European exit could cost Celtic Virgil van Dijk
The Dutch central defender, regarded as Celtic’s prize asset, had been committed to a second season with the Scottish champions in the event they once again reached the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition.
But Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat to Maribor at Celtic Park in the second leg of the play-off round tie, completing a 2-1 aggregate win for the Slovenian side, means Ronny Deila’s squad will compete in the less alluring Europa League instead.
Celtic did complete the loan signing of Ghanaian winger Mubarak Wakaso from Russian club Rubin Kazan yesterday and will formally unveil the 24-year-old this afternoon.
But Van Dijk, who has been linked with potential moves to Newcastle United and Sevilla in recent weeks, admits he is now unsure whether he will still be a Celtic player when the summer transfer window closes on Monday night.
“It is difficult to say if this defeat will have an influence on my future,” he told the Dutch broadcaster NOS. “I want to play at the highest level.
“We were playing for a place in the Champions League group stages, and sadly we haven’t gone through. I am a Celtic player for now, but we will have to see what happens. The Champions League is the highest level, and now we have gone into the Europa League. It is still European football, but on a somewhat lower level. Let’s see what happens. The transfer window will be open until Monday night.”
Van Dijk was deployed as a striker in the closing stages on Tuesday night as Celtic desperately tried to salvage their Champions League campaign and he missed a glorious late chance to force the tie into extra time.
“We were very poor against Maribor,” added the 23-year-old. “You have to be honest and say we did not deserve to go through. We were full of confidence, but it is a shame that we won’t be playing in the Champions League this year.
“As for my chance, let’s not forget that I am a central defender. I was doing well just to control the ball and get a shot on target. It was a great chance, and had I been a striker I’d have fired it into the top corner with my instep. But it wasn’t to be.”
Celtic’s summer recruitment policy has been heavily criticised by their supporters and the arrival of Wakaso sees them make their fourth loan signing. Cardiff City midfielder Joe Inge Berget, Aston Villa winger Aleksandar Tonev and Manchester City defender Jason Denayer have also joined on temporary deals.
The only permanent signing made so far under new manager Deila’s tenure has been that of Scotland international goalkeeper Craig Gordon who was a free agent.
He has replaced Fraser Forster, sold to Southampton for around £10 million, while striker Tony Watt moved to Standard Liege for £1.25 million.
Celtic have been pursuing £3 million-rated Serbian international striker Stefan Scepovic from Spanish second-tier club Sporting Gijon. But the 23-year-old has confirmed he has other options, including Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, as he prepares to settle his future over the next few days.
“I know that Celtic want me but the Sporting Gijon board has told me that so far they didn’t receive any offer from Scotland,” said Scepovic.
“But Sporting will sell me, that is for sure. They even told me not to train and play so that I could not get injured.
“Celtic? I would be happy to go there, for sure. But PSV is also a big club and I must admit that there are even more options. I think that soon everything will be sorted out.”
Wakaso, who spent much of his career in Spanish football and played for Ghana at this year’s World Cup Finals in Brazil, will go straight into Deila’s squad for Sunday’s Scottish Premiership fixture against Dundee at Dens Park.
He will also be eligible for their Europa League group stage campaign with the draw taking place at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco tomorrow.
Ahead of tonight’s play-off round ties, Celtic look set to be among the second pot of seeds.
Holders Sevilla are among the top seeds they could face, along with Tottenham Hotspur if the English Premier League side come through their play-off round tie against AEL Limassol this evening. Hull City, who are bidding to overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit against Belgian club Lokeren tonight, are one of the potential pot three opponents for Celtic. But it is pot four which perhaps holds the most intriguing possibility in the shape of Legia Warsaw.
The Polish champions, controversially eliminated from the Champions League for fielding a suspended player in their 6-1 aggregate win over Celtic in the third qualifying round, tonight take a 1-0 lead into the home leg of their Europa League play-off against Kazakhstan side Aktobe.