CELTIC first-team coach Garry Parker believes top scorer Gary Hooper would be “mad” to leave the club during the current transfer window and miss out on a Champions League last-16 tie against Juventus.
Hooper scored his 18th goal of the season yesterday to earn Celtic a 1-0 home win over Motherwell which gives them a nine-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League.
The 24-year-old was watched by Norwich City manager Chris Hughton and has been linked with several other English Premier League clubs. He has 18 months remaining on his current Celtic contract and talks over a new deal have failed to reach a conclusion so far.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon has consistently expressed his optimism that he will not lose any key players during the January window. He left post-match media duties yesterday to Parker who believes next month’s Champions League assignment with Serie A leaders Juventus will convince Hooper to stay.
“I expect Gary to be here at the end of January, definitely,” said Parker. “We want to keep him. We are in Europe, we have the last 16 of the Champions League coming up. I don’t think any player would like to leave now.
“I don’t know what his thoughts are, but I think he will stay. I am hoping that. It’s down to the manager and the people upstairs. But why would he want to leave when he has Champions League football? Would it be madness to leave now? Of course it would.”
Hooper’s 79th minute winner against Motherwell came just two minutes after Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster brilliantly kept out a penalty kick by Tom Hateley. Parker hailed the contribution of Forster who has been outstanding for the Scottish champions both at home and in Europe this season.
“It was a great save from Fraser,” said Parker. “He does it week in, week out for us and that’s why he is in the England squad. He is a big guy, when you see the size of him the goal becomes smaller.
“He is a great goalkeeper, he has proved that. At the other end of the pitch, Gary scores goals and his general play is good. We have a good squad here with some good players. Fraser and Gary are two very special players who are important to us.
“We had a lot of pressure today but I didn’t think it was coming until late on. But it’s always nice to get the win. It was a long time coming but we dominated the game.
“We started off very well and had 18 attempts on target in the match. I think we fully deserved the three points. We are in a good position now. We are where we want to be, nine points clear at the top of the table.”
With the SPL closing on the winter break, Celtic go to Marbella next Wednesday for a week-long training camp – including a friendly against Steaua Bucharest on 15 January.
“The players have had 35 competitive games and they need a break to recharge their batteries,” said Parker. “They will spend time with their families over the next few days, then we will get together at the training camp in Spain next Wednesday. We have a game over there as well before we come back and will be ready to face Hearts on 19 January.
“Scott Brown was feeling his injury, which is why he didn’t play today, so it will be nice for him to get a rest. He has two weeks now and should be okay.”
Celtic defender Kelvin Wilson, who conceded the penalty yesterday with a foul on Jamie Murphy, will spend the first day of his break at Hampden today as he contests a two-match suspension offered by SFA Compliance Officer Vincent Lunny for an alleged elbow in the face of Dundee striker John Baird at Dens Park on Boxing Day.
“To be fair, Baird has said he was grabbing my shirt and I was just trying to get away,” said Wilson. “Unfortunately I caught him but it wasn’t an elbow, so I don’t know where the violent conduct charge has come from.
“We’ll see what happens and if it goes against me I’ll just have to get on with it and go again after my ban.”