There was a time at Celtic where a one-year contract extension for Nir Bitton would have been triggered without a second thought, indeed his contribution of 11 starts and 12 substitute appearances may even have warranted thoughts of a new two or even three-year deal, with the assumption the player was a key part of a squad game, alongside protecting a future transfer fee for the club.
Instead, it seems Bitton may be seeking a new employer this summer – going by his recent social media output adding to the recent report by Israeli broadcaster Sport 5 – and if that’s indeed the case it should have a few others in the Celtic squad on the phone to their agent.
The 30 year old Celtic veteran told Sport 5, as translated by The Jewish Telegraph: “I’m not at the stage where I want to return to Israel. I love Israel and Israeli football and I watch many games and I have a wish in the future to return to Israel.
“If there is a team in Israel who is showing interest and wants me very much then it might be difficult for me to refuse.”
Bitton also spoke about a move to Spanish football that almost happened back in 2016 and discussed his relationship with the Celtic support, as an Israeli playing for a club where there is support of the Palestinian cause.
“Looking back, in retrospect, in 2016 I had a very big offer from Espanyol and then Brendan Rodgers arrived in Celtic and Brendan did not want to release me,” Bitton said about that situation.
When asked about fans raising the Palestinian flag, he responded: “There is a small group of supporters who are pro-Palestine, but most of the Celtic supporters are not like this and I get a lot of respect and support from them.
“There are a lot of people in Europe who hate us, but I don’t experience antisemitism or hatred on a day-to-day basis.
And on Liel Abada, who they describe as the ‘Israeli wonderkid’ Bitton said: “It’s difficult for new players to acclimatise. Glasgow is a grey city and the restaurants were closed because of Covid and family life was limited in lockdown and so things became difficult.”
Abada, who was recently named as the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year, was quoted in this report thanking Nir Bitton for helping him settle in Glasgow. “I want to thank the fans, the coaches and particularly Nir. Nir has become like a big brother to me. When I came here he made sure I had everything I need. On top of being a really good player, he’s a top human being. “Nir and his family have really helped me settle in Glasgow. I can’t explain how much he’s helped. He even cooks for me.”
Remember that Jewish Telegraph reporting on interview with Nir Bitton given for to an Israeli media outlet, with their own translation being used for the English version.
There are pointers in that and in that Instagram post after the 4-1 win over Hearts at the weekend, as comments upon by Everything Celtic below, that points to a decision perhaps already having been reached or one that is going through that process.
Why does Nir Bitton’s Instagram stories make me think he’s leaving? pic.twitter.com/Vp5PFqTqFu
— Everything Celtic (@aboutceltic) May 7, 2022
Is this decision one that Nir Bitton has reached or has it been the case that Celtic have decided against the additional year option on his contract after nine years of outstanding service from the always reliable utility player.
If so there is a ruthlessness to any such decision, assuming it’s not the player himself who felt another year at Paradise wasn’t for him. After all, Bitton has been a player who whilst not a first pick, was still one who seemed to be within the small group of players the manager chose to trust on any given matchday. If Bitton is deemed as surplus to requirements there are a good few who will know the gemme’s a bogey at Celtic under Ange Postecoglou.
Vasilis Barkas, Christopher Jullien, Boli Bolingoli, maybe James McCarthy, Ismaila Soro, Karamoko Dembele and Albian Ajeti are all players marked as first team squad players who will know, whether protected financially by longer contracts than Nir Bitton or not, if they’ve not impressed the manager enough to enter his circle of trust by now, chances are they never will.
Even those who have made the squad such as James Forrest and Mikey Johnston, but could be excused by injury blighted campaigns, will know if their time isn’t up, it’s running short when it comes to convincing Postecoglou they are worth considering as long-term solutions going forward.
There are also eleven younger players out on loan and many of those may well consider Celtic is perhaps not where their long-term career prospects would be best served. Osaze Urhoghide has an option to buy attached to his deal with KV Oostende, which perhaps signifies the club’s intent, Liam Shaw is on loan at Motherwell, but not a regular by any means.
Meanwhile remnants of previous regimes such as Luca Connell and Jonathan Afolabi are also unlikely to be considered first team material now, and of the two goalkeepers, Ross Doohan and Conor Hazard, plying their temporary trade at Tranmere Rovers and HJK Helsinki there may be room for one as a back-up to a back-up next season but certainly not for both.
Ange Postecoglou has already intimated this summer will see first team ready players targeted in the transfer window, that public comment was clearly designed to keep players on their toes for the remainder of the season and ensure discipline in the summer recess, but it was also a sign that if you haven’t made his squad cut by now then doing so next season will be nigh on impossible.
The decision – if it has been reached – not to trigger Nir Bitton’s extension would be a further shot across the boughs of those in the first team squad but not quite a fit for the Postecoglou style of play. And whether relatively new to the club, or an experienced performer who has served the club well, there is clearly little room for sentiment. And you can see now just why Postecoglou keeps a distance from the players, because decisions like that of Nir Bitton and others to follow have to be made without too close a personal relationship influencing tough calls.
There is also one other thing to note. In the days of Peter Lawwell, a decision to trigger Nir Bitton’s one year extension may have been made above the manager’s head. As with Scotty Sinclair, an extra year on a contract, even if the player was not likely to play, would have resulted in Celtic being able to ask for a transfer fee.
This move signifies Postecoglou has a level of autonomy around his playing squad that perhaps other managers have not been afforded. That certainly bodes well when it comes to decisions on who leaves the club this summer, but also on those who arrive, something that despite Dermot Desmond’s protestations in his recent Celtic TV interview, hasn’t always been the case.
That said the vast majority of Celtic fans would be sad to see Nir Bitton go and he’d always be a welcome visitor back at Paradise.
David Potter’s new book, Putting on the Style, a biography of Celtic legend Willie Fernie is out next week, thanks to everyone who has pre-ordered and your copy will be posted out as soon as the lorry arrives. If you would like to order your copy please use the link provided below.