Celtic will make a move to sign German central defender Marvin Compper next month but he will not be eligible to play in their Europa League round of 32 tie against Zenit St Petersburg.
It is understood the Scottish champions have firmly identified RB Leipzig’s Compper as their leading target to add greater depth in a position of the team which has lacked cover this season.
The 32-year-old, who won a solitary cap for Germany back in 2008, has 18 months remaining on his contract with Leipzig but has fallen out of favour at the Bundesliga club this season.
His only European appearance for the club in the current campaign came as a late substitute in their home defeat against Besiktas in the Champions League last week. As Leipzig joined Celtic in dropping into the Europa League, it means Compper would not be able to play for Brendan Rodgers’ side in the tournament.
But that is unlikely to prevent Rodgers pursuing his interest in the former Borussia Monchengladbach, Hoffenheim and Fiorentina player.
Yesterday’s Europa League draw paired Celtic with a Zenit side now managed by former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini and who were the top scorers in the group stage of the tournament.
As the unseeded side, Celtic will be at home in the first leg on 15 February before travelling to Russia for the return fixture seven days later.
The two matches fall in the midst of a three-month winter break in domestic Russian football which started for Zenit last night following their 0-0 draw away at Akhmat Grozny. Rodgers likened the situation to the one Celtic faced at the start of the season when they went straight into Champions League qualifying ties without having played any league matches.
“It doesn’t make it the easiest,” the Celtic manager said. “We experience that a different way ourselves when we play in the Champions League qualifiers.
“Some of the teams are in season and we are just coming back and we are playing very important games, in our pre-season. So I suppose they have it the other way.”
Celtic will play in a partially-closed Krestovsky Stadium in St Petersburg after Zenit were last week found guilty of “racist behaviour” by Uefa after a banner praising former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic was displayed during their Europa League match against Macedonian side Vardar last month.
The day before that game, Mladic was sentenced to life in prison by a United Nations war crimes tribunal for his part in ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian conflict.
Uefa has also opened up disciplinary proceedings against Zenit following the Europa League group stage match against Real Sociedad in Spain on 7 December, which was won 3-1 by the visitors.
The Russian club were charged with acts of damage, setting off of a firework, throwing of objects and lack of order inside the stadium. The case will be heard by Uefa’s disciplinary body on 22 February.
Zenit supporters have attracted notoriety in the past, once even publishing a manifesto which called on their club not to sign any non-white or gay players.
Rodgers was in charge of Liverpool when they played Zenit in the last 32 of the Europa League five seasons ago – a tie his team lost on away goals – and he recalls being warned about the potential for racist abuse of his players before they travelled to St Petersburg.
“I have to say it was something I was made very aware of before the game we played out there because of the reputation they had within the stadium,” said Rodgers. “I was aware of that side of it. But I have to say, in our game and our travel there, we didn’t experience anything of that. It was a real intense game. Liverpool had a lot of supporters there, Zenit as well, but we had no issues with it whatsoever. There was huge policing there, but we had no issues with it.
“There is no place for racism. Whether it’s football or society, there is no call for it. In terms of speaking to our players about it before this tie, we’ll think about that nearer the time.”