An unbridgeable schism between Celtic and Dedryck Boyata appeared to open yesterday after the player’s agent effectively stated the defender would not make himself available for the club as he attempted to force a move away from the Scottish champions.
Earlier in the week manager Brendan Rodgers had expressed his hope that he could turn to the Belgian for the return leg of Champions League third round qualifier in AEK Athens on Tuesday, having been thus far deprived of his services following the Belgian’s participation in the World Cup finals.
Yesterday, the Celtic manager admitted it would be “difficult” for the player to be considered for the Greek encounter – the situation being complicated by a reported back injury – as a stand-off emerged over the club’s unwillingness to accept a £9 million bid from Fulham for the 27-year-old who has entered the final year of his contract.
Boyata’s agent Jacques Lichtenstein yesterday accused Celtic of failing to make good on pledges that they would co-operate over a transfer for his client, with Seville, Lazio and Lyon all credited with an interest in the player. Speaking after his side’s 1-0 defeat away to Hearts, Rodgers revealed that Lichtenstein had turned up at the Celtic training ground unannounced on Friday morning.
Relations between the player and the club were suggested by Lichtenstein to have reached the point of no return. Rodgers, meanwhile, was adamant the centre-back would not be allowed to leaving without a replacement having been lined up.
“Celtic are a very big club, but don’t behave like one,” said Boyata’s agent. “Dedryck is disappointed because he has been made promises that have not been kept. They have not responded to the interest of other clubs. Phone calls have gone unanswered. Requests for meetings have been refused.
“He is still under contract with Celtic until June 2019 but entering the last 10 months everyone understands that he cannot put his career at risk by playing even slightly injured or at 95 per cent what a footballer sometimes does when it is covered by two or three years of contract.
“Despite Dedryck’s love for Celtic fans, he cannot put his future and his family’s future in danger by playing without being 100 per cent. On 1 January he will sign elsewhere by being free without reporting anything to Celtic.”
Rodgers sought to place the situation in the context of the club’s stance.
“Obviously now there have been one or two offers for him,” he said. “But of course the likes of ourselves, if we lose a centre half of that quality at this vital stage, we have to be able to replace him. So rightly the club will look at that, and I have to look at that as the manager, to see if all the timing is right.
“Dedryck’s agent turned-up yesterday at the training ground. The day before the game the training ground is closed.
“He wanted to speak to me at 10 o’clock. I’ve got a meeting with players at half past 10 concentrating on this game and I said I couldn’t meet him before but I’d meet him after training once I’d done my work. When I came back after training he wasn’t there. So that’s the honest situation where he’s at. He’s a player we don’t want to lose. He may run his contract down but unless there’s something other than that we want him to be here.”
The Celtic manager seemed to seek to differentiate between the conduct of his agent and that of Boyata himself.
“I don’t want to go down that route,” he said on being asked if this was a case of deliberate disruption. “It’s something that can happen but Dedryck’s a good guy. I look at where he was when I came in to where he is at now. He’ll get opportunities, of course, but he’ll have opportunities in the future as well.
“He’s in the last year of his contract and it works both ways really. Can he play with his mind this way? I’m not sure. It is difficult.
“My concentration is really on the players that are going to play and are going to be fit to play and see if we can go out there and meet the challenge and get the result. We’ll see over the next couple of days.”
Meanwhile, Rodgers has not given up hope that Moussa Dembele could be on the flight to Athens this afternoon following three weeks sidelined with a hamstring injury.
“I’ll find out tomorrow where he is at,” said Rodgers. “It would be a great boost for us if he was, give us that extra availability of a really good player. So we’ll see how that goes.””