The record transfer fee received by a Scottish club was raised to £13 million when Southampton bought Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk from Celtic 16 months ago. The south coast club had previously paid the champions £12.5m for Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama and £10m for goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
While Celtic made handsome profits on all three transactions, the fact that Van Dijk, arguably the best centre-back in England’s top tier, is likely to move to either Chelsea or Manchester United for around £60m before the end of this month suggests that the market is skewed.
In the same way that the European Golden Shoe is now awarded to the player with the most points rather than goals in a season (with goals scored in the top five leagues worth twice as many points as those in Scotland) it seemed as though footballers north of the border are valued at less than similarly talented players in England.
Celtic, however, will not entertain offers of £20m from West Ham United or anyone else for striker Moussa Dembele during the current transfer window and their former midfielder Stiliyan Petrov believes they are right to hold out until such time as bids match the genuine value of the 20-year-old forward.
Indeed, he believes that they will enjoy spectacular returns whenever they choose to cash in on the France Under-21 star and midfielder Stuart Armstrong.
Dembele, a £500,000 summer signing from Fulham, has thrived, like many of his current team-mates, under the tuition of manager Brendan Rodgers. He has harvested 19 goals from just 26 starts since relocating to Glasgow, where his pace, power, aerial ability and technique have combined to establish him as the Premiership’s pre-eminent predator.
More pertinently, he has proved to be a big-game player, scoring five times in three meetings with Rangers and, as a more accurate barometer of his quality, notching twice against Manchester City and once against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League.
West Ham’s official website carried a gossip column item about the London club valuing a Scottish-based player at £20m but Petrov, who was sold by Gordon Strachan to Aston Villa for £6.5m in 2006, insists that his former employers need no longer sell themselves short when wealthier suitors come calling.
“I would value Dembele at £25m,” said the Bulgarian. “Look around world football and you see similar types of striker going for that price.
“Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku are the two who really remind me of Dembele. They are big, powerful, put themselves about and score goals. Those two went for similar fees and Celtic should ask for £25m.
“Why can’t they get that? People will say: ‘But he plays in Scotland’. So what? A good player is a good player, no matter what country he plays in.
“Dembele could do a good job in England so Celtic should hold out. I don’t think it’s a difficult position if someone offers Celtic that kind of money.
“Can Celtic afford not to sell him for £25m? It would be difficult for any club outside the Premier League to say no to that. Real Madrid or Barcelona could turn that down but I don’t think many others could. It would be great business for Celtic if they get that fee.
“Their scouts will probably be on the case already in case it comes to the worst so they would have options – and don’t forget that they still have Leigh Griffiths as well, who is a natural goalscorer.
“It’s not about pushing the panic button; if he goes, Celtic should hold out for the best money they can get and, if he stays, they will have the benefit of a great striker playing at a great club.”
When it was suggested that the days of Celtic holding on to a stellar talent such as Henrik Larsson for seven years are long gone, Petrov was quick to correct that perception.
“It wasn’t a case of Celtic trying to hold on to Henrik; he simply wanted to stay,” he said. “Henrik loved this place, he appreciated the love of the fans and the way the club treated him. He didn’t want to go anywhere else.
“People used to question him. ‘He scores 40 goals in Scotland... can he do it anywhere else?’ Then he went to Barcelona and scored and he did the same at Manchester United. But Henrik was strong-minded and wanted to be at Celtic.
“He knew what he wanted from his career and that he could judge when the right time was to move on. Dembele can do the same.
“Brendan is building a strong team and wants to do well in Europe. To do that, he needs his best players and that’s what Dembele is.”
Petrov, currently in remission from the leukaemia which effectively ended his playing career, intends to pursue a career in coaching. He maintains his interest in the Scottish game, however, and believes that 24-year-old Armstrong is poised to soar in value. “I am very impressed by him; I think he can become something special,” he said.
“He has shown signs of becoming one of the leading players. There are not many box-to-box midfielders left in today’s football – the last ones were Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
“He has improved and matured a lot. He keeps everything simple, he times his runs well.
“If he continues to progress the way he has been doing then he can be worth £20m. If he’s in his prime and he scores ten-plus goals every season for the next four years then you can hold out for a lot. It’s up to him.”
l Stiliyan Petrov was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill are the proud sponsors of the Scottish Cup.