Pitchside

Celtic’s Champions League death could see Premier League vultures feast on the carcass

Pitchside

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There is a lot riding on Celtic's penultimate Champions League qualifying round match with Legia Warsaw on Wednesday. More so than perhaps the majority of the Glasgow club's concerned fans will care to admit.

If Celtic fail to overcome last week's 4-1 first leg defeat in Poland, which seems more than likely, the Scottish champions could soon be barely recognisable. With Celtic Park out of commission due to its role in the recent Commonwealth Games, Celtic will need to get the job done at Edinburgh's Murrayfield Stadium. A 3-0 win is needed to progress to a final play-off match. It is not impossible, but sounds improbable.

Celtic are facing up to the likelihood that they will be without Champions League football for the first time in three years.

That is likely to hasten the departure of a number of regulars from the former European champions with several Premier League clubs ready to pounce. Kris Commons is the latest man to be linked with a move out of Celtic Park three years after arriving from Derby County for around £500,000.

It is only 18 months since Celtic produced one of the greatest nights in their history by beating Barcelona 2-1 in the Champions League, but that could look like a distant memory before the end of the transfer window.

Southampton have been pilloried for flogging their key men for large profits, but Celtic could wind up in a similar position to Saints with a fire sale on the cards to make up for the short fall from the annual £20m they bank in Champions League revenue.

Who knows if Celtic are keen to cash in, but they have admitted in the past that they are a selling club. They are unlikely to refuse some of the sums being talked about when they pick up a pittance from TV cash in Scotland.

Worryingly for Celtic's fans, former manager Neil Lennon walked away after four years admitting last week that the board had failed to come up with the proper investment to back him. They now have an unheralded Norwegian coach Ronny Deila running the show after Roy Keane and Henrik Larsson were not interested in succeeding Lennon.

The sales policy hasn't gone down well among some of the club's legends. Celtic's 1988 Scottish Premier League and Scottish Cup winner Frank McAvennie, the former West Ham and Scotland forward, had this to say on the subject:

“If they don’t win tomorrow they’ll have to let people in for a tenner or something. Otherwise it will be terrible this season. No one will want to come. Neil Lennon said they have not invested and he was right – you can’t keep refusing to do that. They will win the league, even if they sell Virgil van Dijk and Fraser Forster, but it’s the lack of investment in the team that sticks in the craw. They did the same thing last year and it’s embarrassing. They waited until they were in the Champions League then only had a few days to do it. There is no point having money in the bank if players are playing in a half-empty stadium.”

Last year they cashed in their chips by flogging midfielder Victor Wanyama to Southampton for £12m, striker Gary Hooper to Norwich for £5.5m and defender Kelvin Wilson to Nottingham Forest for around £2m.

Tony Watt, who scored the winning goal against Barca, has already been sold on for £1.2m to Standard Liege while Welsh midfielder Joe Ledley joined Crystal Palace in January after failing to sign a new deal.

The dismantling of the side who beat Barca is likely to continue with several key figures set to head for the riches of the Premier League. Astonishingly, only Charlie Mulgrew and Mikael Lustig may remain at Celtic Park from the side that started against Barca before August is out.

Like Saints, Celtic could end up with a handsome bank balance and over £30m from sales, but a squad not worthy of the name if some of these deals are ratified by the board. Who knows? The one-horse Scottish Premiership may be more competitive if Celtic continue to sell the family jewels.

Celtic's potential sales:

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Fraser Forster - goalkeeper - £10m to Southampton

Forster knows he has to play in the Premier League if he is to challenge Joe Hart for the England's goalkeeper's position. Celtic have apparently already rejected a £6m offer from Saints, but are likely to cave in if they are offered doubled figures. Which hardly seems unlikely. The word on the street is that he will off as soon as Celtic are out of the Champions League. Which could be before the weekend.

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Virgil van Dijk - central defender - £10m to Southampton

Koeman needs to get a central defender in, and knows a thing or two about promising Dutch defenders having used to be one. Celtic's policy is to purchase at a reasonable price, and sell them on for a large profit. This one isn't like to go away any time soon. Van Dijk has apparently made it be known that he wants a slice of the action in Premier League. Linked with Newcastle, but Koeman seems a natural coach to help him progress. Signed from Groningen for round £2.5m a year ago, the club's player of the year is ideal fodder to be flogged for maximum profit.

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Adam Matthews - right-back - £3-5m to Swansea City

The young Wales defender endured a torrid time at right-back in the first leg against Warsaw. Only 22, Matthews surely wouldn't be averse to a return to the Premier League for bigger wages three years after departing Cardiff for Celtic on a free.

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Efe Ambrose - central defender - £3m to Burnley

Part of the defence that helped Celtic overcome Barcelona, but has had an awful start to the season after appearing for Nigeria at the World Cup finals. Was red carded in the 4-1 loss in Warsaw, and was then sent off in a 6-1 defeat as a young Celtic side were flogged by Spurs in a friendly in Helsinki on Saturday. Celtic would welcome decent money for a defender they landed for only £500,000 from Israeli football. A whole-hearted if limited performer.

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Kris Commons - attacking midfielder - £7.5m to West Bromwich Albion

For a player in his thirties, this would surely be a no-brainer for Celtic if such an offer came in. But where it would leave Celtic moving forward is anybody's guess? Commons is the outstanding creative influence on the side. If he goes, there are likely to be serious questions asked of the club's board by the fans, but what choice would they really have if presented with such a sum?

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Georgios Samaras - forward/winger - free to Southampton

Technically, Samaras has already left Celtic, but Ronny Deila was making noises about offering the Greek winger a fresh deal after a decent contribution at the World Cup. It is not up to Deila. It is up to the board. Now it seems that possibility of a fresh contract may be taken out of Celtic's hands with Koeman apparently ready to pounce.

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