CELTIC new boy Tom Rogic has told how a footballing X-Factor competition helped him launch his professional career.
The 20-year-old Australian checked in at Lennoxtown this week after securing a work permit, following his move from Central Coast Mariners.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon snapped up the attacking midfielder on a four-and-a-half-year contract for a reported fee of £400,000, after he had trained with the Celtic players in Marbella during their winter training camp last month.
When meeting the media at the club’s training complex yesterday, Rogic revealed his break came when he was invited to the Nike Football Academy at Loughborough University after winning The Chance, a football talent search competition organised by Nike and run all over the world.
Asked if there was an X-Factor element to his breakthrough, Rogic, who has since won four caps for the Socceroos, laughed then replied: “In a way I guess you could put it like that.
“About two years ago, I was just playing local football. The Chance programme was to find unidentified talent who had not been at professional clubs. Playing local league at the time, I gave it a try and ended up being part of the Nike Academy, based in Loughborough, England, for about six months. Not being able to sign for any clubs because of work permit reasons, I headed home and signed for Central Coast, where I had a productive 12 months and I guess it has all culminated in signing for Celtic.
“The past 12, 18 months seem pretty crazy but I have put in a lot of hard work and believe I have earned the opportunity.
“It is obviously a massive club with a great history. When they were interested I was very flattered and, from when I met the side in Marbella and coming back and seeing Celtic Park and Lennoxtown, it altogether seemed like a great move. It happened very quickly, it is a great move and I am looking forward to the challenge.”
Lennon recognised Rogic’s relatively late entry into the professional game but had enough confidence in the player to put him alongside some exalted company.
Lennon, who tried to sign Wolves’ Kevin Doyle before the transfer window closed, said: “I think he has had a meteoric rise, but long may that continue. We are not saying he is the Great White Hope or anything like that but I think he will be invaluable as the season goes on and, over the next two or three years, we hope he blossoms into the player we hope he can be.
“There are times you get late developers who go on to have fantastic careers. Roy Keane was playing at Cobh Ramblers and a couple of months later Brian Clough gave him his debut (for Nottingham Forest) at Anfield against Liverpool and Roy didn’t look back. Tom has matured, physically, although I think he has a little bit more to come in that aspect, but athletically and football-wise, for his age, he is very good.”
Rogic will not be in the squad for tomorrow’s William Hill Scottish Cup tie at Raith Rovers, but Lennon insists he could be involved in the Champions League last-16 clash on 12 February against Juventus, who yesterday completed the signing of Nicolas Anelka from Shanghai Shenhua on a six-month contract with the option of adding a further year.
Lennon said: “We are just hoping he adjusts quickly to the environment and if he does then he will have every chance to be in the squad.”
On his attempt to get Doyle, the Northern Irishman said: “I wanted him to come in and play with Gary (Hooper) but Wolves were firm on that as we were regarding Gary (not going to Norwich). Kevin knows what the club is about but he is pretty committed with Wolves for the foreseeable future and we respect that.”
Lennon also revealed his delight that Celtic held on to Hooper in the face of a fourth bid from Norwich on the final day of the transfer window. The English Premier League outfit had been rebuffed three times before they came back on deadline day with another offer which was again rejected.
For his part, Lennon is still hoping to complete the loan signing of Swedish goalkeeper Viktor Noring from Trelleborgs and revealed he has had former Manchester United youngster Kenji Gorre, son of SFA youth coach Dean Gorre, on trial at Lennoxtown for a week.
Lennon said: “I am delighted that we have kept all our main players. We have added Tom Rogic, Rami Gershon and hopefully Viktor – we are just waiting on the paperwork coming through – so it has been a decent window for us.
“There was another bid in yesterday (for Hooper), again, an improved offer. I am not going to go into the figures but it was substantial. We made our position clear and we stuck to that. I knew what has happening so it wasn’t nervy for me.”
Chris Hughton, the Norwich manager, confirmed his club had tabled several “substantial bids” for Hooper, all of which were rebuffed by Celtic, who are said to have last night slapped a £10 million price tag on their prized asset.
“We did put bids in and they were substantial bids, certainly by the levels of this football club,” said Hughton. “All the conversations we had with Celtic were good, amicable conversations, but it was very clear he is a player who they had a big valuation of and did not want to lose.”