Joe Ledley puts Celtic contract talks on hold

Joe Ledley challenges Graham Carey of Ross County during Celtic's 2-1 Premiership victory at Parkhead on Saturday. Picture: Getty

Joe Ledley challenges Graham Carey of Ross County during Celtic's 2-1 Premiership victory at Parkhead on Saturday. Picture: Getty

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JOE Ledley has revealed that he has postponed all negotiations about a new contract until after Celtic’s Champions League future has become clear.

The midfielder described the second leg qualifying tie with Elfsborg on Wednesday as “one of the most important matches” of his career and he wants to keep his mind focused on on-pitch matters.

The cynic might view this as a sign that he is hedging his bets before deciding whether to pursue a career in the English Premier League. It has been speculated that he might end up there given that his former club, Cardiff City, have now taken their place among the game’s elite down south.

However, Ledley stressed that remaining at Celtic is his preferred option. Nevertheless, he does not want to be distracted by discussions about the details of a new contract at the moment. In an ideal world, he will re-sign with a club preparing for a second successive season of Champions League group stage football. Manager Neil Lennon is also preparing to sign a new deal, although that looks set to be finalised before Wednesday’s match.

“Everything is still on hold at the moment,” said Ledley after helping Celtic begin their title defence with a 2-1 victory over Ross County. “Hopefully my agent can come up soon and sort everything out and the club offer me a new deal.

“Hopefully I can get something finalised. It’s a very important couple of weeks for myself. As I said to the gaffer, I’d obviously like to concentrate on the pitch more than off the pitch.

“It’s a fantastic situation we’re in and hopefully I can just concentrate on my football first, qualify for the Champions League then go from there.

“I’ve not properly had a chat with the manager about it, but I think he knows. He doesn’t want to say too much with one of the most important games coming up in my career and his career too.

“We’re professionals, we know how to handle it. If we get through this leg then there’s another round and we can go from there.”

Ledley agreed that the next contract he signs is a hugely important one for him. He must decide where he wants to spend the best years of his football career. The Welshman is currently in his prime and his typically efficient performance against Ross County on Saturday illustrated just how important he is to Celtic.

“I’m getting older,” he said. “I’m going to be 27 this season and it’s very important for myself. As a footballer I’m very happy here and it’s a fantastic club.

“It’s very important to me this contract. Hopefully it’s sorted sooner than later.” Asked whether he was swayed by financial considerations, he replied: “Of course not, no. Staying at the club would come before that.”

Ledley made his first start of the season on Saturday against Ross County after recovering from a back injury.

He did play for just over 20 minutes after coming on as a substitute against Elfsborg last midweek and saw enough to suggest that Celtic will find it hard going in Sweden on Wednesday.

It is a case of déjà vu, he acknowledged. At the same stage last year, Celtic had to head to Scandinavia to play HJK Helsinki defending a one-goal lead. Like HJK Helsinki, Elfsborg play on an artificial surface.

“I thought they [Elfsborg] defended really well as a unit and as a team,” he said. “We pretty much knew they were going to do that. It was just going to be about how we broke them down.

“I think it’s going to change when we’re over there. I think they’ll probably go 4-4-2 and try and get at us. Hopefully we can get a nice goal over there and it can be game on and they have to score three goals.

“We’re in a good position at the moment. Hopefully we can go and do it.”

Like Lennon, Ledley is not convinced that astroturf pitches have a place in a competition like the Champions League. “I’m pretty much with the manager,” he said. “It is very difficult to adjust. We did pretty well against Spartak Moscow, which was on a plastic pitch.

“With the weather conditions there you can sort of understand. But it’s a bit different in the Champions League to play on an astroturf pitch.”

Celtic have the safety net of a Europa League play-off tie to fall back on should things go awry in Sweden. However, this would be hard to accept after last season’s exploits, in which Celtic finished second behind Barcelona in their Champions League group.

“We don’t want Europa League football,” said Ledley. “Champions League is still our aim. It’s the best football competition in the world.

“Last season was fantastic the way we played and dealt with it all. Not many people thought we could do it but we did it. It was a fantastic honour, and they were the best days of my life playing Champions League football.”

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