CELTIC expect to complete their first signing of the summer today with the capture of Portuguese striker Amido Balde from Vitoria Guimaraes.
The 22-year-old arrived in Glasgow on Monday and was happy to pose for photographers with a Celtic scarf, despite reports that his move to the Scottish champions was far from certain following reports of rival interest from English Premier League newcomers Crystal Palace.
Celtic have agreed a fee of around £1.5 million with Vitoria for Balde, who had just one year remaining on his contract with the Portuguese Cup holders. After undergoing a medical, the player and his agents entered the final stage of talks regarding personal terms on a proposed four-year contract with Celtic.
Balde was identified by manager Neil Lennon as one of his leading close-season transfer targets as he looks to reshape his squad for another tilt at the Champions League.
Lennon has been seeking a more phsyically imposing forward to enhance his striking options for some time and at 6ft 4ins former Portuguese
under-20 international Balde fits the bill.
He has just enjoyed his most successful season in senior football, scoring nine goals for Vitoria in the season just ended when he helped them defeat Benfica in the Portuguese Cup Final on the same day Celtic were completing the Scottish domestic double with their Hampden win over Hibs.
Former Chelsea striker Tommy Langley, one of the agents representing Balde, says Celtic are recruiting a player with plenty of scope for improvement in the coming years.
“He is a big strong lad, athletic, great touch, great feel and he is a boy who is ready now, but who can only get better,” said
Langley. “You wouldn’t want to pick him up from corners, would you?
“He is going to speak to Celtic and see where we go. He is very keen. You can see he has a scarf round his neck and he is a happy boy.”
Langley also numbers Crystal Palace among his former clubs and was quick to dismiss speculation linking them with a late move to snatch Balde away from Celtic.
“Crystal Palace is a non-runner, never was a runner,” added Langley. “There were quite a few other clubs in the frame, but we are here at the moment and let’s see how this goes.”
Celtic have already lost out to the lure of the English Premier League with one signing target this summer, Bulgarian international winger Aleksandar Tonev joining Aston Villa despite interest from the SPL title holders.
But the prospect of playing in the Champions League seems to have been a deciding factor in persuading Balde to come to Glasgow.
“The Champions League is massive,” agreed Langley. “It is a great stage. He is a very happy boy. We have a long way to go – let’s see what we do.”
Born in the former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau in west Africa, Balde began his career with Sporting Lisbon, but was unable to make the first team breakthrough there.
In the 2010-11 season, he had loan spells at both Santa Clara in the second tier of Portuguese football and Badajoz in the Spanish second division. The following campaign saw him loaned out again, this time to Cercle Brugge in Belgium where he scored six times in 22 league matches. He was released by Sporting Lisbon last summer and signed a two-year contract with Vitoria Guimaraes.
It remains to be seen how Balde’s arrival will impact on other strikers at Celtic whose future has been the subject of intense speculation. Lennon remains keen for his top scorer Gary Hooper to sign a new deal with the club, but the Englishman, who has one year of his existing contract remaining, has so far remained non-committal amid reported interest from several clubs in his homeland.
Irish striker Anthony Stokes, meanwhile, has rejected Celtic’s initial offer of a new contract. His current deal is due to expire next month, albeit with an additional one-year option clause. Stokes is seeking a longer-term renewal on better terms than he has initially been offered.