Jozo Simunovic: I’ll stay and fight for Celtic place

Jozo Simunovic celebrates with the William Hill Scottish Cup after the 2-0 final defeat ofMotherwell. Picture Craig Williamson/SNS
Jozo Simunovic celebrates with the William Hill Scottish Cup after the 2-0 final defeat ofMotherwell. Picture Craig Williamson/SNS
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Jozo Simunovic has revealed a heart-to-heart meeting with manager Brendan Rodgers has left him content to stay at Celtic and fight to regain his first team place.

The Croatian defender had a frustrating end to the season, losing his place in Rodgers’ side after being sent off in the Old Firm victory at Ibrox in March.

Simunovic has started
only one game since as Norwegian youngster Kristoffer Ajer established himself as Dedryck Boyata’s first-choice partner in the centre of defence.

There was at least a positive end to the campaign for Simunovic when he replaced Ajer for the final 15 minutes of Saturday’s 2-0 Scottish Cup Final victory over Motherwell as the double treble was completed. Now the 23-year-old, who is under contract until the summer of 2021, is determined to force his way back into Rodgers’ starting line-up as they target a third consecutive clean sweep of domestic trophies next season.

Simunovic said: “The second half of the season was frustrating but by the end it was okay for me.

“I’ve been ready to play all the time and it’s just been down to the decision of the manager.

“Of course I wanted to show my best in training but it’s the manager’s decision and the thing is in the end we won the treble.

“He explained it to me and I’m still very happy here. I cannot tell you what he said to me – that must remain personal. But it was a very good conversation. He speaks with every player so it was nothing strange that he spoke to me.

“It’s a challenge for me to get back in the team. I’m looking forward to next season to working hard and trying to get back in. My contract is here for another three years and I’m ready for that.

“It was a nice feeling to get on the pitch at Hampden and the most important thing was that we won and got the treble again. I’m very proud.

“It was something special to win another treble and to be part of that on the pitch is very special. Every player wants to play but there’s no problem if others get on. If I didn’t make it on the pitch, then I don’t have an issue.”

Simunovic caused a stir in his homeland last year when, having played for Croatia at every level up to under-21s, he switched allegiance to Bosnia and Herzegovina where his parents hail from. But he later performed another U-turn, angering Bosnian coach Robert Prosinecki, and his international future is now uncertain.

“It’s been a difficult season for me but I took those decisions for myself and for sure I’m a stronger man for it,” said Simunovic.

“Every footballer has his ups and downs and you have to take the right messages from these experiences. I had a conversation with the Bosnia manager and everything was fine.

“Now I have to forget that and go forward. Next season all I want is another treble with Celtic. I believe we can do it but we have to take it game by game. European football is something we also have to aim for.”