GARY Hooper was told yesterday to consider following Henrik Larsson’s path when considering whether his future lies with Celtic, or in England.
The advice came from Johan Mjallby, the Celtic assistant manager, who watched Larsson, his friend and team-mate, resist an offer from Manchester United in 2001 to stay with Celtic and become one of Europe’s most sought-after strikers by remaining in Glasgow.
Mjallby confirmed there has been no fresh offer from Norwich City for Hooper, despite reports of the Barclays Premier League club increasing their rejected £5 million bid to £7m. Celtic face Dundee United tonight at home in a re-arranged Clydesdale Bank Premier League fixture and Mjallby’s wish is for a “dream scenario” that will see Hooper sign a new contract with Celtic before next month’s Champions League last-16 tie with Juventus.
Captain Scott Brown even joined in the Hooper debate by declaring that the 24-year-old English striker would be worth between £15m and £20m if he played down south, pointing to Steven Fletcher’s rise in value since leaving Hibernian for Burnley for £2.9m in 2009.
“We are desperate for Gary to stay and no new bid has come in since Saturday,” said Mjallby. “It would be great for us if Gary (copies Larsson). He has improved his game here. I think Gary might be close to an England call-up soon if he keeps producing for us.
“We are hoping that Gary will be here at the end of January and we can start thinking about Juventus. It will be difficult for us to lose him right now when we have Juventus coming up, because even if you get a lot of money, you never know if you will be able to replace him at short notice.”
Hooper has netted 60 goals for Celtic since his £2.4m purchase from Scunthorpe United in July 2010 for the best goals-per-game ratio since Larsson’s prolific era and Mjallby thinks that his compatriot’s success – eventually winning the Champions League with Barcelona in 2006 – is evidence that reputations can thrive by staying at Celtic Park.
“Did Henrik prove you don’t have to leave Celtic to be a superstar? In a way, yes. Henrik had a bonus in that he played for Sweden, and Gary has not played for England yet. It might be a blessing to be at Celtic. Scottish football is maybe not in the best state, but Celtic is a massive club with a big following.
“You can be a star here, with a lot of chances to score a lot of goals. Down south, you could lose your place. It’s a gamble when you move to another club. We have a glamour tie against Juventus. If Gary is here, it’s a great chance for him to show how good he is at the highest level. His chances of playing for England are better here.
“The dream scenario is that Gary signs a new deal. That would be fantastic for us and would put a lid on the transfer talk. I do not see any reason why Gary could not sign a new deal. I’m not involved in the talks but they are ongoing. We are still hopeful he will sign for us.”
That view was endorsed by Brown. “Everyone puts Gary down just because he plays in Scotland,” said the Celtic captain. “If he was doing this every week in the English Premier League, he’d be worth £15 million or £20m. We are in the Champions League right now and doing better than a lot of the clubs down there.” Brown played alongside Fletcher at Easter Road and has watched his former colleague’s value soar with successive moves, making an £8m switch from Burnley to Wolves before Sunderland paid £14m for the Scotland forward. “Steven has scored a lot of goals in the Premier League and is improving,” said Brown. “If it does happen for Gary, I wish him all the best, but I hope he stays.
“You can understand why teams like Norwich are looking at him and it’s only a matter of time before someone else puts another bid in for him. We want him to stay.”
Peter Houston could be making his last visit to Celtic Park before the Dundee United manager quits his post in the summer. Brown believes that Houston will be offered a job in the English Championship and perhaps come back and buy up some of his current Tannadice team.
“I think Peter will get a good job as he’s a good manager,” said Brown. “He was good with us at Scotland [as assistant to Craig Levein] and has brought through young players at Dundee United and sold them on. There has not been the money to bring in players and it’s been a hard job. You never know, and Peter might go to a club which has lots of money and sign some of his United boys.
“This a hard game for us because Dundee United are always tough to break down, as well as having pace on the counter-attack.”