JACKIE McNamara has responded angrily to claims from Celtic manager Gordon Strachan and chief executive Peter Lawwell that they did everything they could to prevent their captain leaving the club this week.
The 31-year-old Scotland international, who signed a two-year contract with Wolves on Tuesday after Celtic failed to offer him an acceptable new deal in time, poured scorn on the version of events surrounding his departure from Parkhead set out by Strachan and Lawwell.
McNamara believes he and his agent Darren Jackson are being used as "scapegoats" by the Celtic management as they attempt to place a favourable spin on their complacency in not properly addressing the contractual situation their longest-serving player and captain found himself in.
"The statements Gordon Strachan and Peter Lawwell have come out with are totally out of order," McNamara told The Scotsman. "I know the truth about what happened and I know neither Darren or myself have anything to be ashamed of. I didn't want to go down the line of having a go at them, but I can't sit back and say nothing now they are trying to use Darren and I as scapegoats."
McNamara finished his testimonial season at Celtic still uncertain of his future at the club and it was not until 3 June that he finally received a first offer of a new contract. The one-year deal, on the same terms as his previous one-year contract which had seen him take a wage cut, was immediately rejected by the dismayed player.
A subsequent two-year contract was offered, but again on unchanged terms of around 8,000 a week, which left McNamara on less than a third of what the highest earning Celtic first-team players are picking up. By the time Celtic finally came back to the table with a two-year deal with an improved salary, McNamara had already given his word to Wolves manager Glenn Hoddle that he would join the Molineux club.
"Gordon Strachan talks about us setting a deadline, as if Darren and I were trying to hold Celtic to ransom," says McNamara. "Neil Lennon hasn't signed a new contract yet, so is he trying to hold them to ransom? The fact is I had to sort out my future and the clear impression Celtic gave me, from the length of time it took to make me a first offer and then the fact it was only a one-year deal on the same wages, was that they didn't really want me to stay.
"When I had the face-to-face meeting with the manager that he talks about, which was on 6 June, he never said anything about what he expected and wanted from me for the next couple of seasons as was claimed in his statement. I told him I wanted to stay at the club but I couldn't accept the first offer. Maybe he believed it would get sorted out by Peter Lawwell, I don't know, but I couldn't have made it clearer to him that I wanted to stay and finish my career at Celtic.
"The money I was looking for would still have left me earning half of what the top earners at the club get and I didn't think that was unreasonable for the club captain and all that entails. If they had come up with the kind of deal earlier that they started offering in the phone calls I received on the way to Wolverhampton on Tuesday morning, I would have stayed, but by then I had given Glenn Hoddle my word.
"Peter Lawwell even said they would offer me a third year when he phoned, but I told him it was too late by that stage. It didn't matter what they came up with, I had already agreed to join Wolves. It's not about money, anyway. Does anyone think I'm going to be earning fortunes in the Championship in England? It's about respect and I don't think I got that from Celtic. No-one has explained why it took them so long to offer me a new deal."
Meanwhile, German league and cup runners-up Schalke 04 are ready to offer Bobo Balde a lucrative financial package to lure him away from Celtic.
The central defender from Guinea yesterday said he expected to be back for preseason training at Parkhead, however Schalke are not deterred and insist they are ready to make an approach.
"One big advantage is that Balde is available on a free transfer and, besides, he has had Champions League experience with Celtic," said Schalke team manager Andreas Muller.