CELTIC manager Neil Lennon will hold talks with his much coveted midfielder Ki Sung Yueng this weekend in a bid to clarify the South Korean international’s situation before the close of the transfer window.
Ki has yet to play for the Scottish champions this season, having spent the summer playing a key role in South Korea winning the bronze medal at the Olympic football tournament. The 23-year-old’s performances for his country have further enhanced his reputation and intensified speculation over a possible move away from Celtic. English Premier League clubs Arsenal, Fulham and QPR have all been credited with an interest in Ki, who has also been linked with Spanish outfit Atletico Madrid.
Ki will again be missing for Celtic today, when they face Ross County in Dingwall on SPL duty, after being granted an extended break by Lennon. But the player is due to report back for training tomorrow ahead of Celtic’s crucial Champions League play-off round, first-leg fixture against Helsingborgs in Sweden on Tuesday night.
Under new Uefa regulations for the tournament, Ki would still be eligible to play for any potential new club in the group stage of the Champions League or Europa League even if he appears for Celtic in the play-off round.
Lennon admits he is unsure of Ki’s intentions but insists Celtic would seek the optimum price, probably in the region of £8 million, for the player they signed for £2.1 million in January 2010 on a three-year contract with a further one-year option.
“I haven’t seen Ki for a month, so I don’t know what he is thinking at the minute,” said Lennon. “When I eventually see him, which hopefully will be on Sunday, he can let me know what he’s thinking. Anyone who wants him will have to pay a good fee for him. I’ve had no contact with anyone and I don’t know if [chief executive] Peter Lawwell has. But it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a few clubs interested in him, with his contract situation being as it is.
“In the games I watched during the Olympics, he played well. I watched him in the quarter-final when South Korea beat Great Britain. I think he’ll come back full of it, full of beans after doing so well. He wanted a wee bit of extra time off, because it was a pretty demanding tournament.
“We afforded him that time but we could do with him coming back this weekend. He’s been made aware of that, so we are hoping to see him on Sunday for training. It will be like having a new signing for the game in Helsingborg. He will go straight into the squad. He will be fit enough, because he’s had plenty of football recently and the South Korean lads tend to look after themselves very well.”
Ki’s return will be especially welcome for Lennon who is likely to face significant selection difficulties for the trip to face the Swedish champions. In addition to Victor Wanyama being suspended after his dismissal in the third qualifying round, second leg match against HJK Helsinki, the Celtic manager has a lengthy injury list to contend with.
Scott Brown (hip), James Forrest (groin), Anthony Stokes (ankle), Daryl Murphy (hamstring), Dylan McGeouch (broken jaw), Mo Bangura (thigh), Paddy McCourt (groin), Rabiu Ibrahim (groin) and Filip Twardzik (ankle) are all ruled out of today’s match against Ross County, while Gary Hooper is rated “touch and go” to recover from a hamstring strain in time.