EXCLUSIVE: Gary Hooper us ready for a graduation after cranking potential up a few degrees

GARY Hooper has become one of the most sought-after players in British football as a result of his goalscoring heroics for Celtic.

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Hooper is currently in Marbella with the Celtic squad prior to their Champions League clash with Juventus next month
Hooper is currently in Marbella with the Celtic squad prior to their Champions League clash with Juventus next month

The Englishman's strikes in Europe and in Scotland have captured the attention of a host of Barclays Premier League clubs.

Liverpool, Norwich City, Newcastle United, Southampton, who had a bid turned down last year, and Sunderland have all been linked with him

Even Italian giants Juventus, who Celtic are set to take on in the last 16 of the Champions League, were rumoured to be interested in the striker.

Yet Hooper has been repeatedly overlooked for selection by England boss Roy Hodgson despite his impressive play.

That, though, will change if, as now looks likely, he moves to the top flight down south according to one of his former coaches.

The 24-year-old, whose contract expires at the end of 2013/14 season, has made it known he would like to move on during the summer.

Ian Baraclough, who led Sligo Rovers to their first League of Ireland title in 35 years last season, worked with the forward at his former club Scunthorpe United.

He believes the prolific ace should have been handed a chance to show what he is capable of by his national team long before now.

But he is confident that joining a Premier League club in the close season, and then scoring goals, will propel him into the set-up in the future.

"Gary has ticked all the boxes at every level he has played at," said Baraclough. "The natural progression for him is to play for England.

"I think many people who look at the SPL see it as being the same level as the Championship. Not many players from that division win caps for England.

"But if Gary moves to a Premier League club there is no reason why he can't go on and play in the England set-up.

"Playing at international level will be a test for him. It will certainly be a step up. But with good players around him I think he would do well.

"Players like Grant Holt and Rickie Lambert have stepped up from the lower leagues in England to the Barclays Premier League and flourished.

"I appreciate they are different kind of players, but I maintain that if Holt and Lambert can both do well at that level then so can Gary."

Baraclough was a coach at Scunthorpe when the Glanford Park club snapped up Hooper for a bargain fee of £175,000 from Southend back in 2008.

He was amazed The Iron managed to land the youngster at all, never mind for such a small amount, as he rated his goalscoring abilities and potential highly.

He saw him flourish in his two years in Lincolnshire – during which time he netted 50 times – and was not at all surprised when Celtic offered £2.4million for him in 2010.

"Gary was very shy when he first arrived at Scunthorpe," recalled Baraclough. "He had a dry sense of humour and came away with some good one liners, but he was quiet in the dressing room.

"But straight away it was obvious Gary was serious about his football. He had a fantastic work ethic and, as a coach, I enjoyed working with him.

"He struck up a great relationship with Paul Hayes (former Scunthorpe striker) early on. They hit it off from their first day. They developed a telepathy that all partnerships need.

"He is ruthless in the box. He was selfish at times, but not to an extent that it annoyed his fellow players. He always played for the team, not himself."

HE ADDED: "Gary is not the quickest striker, but over five yards he has explosive pace.

"He also anticipates things well. He peels off and drops into areas where defenders don't want to go.

"Even back then, he was being linked with Premier League clubs. I think he may have found himself in the reserves if he had moved to that level then.

"But he definitely needed to move on and test himself on a bigger stage. Celtic was a sensible move for him. He has played at a higher level and in Europe in his time in Scotland.

"My friend Tommy Johnson is always telling me about the atmosphere at Parkhead at Old Firm games and on European nights. I am sure Gary will have benefited from his experiences."

Baraclough, who is looking forward to managing Sligo in the Champions League for the first time in their history next season, can understand his desire to play in the Premier League.

The Englishman feels the forward, who has scored 17 goals in all competitions for Celtic this season, needs to be careful which club he chooses to join next.

"I think he feels the time is right to move on and test himself at the highest level down in England," He said. "He has to chose his move wisely. He needs to make sure he plays regularly.

"He cost Celtic £2.4m a few years ago and I think they should be looking to receive upwards of £5m for him if they sell him on to a new club in the summer."

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