FRESH from securing Fraser Forster on a four-year contract, Celtic manager Neil Lennon is now prioritising persuading Gary Hooper to extend his deal beyond the two years it still has to run.
Negotiations with the sought-after striker and his agent began in May, but agreement could not be reached before all parties headed off on their summer break.
Now, with Lennon and his squad reporting back to Lennoxtown today, Celtic want to resume negotiations as quickly as possible. They remain aware that Hooper – who bagged 29 goals last season, including a fab five in the final match against Hearts – is a target for clubs back in his homeland, and further afield.
However, Lennon is confident that, like Forster, Hooper wants to continue to develop as a player at Parkhead for at least a few more years before looking to test himself in the English Premiership.
Winning the SPL title was a huge moment for Hooper. And the chance of playing in the Champions League – if the Hoops can negotiate two qualifying rounds, which kick off at the end of this month – has helped convince the 24-year- old that committing to Celtic beyond 2014, when the contract he signed when he arrived from Scunthorpe ends – would be rewarding, both in terms of medals and money.
Hooper has admitted: "I'd be happy to sign for longer. I am happy here."
Lennon wants to bring in another striker. But any new arrival will be expected to link up with Hooper – not replace him.
Hooper had openly encouraged Forster to make his loan move permanent, and now Celtic want the striker to commit for a similar length of time.
The £2m paid to Newcastle – a fee agreed when Forster returned for a second loan back in August – is considered a bargain, and he revealed constant calls from Lennon and goalie coach Stevie Woods helped persuade him to sign.
Forster has also set his sights on an England call up and said: "I've got the chance to play in the Champions League. It's just a case of taking the opportunity by playing well, then we'll see what happens on the international front."
Glenn Loovens is now officially a free agent after his contract ended, and Bordeaux's Michael Ciani has been identified as a replacement.
But, with Wigan also interested, his French club have raised the asking price from £1m to £2.5m.
Leicester's Matt Mills – whose loan move to Bolton has stalled over a pay-off from City – could still find his way to Celtic, if Owen Coyle cannot conclude a deal.
Meanwhile, Blackpool have renewed interest in Paddy McCourt, and could be willing to offer £1m for the man now in the final year of his contract.