Mjallby hopes CL football will hold Celtic stars

Updated: Wednesday, 19 Dec 2012 22:10

Celtic assistant manager Johan Mjallby hopes the prospect of a Champions League last-16 tie will see the club's leading players stay in Glasgow.

Prolific striker Gary Hooper, forward Georgios Samaras and midfielder Victor Wanyama are among the players who have been linked with moves away from Celtic in next month's transfer window, following strong showings as Neil Lennon's side advanced to the knockout stages of Europe's elite competition.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's draw in Nyon (Live on RTÉ.ie/sport, 10.27am), Mjallby conceded that had Celtic not reached February's last 16 some players might have sought new challenges.

"This should be a great incentive for them to stay here at Celtic and take us forward," Mjallby said. "You never know where it's going to take us.

"If we hadn't gone through and done as well as we have I think maybe some of the players who have done exceptionally well for us would maybe be interested to have another challenge."

"This should be a great incentive for them to stay here" - Johan Mjallby

Hooper, in particular, has impressed, with Italy's Juventus the latest linked with the former Grays Athletic and Scunthorpe striker who has netted 13 times this season.

Mjallby appreciates why Hooper is attracting admirers, but hopes Celtic can fend off the suitors throughout January.

"I think Gary's got 18 months left on his contract and we're delighted and we want to keep him," Mjallby said.

"I think there are discussions now with Gary, his agent and the club. Fingers crossed from my point of view something's going to happen.

"He's shown that he can do it at the highest level, so I can understand where the interest is coming from.

"It's down to Gary and what his targets are and what he's looking for.

"He's just enjoying playing football just now. He's in a good place.

"That's something that's always going to be important for you as a footballer. The grass is not always greener on the other side."

Mjallby believes Hooper would deserve an England call-up in 2013.

The assistant boss said: "I certainly hope he gets a chance and if he keeps playing well for us, why not?"

Underdogs

Celtic could play Juventus in the next round, with Paris St Germain, Schalke, Malaga, Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Manchester United all possible opponents.

Malaga advanced from the play-offs, but Mjallby expects Celtic to be underdogs in the next round whatever the draw, despite claiming four points in two matches against tournament favourites Barcelona.

"We know whoever we come across in the last 16 we're not going to be favourites, so we need to keep the squad together, we need to keep all the good players here and obviously try to do well in the last 16," Mjallby said.

"Some supporters want the glamour tie and Man U, but you have to remember Man U are leading the Premiership" - Johan Mjallby

"The only team who are maybe not doing great in their domestic league right now is Schalke, but they're still a very, very good side, so it doesn't really matter.

"They sacked the manager but there's still a long way to go (until the matches) and they'll still have time to sort that out.

"I can see the argument that some supporters want the glamour tie and Man U, but you have to remember Man U are leading the Premiership and doing really, really well at the moment."

Mjallby revealed the Celtic squad and support staff will watch the draw together and are relishing the chance to test themselves against Europe's best once again.

The Swede added: "We don't fear anyone because we've taken a lot of confidence from the performances in the Champions League so far.

"The players know now they can do something. The first target was to go through from the group stage and now we're in the last 16.

"It's great, especially when you don't have the Old Firm games this season in the league. It's great for us to be in the last 16 and really have something special to look forward to."