CELTIC have enjoyed a positive start to one of the most important weeks of their season by agreeing a new contract with Nir Bitton.
The Israeli international midfielder, who has emerged as one of the Scottish champions’ most impressive and influential players over the past 12 months, has signed an improved deal which runs until the summer of 2020.
The 24-year-old, who joined Celtic from Ashdod in his homeland for a fee of around £700,000 two years ago, has seen his market value increase significantly on the back of his improved displays for Ronny Deila’s side.
Bitton was linked with a move to the English Premier League during the last transfer window, Sunderland being among the clubs credited with an interest in him.
But while he may yet prove to be the latest player to turn a significant profit for Celtic, who have sold Victor Wanyama, Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk to Southampton for major fees over the past three years, Bitton is content to pursue further success with the Glasgow club in the more immediate future.
His existing contract was due to expire in 18 months’ time but he insists he had no hesitation in committing himself to the new deal announced as the build-up to Thursday’s must-win Europa League game against Molde at Celtic Park intensifies.
If we play our best, then we’re capable of winning the gameLeigh Griffiths
“As soon as I got a new offer from Celtic I had no questions about signing,” said Bitton. “When you play for a club like Celtic, you don’t think twice.
“I enjoy every minute at Celtic and my wife is very happy here so there was never any need for change. This is where I want to be.
“I am so pleased to commit my long-term future to Celtic and I now look forward to doing everything I can to bring the club and our fans more and more success.”
Bitton revealed that the influence of manager Deila was a key factor in persuading him his future lies at Celtic.
“As a player, when you get the trust of a club it gives you confidence and you appreciate it,” Bitton told the Celtic official website.
“You just want to give that back as much as you can.
“I have a great relationship with the manager and the backroom staff at Celtic who have all been magnificent with me and I have a group of team-mates who I respect so highly.”
One of those team-mates who could hold the key to Celtic’s prospects of turning around their fortunes in Group A of the Europa League is in-form striker Leigh Griffiths.
As Celtic seek to atone for the 3-1 defeat by Molde in Norway two weeks ago which left them at the bottom of the group, Griffiths is keen to maintain a scoring rate which already puts him on 16 goals for the season after his double in Saturday’s league win over Aberdeen.
“The team’s playing with a lot of confidence just now and hopefully we will have the fans behind us on Thursday night and can make it an intimidating atmosphere for Molde coming here,” said Griffiths.
“We know they’re a good side but if we play our best then we’re capable of winning the game.
“They broke very well (against us in Molde) but we never played anywhere near our best. If we do what we did against Aberdeen, then we’ve got a good chance.
“I’m playing with confidence just now and if a chance comes my way I’ll try to put it away.
“I’m on 16 goals just now, so the quicker I get to 20 I’ll be aiming towards 30 and I’ve set myself a target to have 20 by January. If I do that I’ll be happy.”