmond and chief executive Peter Lawwell over plans for next season, Lisbon Lion Auld is hopeful they will provide backing to strengthen the squad.
“The most important thing is that the club improves every year,” added Auld. “If they think Neil Lennon is the man then there’s no problem. It’s all down to the money men. Look at the managers who’ve had the sack in England recently, they’ve all done a job on a shoestring budget. Neil’s done that as well. If Neil is the man to take Celtic to another level – and he’s had success this season with the two trophies – then Dermot Desmond and Peter Lawwell must back him. And, if Gary Hooper does leave, then I don’t think you could put a price on replacing him. They put the price on what they can afford and, if that’s the final piece of your jigsaw, then you’ll go as much as you possibly can.”
Auld feels that one of the biggest attractions of playing for Celtic is currently lost as Rangers attempt to recover from their financial collapse and reconstitution in the Third Division.
“Everyone misses the Old Firm games,” said Auld. “That’s what I mean when I say it’s not all about money, it’s about enjoying your work and there’s nothing better than playing in those games. I played for Birmingham City against Aston Villa during my time, but nothing touches the Old Firm game. That’s why I hope all goes well at Ibrox, Rangers get everything sorted and we get the Old Firm derby back.”