Celtic are close to sealing a deal for winger Scott Sinclair from Aston Villa as Brendan Rodgers looks to bolster his squad ahead of Monday night’s signing deadline for the Champions League play-off round.
Yesterday’s draw in Nyon paired the Scottish champions with Hapoel Beer-Sheva of Israel with the first game at Celtic Park on 17 August and the return leg six days later.
Rodgers has been dealt a blow for the tie with the news that on-loan Manchester City winger Patrick Roberts, who has started the season so brightly, will be sidelined for around three weeks with the hamstring tear he suffered in Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over Astana in the second leg of the third qualifying round.
But the Celtic manager is set to have a fresh option in the wide position as he looks to be reunited with former Chelsea and Manchester City player Sinclair, who had a successful spell under him at Swansea City.
Celtic failed in several bids for Sinclair who was initially valued at close to £5 million by Villa. But negotiations reached an advanced stage yesterday with Villa, following their £12m capture of Scotland international Ross McCormack from Fulham, softening their stance. Sinclair is now expected to join Celtic in a deal worth around £3.5m.
Rodgers is also keen to make one further signing in time for the Hapoel Beer-Sheva tie but may have to use the “wild card” option which allows clubs to sign one player beyond the initial Uefa deadline so long as they are registered at least 24 hours before the first leg.
“Scott is obviously a player I know very well,” said Rodgers. “We will see what happens over the course of the weekend. As a club, we would hope to close something out at the weekend. Ideally it would be two players. Ideally, I would hope one of them would be over the weekend. If the other one wasn’t by Monday’s deadline, then, hopefully, not long after that.”
Rodgers is dismayed by the loss of Roberts, although he has not given up hope of the 19-year-old recovering in time for the return trip to Israel.
“Patrick will probably be out for up to three weeks,” he added. “It is a slight hamstring strain which is unfortunate as he has been improving in terms of his play for us every day.
“Hamstrings can be up to six weeks, so it could have been worse. At a push, we will be looking at him being involved in the second leg. Hopefully he will be available for that.”
Rodgers has cooled talk of Gary Mackay-Steven joining Ross County on loan but confirmed more players will be following Scott Allan, who has joined Rotherham United for the rest of the season, in making temporary moves away from Celtic.
“Gary is still a couple of weeks away from being fit,” said Rodgers. “I haven’t been able to see him play yet, so there is nothing in that one at the moment.
“With Scott, he hasn’t played 90 minutes in a year now. That is a long time as a footballer. I have only seen him over the last couple of weeks. You have to make a decision on the squad and try to help the player and his career as well. He was probably going to be limited in terms of how much he was going to play here.
“It is an opportunity to go and work with a manager in Alan Stubbs he has worked with before. We wish him luck.
“I think there will be a few more following the same route. It was never going to happen immediately. You can only work with a certain number of players and with a few more to come in there will be even less opportunity for some.”
Rodgers was upbeat about Celtic’s prospects against Hapoel Beer-Sheva who won the Israeli title for the first time in 40 years last season. They beat Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova 3-2 on aggregate in the second qualifying round before upsetting Greek champions Olympiacos 1-0 on aggregate. They do not begin their domestic league season until after the first leg against Celtic.
“What can maybe help us a little bit is that Hapoel Beer-Sheva are not into their season yet,” said Rodgers. “Astana were 22 games in, so when you add that to their own pre-season then they were at a real, good level of fitness.
“That shows that our players did so well to score at the end of the first and second half against them on Wednesday. It’s another tough tie but I expected tough games right the way through. This won’t be any different.
“We need to find out about the conditions and it will be another long flight. There are logistical elements. We’ll have an analysis of that before making decisions. Our preference would have been to have the second leg at home. But it means we can put a real good marker down in the first game at Celtic Park. Being at home with the fanatical support, we can really have a good go in that match and tee it up for the second leg.”