HAVING finally agreed a new contract with Celtic, Martin O’Neill moved swiftly yesterday to strengthen his squad by snapping up Livingston goalkeeper Javier Sanchez Broto.
The 31-year-old Spaniard was at Parkhead for a medical yesterday, and all being well, is expected to be in O’Neill’s squad for the Scottish Cup tie against St Mirren tomorrow. "I’m very happy with the move," said Broto. "Celtic are one of the biggest teams in Europe, not just in Scotland."
Having let Jonathan Gould go to Preston North End recently, and being without Rab Douglas, who has had a hernia operation, until next month, Celtic were already in the market for another goalkeeper.
The urgency of their search increased earlier in the week when Magnus Hedman pulled out of the Lisbon Lions testimonial match with a groin strain, and, though Hedman said yesterday he would be fit for the St Mirren match, the acquisition of Broto is a useful insurance policy.
The former Malaga player will be a loss to Livingston, but the Almondvale club’s team manager, Jim Leishman, was doing his best to be philosophical yesterday. "We always thought that Javier would be moving during the winter break, but we didn’t think it would be as early as this week.
"Then on Tuesday night we heard that Celtic were interested, and everything moved very quickly from there. Javier has done very well for us, but you move on. You go forward."
Brought to Scotland in August 2000 by the then-Airdrie manager Steve Archibald, Broto moved from Broomfield to Almondvale in March 2001. His contract was due to expire in the summer, and by selling him Livingston have secured some much-needed funds.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether Broto is anything more than a stop-gap signing. Hedman said yesterday that he would definitely be available for the cup match, meaning that the new signing may well begin his Celtic career in the way it could easily continue - on the subs bench.
"I felt a bit of tightness in my groin and spoke to the doctor," Hedman said on the Celtic website about the reason for pulling out of the Feyenoord match. "He felt that we would be as well leaving it because there was no point in taking any chances before Saturday’s game. It was a good decision, because now I expect to be fully fit for Saturday. The main thing for me is to be fit, have a good game and then keep that going."
In the absence of Hedman and Douglas, 17-year-old David Marshall took over in goal on Wednesday night. "I thought he did all right," said Hedman. "There wasn’t anything he could do about the goals and he looked solid in the things that he did. It was a great learning experience for him."
As well as losing Broto, Livingston also came to an agreement with Aberdeen yesterday to release Michael Hart immediately. The formalities of the deal should be completed tomorrow and an estimated 30,000 will change hands for the midfielder, who had already signed a pre-contract agreement to rejoin the club that released him on a free transfer two years ago. It was the first pre-contractual deal between two Scottish clubs, and it was in the interests of both to settle the matter now, rather than have Hart continue as a Livingston player for months after having publicly committed himself to Aberdeen.
While goalkeeping is recognised as a specialist position and therefore exempt from the 14-day clearance rule, outfield players are not. Hart is thus not eligible to play against Queen of the South tomorrow, but he will be available for subsequent rounds should Aberdeen successfully negotiate the visit to Dumfries.
The modest sums accrued by the Hart and Broto deals may yet enable Livingston to secure the services of Guillermo Amor, the former Barcelona player who has been training with the Almondvale club for the past couple of weeks. The West Lothian club came under increased financial pressure this week when Sergio Berti won his appeal against dismissal from the club, and Leishman feared that the Amor deal was in jeopardy as a result.
"The Berti decision will probably have an effect on the Amor deal," Leishman said. "That would be a real shame, because he has been very impressive in his time here."
Now the money from the Hart and Broto transfers will at least partially counterbalance the cost of honouring the remaining two years on Berti’s contract. As a consequence, Livingston should clinch a deal with Amor today.
Martin O’Neill has been cut from 5/2 to 7/4 favourite to become the next permanent manager of Manchester United by bookmakers William Hill, who make England boss Sven Goran Erikkson 7/2 second favourite. "Signing a contract at Celtic has not prevented punters from speculating that O’Neill is biding his time for the United job," said William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe.