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Former Celtic striker Tommy Johnson urges players south of the border to make the move north to the Premiership

© Anna Gowthorpe/BPI/ShutterstockCeltic have targeted Preston’s Ben Davies
Celtic have targeted Preston’s Ben Davies

Celtic hope to reach a pre-contract agreement with Ben Davies at Preston North End.

Rangers have already struck a deal with Bournemouth’s Jack Simpson, and want to tie up his team-mate, Nnamdi Ofoborh.

Former Parkhead star, Tommy Johnson, is delighted to see the Old Firm still hold appeal, and he has urged any player south of the border to make the move north to the Premiership.

Johnson is speaking from experience, and insists his £2.5-million transfer to Celtic from Aston Villa in 1997 was the best decision of his career.

Now, with the January transfer window closing tomorrow, he wonders if any more deals will be tied up by Neil Lennon and Steven Gerrard.

© SNS Group / Bill Murray
Tommy Johnson enjoyed good times at Celtic with Henrik Larsson

Johnson told The Sunday Post: “It’s got to be the highlight of your career to play for Celtic. It was for me.

“It was a big decision for me to move from Villa to Celtic, but I did not regret it. I loved playing for the club.

“I thrived on the rivalry with Rangers. And the city of Glasgow was a brilliant place to live.

“So, if any player has the chance to go north and be a part of that fierce contest between Celtic and Rangers, I’d have no hesitation in telling them to go for it.

“If people do their homework, they will find out that Scottish football is a good product and a great place to be.

“Some people may prefer to be negative towards the SPFL top flight, but I go off on one if people try to go down that road with me.

“I’m not slow to put them in their place, believe me.

“Tommy Burns signed me for Celtic. We then had Wim Jansen, Dr Jo Venglos – God rest him – John Barnes, Sir Kenny Dalglish and then Martin O’Neill.

“Rangers had Walter Smith and then Dick Advocaat.

“It was intense. The silverware flowed from one side to the other, and we enjoyed the battles to come out on top.

“The Rangers players were the same. It was ferocious at times, but there was respect there.”

For the first time since 2011, the title is on its way to Ibrox. Gerrard and his players have had a fine season and they are set to reap the rewards.

In contrast, it’s been a miserable five months for Celtic, and Lennon has found himself under intense pressure as the chance to do “The Ten” has all but disappeared.

© Stuart Wallace/BPI/Shutterstock
The frustration for Neil Lennon was clear at Livingston

Johnson is a former team-mate of Lennon’s, and they enjoyed Treble success together in 2001. They have remained good friends.

Johnson said: “I feel for Neil just now, I really do.

“As a player and a manager, he has given incredible service to the club, and helped to bring some monumental success.

“It’s not gone to plan this season, we can all see that. But overall, he deserves nothing but praise.

“There has been speculation about his future, but right now he is the manager and deserves to be supported by the board and the players.

“There are many games left to win, including two against Rangers.

“He stepped in to help the club in their hour of need after Brendan Rodgers left for Leicester City.

“Neil delivered the success and gradually put his own stamp on things.

“We will wait and see what the future holds for him at Celtic, but he will still be giving 100%, and if any players have the chance to sign for him and Celtic, they should go for it.”

After spells at Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest, Johnson is now the head of recruitment at Blackpool.

Highly regarded in this field, he is enjoying life with the ambitious League One side, but admitted that the January window is a difficult time to operate in for people in his role.

Johnson – who is also part of the Northern Ireland backroom staff – said: “January is never easy. But it is even more difficult just now because of the uncertainty with the pandemic.

“Right now, clubs do not have any certainty as to where they will be financially come the summer, and that’s why there is a lot of caution. It’s understandable.

“Loan deals will get done and there will be last-minute stuff in the next 24 hours.

“There will also be a number of pre-contract agreements for the summer. But I don’t see many massive transfers happening.

“That’s why the move from Bayer Leverkusen to get Jeremie Frimpong from Celtic was a no-brainer for my old club.

“I have read the fee is in the region of £10million, and that is an incredible return on a lad that cost £300,000 from Manchester City less than two years ago.

“Deals like that give you enormous satisfaction, and it’s now all about Celtic trying to find a replacement for him. That won’t be easy but it’s all part of the job.

“It’s about working hard, building relationships with other clubs and agents, using your contacts and doing your due diligence on every target.

“That’s what I do. It’s the only way to do this job.”