‘Rolls-Royce’ Jozo Simunovic has class to fill void

Jozo Simunovic has been recruited by Celtic for 5.5m as a replacement for Virgil van Dijk. Picture: Getty
Jozo Simunovic has been recruited by Celtic for 5.5m as a replacement for Virgil van Dijk. Picture: Getty
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TOSH McKinlay has sought to alleviate fears regarding Celtic’s defensive options following the deadline day departure of Virgil van Dijk, assuring supporters that they have imported a gleaming new “Rolls-Royce” in his place.

One of the summer’s longest running transfer sagas – perhaps only exceeded by Scott Allan’s Hibernian exit – was finally resolved on Tuesday afternoon when the classy Dutchman completed his £13 million move to Southampton.

From left to right: Tosh McKinlay, Jim Leishman and Tom Boyd promote Sunday's Jock Stein Charity Match at East End Park. Picture: SNS

From left to right: Tosh McKinlay, Jim Leishman and Tom Boyd promote Sunday's Jock Stein Charity Match at East End Park. Picture: SNS

While the size of the fee – a record for an export from Scotland – provides some solace, plenty of Celtic followers are of the opinion they have exited the transfer window in worse shape than they entered it.

However, McKinlay is adamant that Jozo Simunovic will rapidly fill the void left by Van Dijk following his £5.5 million arrival from Dinamo Zagreb.

The 21-year-old is something of an unknown quantity to most on these shores but, having pored over footage of the Croatian prospect, the former Celtic defender could barely contain his excitement.

“Virgil wanted to go elsewhere and that’s what happened,” said McKinlay. “But with Jozo Simunovic coming in, there is plenty at the club.

“Here is a guy who has already played over 100 times for Dinamo Zagreb, has captained Croatia’s under-21s and already has great pedigree.

“I have seen a lot of footage of him, he’s a fantastic footballer. So it will be seamless with him coming in and Van Dijk going. Certainly, from what I have seen, he can come in and do a fantastic job for Celtic. He is Rolls-Royce material and he can certainly make a big impact in the Scottish game.

“Mark Viduka came over from Zagreb and he did not too badly at all. He was a fantastic player for Celtic and, if Jozo does half as good, then everyone will be happy.”

While Celtic moved quickly to snap up Simunovic following Van Dijk’s exit, it is thought they failed in several bids to secure striking reinforcements before the closure of the transfer window.

Nevertheless, McKinlay believes they have the firepower to excel at home and abroad.

He added: “I’m looking at the whole squad and I think it is fantastic. I’m more than confident that Nadir Ciftci will score goals for Celtic.

“I’ve always been an admirer of Leigh Griffiths too. He has a great scoring record and he has settled in at Celtic well. I’m sure he will go on to do well.

“There’s a lot of fresh blood in there. [Stuart] Armstrong, [Gary] Mackay-Steven, Scott Allan and Ryan Christie – although he is going back on loan to Inverness.

“There are a lot of young, exciting players at Celtic who can score goals and make an impact. I think they can do well in the Europa League. I’m sure it will be a good season for them.”

McKinlay was speaking as he prepares to don his own boots again, as part of a Celtic Legends XI which will face their Dunfermline counterparts at East End Park on Sunday afternoon.

The charity match is in honour of Jock Stein and marks the 30th anniversary of his passing. Among those in black-and-white this weekend will be the likes of Marco Ruitenbeek, Andrius Skerla, Istvan Kozma and Stevie Crawford.

However, one name stands out more than most. From Hollywood to the Halbeath Road: Vinnie Jones.

“I’ve never played against Vinnie Jones. But I will be keeping my eye out for him,” McKinlay said.

“It’s fantastic he’s turning out for Dunfermline and [James] McAvoy is coming out for us, so it should be a fitting afternoon.”