The highly-rated Sporting Gijon striker, 24, had been identified as Celtic’s main transfer target and looked certain to put pen to paper on a four-year deal with the Scottish champions.
But the club, who last week exited the Champions League, were left deeply disappointed when the Serbian’s representatives indicated he would not be signing and will now move elswehere, with Getafe believed to be the front-runners. Manager Ronny Deila now faces a frantic final day scramble to bring in a forward before the transfer window closes at 11pm tonight.
Deila also insisted that Leigh Griffiths will not be allowed to go on loan to Hibs after the striker came off the bench to score the equaliser in his team’s 1-1 draw with Dundee. Virgil van Dijk, who had hoped for a move to England and was left out of the team yesterday, has also been told he is going nowhere.
Speculation about a short-term return to Easter Road by Griffiths has grown as the closure of the transfer window neared, and was heightened on Saturday night after current Hibs front man Farid El Alagui was injured in his club’s humiliating defeat at Alloa. But Deila refused to confirm that any club had approached Celtic about the player, and said his emphasis was on adding to his squad.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked about a bid for Griffiths. “I haven’t heard that, but that’s no option. Leigh Griffiths is going to stay. No players are going out. It is important to get people fit and back from injury, get the new players in and get them playing matches so we have a strong and good squad for the fantastic games we are going to have after the next 14 days.”
Celtic were far more potent in attack after Griffiths had come on, and they were also a lot more vulnerable at the back without Van Dijk, going behind in the opening minute to a James McPake header. “There has been a lot of speculation and a lot of thinking for him,” Deila said of the 23-year-old defender.
“He’s a very important player for us, a very good player – and we’ve told him there’s no chance he is going to leave. He’s too important to us, so there’s no chance we’ll let him go during this window. We couldn’t replace him. So he is going to stay here. Of course it’s hard for him and he’s had a lot of thinking to do. But it will not be a problem. His girlfriend is also pregnant and due soon. So he hasn’t had the right focus. He wouldn’t have been 100 per cent today – that is why he didn’t play.
“He needs a couple of days to get this out of his system, get thinking positively again. He’s a player we want to have and we’d like to sign him on an even longer contract. That’s how it is. We need good players here and we need to have his kind of player if we want to get the results we need. So that is no problem.
“He had, of course, wishes to get to a new stage. He is a young player and he’ll get many chances in his career. But now we need him here and he knows that and that is how it is going to be.”
Deila refused to say whether he or Van Dijk had made the final decision that the Dutchman would not be in the squad at Dundee. “We talked about it,” he added. “When you are not 100 per cent at Celtic you can’t play. Then other players can do a better job and that is how it is.”
Deila hinted more signings were possible before the window closes, saying the club were “working all the time to see what the options are”. He refused to say whether Amido Balde would be allowed out on loan, and declined to comment when asked if he had made or would make a bid for Dundee United’s Stuart Armstrong. “We’ll see what’s happening. On Tuesday everyone will see what the squad is.”