CELTIC still have nine days to try and fend off Norwich City’s interest in Gary Hooper, but while they are determined to keep their top goalscorer for the remainder of the season there was an admission yesterday that Burnley striker Charlie Austin heads a list of potential replacements.
Norwich failed with a £5 million bid for Hooper on Friday, and are believed to be ready to increase their offer for the Englishman. Celtic assistant manager Johan Mjallby expects Hooper – who at the weekend took his tally for the season to 23 in all competitions – to stay at Parkhead, but confirmed Austin could be targetted if he leaves.
The 23-year-old Austin, who cost Burnley around £1.8 million from Swindon in July 2011, has also scored 23 goals this season after netting 17 last term. “He might be on the shortlist,” Mjallby said of the 6ft 2in forward. “Charlie is a proven goalscorer and he might come in handy in the future. But right now we think Gary will stay on, at least until the summer, and that will be great for the club. He is a top-class player. It’s not only his goals, the last couple of months have shown he is improving his all-round game.
“We can use him in midfield as well because he is a very clever player. We want to keep him because he is improving and making the team better.
“Gary has proven to be the best goalscorer for us so that’s one of the reasons we want to keep him. We always have a shortlist for players in each and every position but right now we are just thinking about Gary staying because he is a very important figure for our squad.”
Hooper, 24, who will lead the line for Celtic in their SPL fixture at home to Dundee United this evening, brushed aside the speculation over his future by scoring twice in a 4-1 victory over Hearts on Saturday and Mjallby added: “The situation hasn’t changed at all since Saturday.
“We don’t want Gary Hooper to leave. I think he is very happy here. He put in a great performance the other day. He is enjoying his football, he is enjoying playing for Celtic and enjoying his team-mates.
“Not only his goals at the weekend, but his general performance was very, very good. The only bid has been from Norwich but we expect there are going to be offers for our best players anyway. That’s the way it is in this climate.”
Mjallby, who also dismissed reports that Yokohama Marinos forward Yuji Ono was a serious target, is braced for further bids for Hooper and other players. “I’m sure there will be bids for a lot of players here in the summer but if that happens it’s up to the board, the manager and the chief executive to discuss that,” he said.
“Even if you get a lot of money for Gary, if a bid comes in and the board and everyone thinks it’s good enough, it’s always a gamble because money doesn’t always buy you a good player. Right now we know what we have got, we have a good squad and players we know and how they function. If you buy a new striker, you never know if it’s going to be successful or not.”
Meanwhile, Celtic have secured a work permit for Australian midfielder Tom Rogic. The 20-year-old signed for Celtic on a four-and-a-half-year contract after a deal was agreed last week with Central Coast Mariners.
A club statement read: “The highly-rated youngster will now return to Australia to complete some final paperwork before returning to Glasgow and getting his [Celtic] career under way.”