CELTIC midfielder Joe Ledley has put contract talks with the Scottish champions on hold until the start of next season but insists he has no desire to make an emotional return to English Premier League newcomers Cardiff City.
• Welsh international, Joe Ledley, has been linked with a move back to Cardiff City
• Ledley keen to replicate this season’s European exploits with Celtic.
Ledley has just one campaign remaining on the four-year deal he signed at Celtic when he moved to Glasgow from his hometown club Cardiff under freedom of contract in the July 2010.
A fans’ favourite at Cardiff, where he made over 250 first-team appearances in six seasons after making his debut as a 17-year-old, Ledley has almost inevitably been identified as a potential summer transfer target for the Welsh club who have just secured a return to the top flight of English football for the first time in 51 years.
But, although Ledley is in no rush to commit himself to a new contract with Celtic, he says he regards his time at Cardiff as a closed book and would find it hard to walk away from the professional satisfaction he has found in Scotland.
“I’ll always be linked with Cardiff City,” said Ledley. “Everyone who is from there gets linked with them. It’s nice to be linked with any club, but I’ve heard nothing and all I can do is concentrate on Celtic.
“I had a fantastic time at Cardiff and I learned all of my stuff there. I’ll never forget that. But I’ve moved on now and I’m at Celtic. Cardiff is in the past. The fans at Celtic have been brilliant with me from day one and I’ve loved every minute of being here.
“Not many clubs give you the opportunity of winners’ medals and playing in the Champions League. It would be very difficult to go away from here if anything did happen. I love it here and Celtic offer you so much. You need to go out and win every game and that’s a great pressure to have as a footballer. Having been here, I don’t know if I’ll play for a bigger club than this.
“I don’t think there will be any further talks on my contract situation now until next season. I haven’t spoken to my agent or the club, so I think both parties are happy to sit down at the start of next season and see where we go from there.
“It’s the right thing to do, especially with the Scottish Cup final coming up at the end of the month. I just want to concentrate on playing games and winning the double for myself and the club, which would be a fantastic achievement.”
Ledley, speaking as he promoted ESPN’s live coverage of Sunday’s SPL fixture between Ross County and Celtic in Dingwall, spent last week in Dubai as manager Neil Lennon gives key members of his first-team squad a break in between their retention of the league title and the Scottish Cup final against Hibs at Hampden on 26 May.
A subsequently reshaped Celtic side lost 3-1 to Motherwell at Fir Park last Sunday and they will be much changed again this weekend as another group of players are on holiday this week. Ledley welcomed his time off and is confident it will not adversely affect Celtic’s readiness for the showpiece showdown against Hibs.
“It’s nice for any footballer to get a break,” he said. “It was a bit weird, because I’ve not had a break like this in this part of the season before. But we had a talk about it and if you look at the amount of games we have played as individuals, it was right for myself and other international players to have a few days off.
“I’ve only been away for just over a week so I won’t lose much fitness and I’m back in training now. I think I will be in good condition for the final and for these forthcoming games.
“We’ll be coming into the qualifying rounds of the Champions League in the middle of July, so we won’t have much time off this summer. That’s why the manager has given us the time off now.
“It’s difficult to switch off completely when you are away, but it was nice to lie there in Dubai and do nothing, having no worries about my alarm going off and waking up for training.
“I saw the TV highlights of the Motherwell game when I got back and it was always going to be a difficult game anyway. Hopefully we can bounce back at Ross County, although we’ve already lost there this season so we know it will be tricky.”
After his time on the beach in Dubai, Ledley is preparing himself for sand of a different kind on Sunday when Celtic will have to adapt to the poor playing surface in Dingwall.
“The pitch was awful when we played there last time,” he added. “There is a lot of sand on it. We might need to change the way we play, I don’t know. The pitch was shocking the last time and it’s difficult to get it down and play on a surface like that.
“The way myself and the other players like to play is the right way. We like to get the ball down and pass, but it’s going to be very difficult to do that at Ross County. We might have to revert to playing long balls.”
While the title has already been secured, Celtic’s remaining SPL fixtures are crucial to their opponents in the chase for the remaining Europa League qualification place. Both Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Johnstone will be hoping Celtic do not ease off this weekend, but Ledley says any criticism of Lennon’s current selection policy is unfair.
“I don’t think we should be criticised,” he said. “If they think the players we do have out on the pitch are not good enough, then that’s a bit disrespectful.
“It doesn’t matter what team we put out, we have fantastic professionals and they will always try to win every game for Celtic.
“So I don’t think anyone should say we aren’t putting out a strong team.”