FORMER Celtic defender Tosh McKinlay believes Celtic still hold all the aces in their battle to keep hold of Virgil van Dijk.
The £9million-rated Dutchman is a target for Premier League sides Arsenal, Sunderland and Southampton.
And the 23-year-old did little to hide his desire for a switch south when he was quoted last week saying “sometimes it’s time to make a move”.
But with two years remaining on the Hoops contract the former Groningen centre-half penned in 2013, McKinlay says he will be going nowhere unless Parkhead boss Ronny Deila agrees to it.
The retired ex-Celtic full-back - speaking at the annual Glasgow Taxis charity Outing to Troon send-off in Glasgow - said: “It would be a blow to lose the big man.
“I was lucky enough to see George Connelly in his prime and Virgil reminds me very much of George.
“Personally, I think another season at Celtic Park would stand Virgil in very good stead, but it remains to be seen if he and the club think it is time for him to go.
“Is he ready to make that step up to the Premier League down south? I think so, but it all depends on who comes in for him.
“The good thing for Celtic is that they are the ones in control. They can decide whether to let him go or not because Virgil is still under contract.
“It will be their call if they want him to stay at Celtic Park for another year.
“I’m sure, though, that they will be sitting down over the next couple of weeks to decide what his future is going to be.”
McKinlay hopes Delia lingers long enough over a decision on van Dijk’s future that he is still around to play a part in Celtic’s Champions League qualifying bid.
But he warned his old side not to delay too much when mulling over bids for fresh talent.
In recent years, chief executive Peter Lawwell has waited to see how the Hoops fare in those early-season duels which grant entry to the group stages before releasing his grip on the club’s purse strings.
But 1995 Scottish Cup winner McKinlay said: “These Champions League qualifiers are crucial for Celtic, but they come very early, so it’s important that whatever players are coming in, they are bedded in for pre-season so that they know what is required for the group stages.
“Dedryck Boyata has come in already and he will be a good addition to the squad.
“In the past with players coming in, it’s just been about timing. Celtic will try to do their business early, but contracts can take a long time to get over the line sometimes.
“But I’m sure Celtic will want to get guys in early ahead of the Champions League proper because it is so important to the club that these big European nights come back to Celtic Park.
“Last year was a bit false start with having to play the qualifiers at Murrayfield. But now we’re taking the games back to Parkhead, the place will be on fire, there’s no doubt about that.”