Craig Bellamy's fulsome praise for Celtic seals the deal as Joe Ledley signs up

WHILE Celtic may now find themselves priced out of the market for players in Craig Bellamy's wage bracket, they were at least able to rely on a glowing reference from the Welsh striker in their successful pursuit of his compatriot Joe Ledley.

• Darren O'Dea and Scott Brown arrive with the Celtic squad at Glasgow Airport bound for London then a tour of North America. Picture: SNS

After agreeing a four-year contract at Parkhead yesterday, midfielder Ledley revealed that the recommendation of his international team-mate Bellamy was a key factor in his decision to reject offers from English Premier League clubs and become Celtic manager Neil Lennon's third summer signing.

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Bellamy, who spent five months on loan at Celtic at the end of the 2004-05 season, has been among the raft of names linked with the club over the past few months. Lennon himself observed that the Manchester City man's salary was "in the stratosphere" as far as Celtic were concerned but he has been of assistance in persuading the more realistic target of Ledley to move north.

"I keep in touch with Bellamy," said Ledley. "He said Celtic was a great club to play for and a good league as well. I texted him and he said it was a great move and I would really enjoy it up here. If he tells you that, then you know it's going to be a great club."

Ledley, who was also coveted by Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion following the expiry of his contract at Cardiff City last month, took some time to weigh up his options as he left the club he has been with since joining their academy programme while at primary school.

"It was a hard decision because I've been there since I was nine," added Ledley. "I've been there all my career but my contract ran out and I think it was time to move on. I had some great memories at Cardiff, it is a great club, but I think the time is right to move on to a bigger club with a great stadium and support.

"I came up to have a look at the stadium and the training facilities at Celtic and I fell in love with the club straight away. It's a massive club, so I'm happy to sort the contract out and sign for Celtic. I'm looking forward to the season and working with Neil and his coaching staff. "

Ledley, whose influence on Cardiff City was compared to that of Steven Gerrard at Liverpool by the Welsh club's manager Dave Jones earlier this year, recovered from a hip operation last season to help them into the Championship play-off final at Wembley where they lost out on a place in the Premier League to Blackpool.

A naturally left-sided player, Ledley is content to fill any midfield role asked of him by Lennon.

"When I was younger, I played on the left wing but Cardiff had some injuries so I got moved into the centre of midfield for the last three years," he added. "I don't mind playing on the left or in the centre.

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"For a 23-year-old, I think I have a lot of experience. I've been capped for my country 32 times and I made over 200 appearances for Cardiff. I've played in a FA Cup final and a Championship final as well, so I've got a bit of experience I can hopefully bring into the games."

Lennon, who identified Ledley as a priority signing target on his first day as Celtic manager, expressed his satisfaction at securing the services of a player he is sure will flourish at the club.

"We really are delighted to welcome Joe to Celtic," said Lennon. "Clearly, there were a number of clubs very interested in signing him, so we are very pleased he has chosen to come to Celtic, somewhere I think he can be a tremendous success."

While Celtic also saw their bid to sign Hull City midfielder Jimmy Bullard on a season-long loan founder yesterday as a result of the player's financial demands, chief executive Peter Lawwell pledged to maintain efforts to make further additions to Lennon's squad ahead of the new season.

"We will continue to do all we can to ensure that we bring quality players to the club," said Lawwell. "We are pleased to be able to support Neil in his plans for the development of the squad. Joe is a highly rated and sought after young player. We are pleased to have beaten off competition from a number of English Premier League clubs for his signature and we are sure he will be a great addition to our squad."x