IF his agent has anything to do with it, Nir Bitton will be the next saleable asset that Celtic cash in on. The 24-year-old Israeli midfielder signed a five-year contract extension with the Parkhead side back in November but there has been persistent speculation linking him

with a move to the Barclay’s Premier League, with Sunderland and Arsenal credited with an interest in the player.

Bitton was swift to insist that he is not coveting a move south — yet — but there is no doubt that if and when money is put on the table it will become impossible for Celtic to resist.

“I do not think about it really,” said Bitton, a player signed by Neil Lennon three years ago. “I have just signed a new contract. I play for a big club and sometimes it is better to play for Celtic than play at the bottom of the [English] Premier League. For me, right now I am in the right place. Maybe in the future, you never know. I will be on my holiday in June. I do not look at it. If I was looking at it, I would not have signed a new contract. I am happy here, the fans are great, it is a huge club with the chance of the Champions League and you do not need more than that in your life but you never say never in football or life and we will see.”

Bringing the Champions League

to the fore makes the assumption that Celtic will be in the qualifying rounds for access to Europe’s elite tournament, something that Aberdeen may not make quite as straightforward as had previously been anticipated.

Certainly, though, if the Parkhead side are successful in their quest for a fifth successive title and go into the qualifying rounds it will see a return of the argument that the club’s current transfer policy of buying young, raw, cheap talent and selling on for profit has hindered them when it has come

to making a lasting impression on Europe’s elite competition.

Bitton could join the list of names such as Virgil van Dijk, Fraser Forster, Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama who have been signed by Celtic, developed and then sold for significant fees to the Barclays Premier League. The issue with some supporters is a feeling that the finances generated from such sales has never been entirely re-invested into the playing squad, with marquee signings a relic of the recent past. Croatian defender Jozo Simunovic, who is currently injured following knee-ligament damage, cost the club £5 million last summer when he arrived in the final days of the transfer window but he too is one who will be expected to make the move south in the long-term.

Yet Bitton believes that the “joke money” south of the Border means that there is no other way for Celtic to do business and he has offered a vociferous backing to the current strategy, believing that in some sense the club are a victim of their own success in developing players.

The spine of Ronny Deila’s side was taken away this summer when van Dijk and Jason Denayer left the club. And Celtic have never quite been able to recover from that this season, with defensive frailties proving their undoing both domestically and

in Europe.

“I think this is the way that football works today,” said Bitton. “The big teams can spend money. A few months ago a team from League One bought a striker for £9m. The money today is crazy and you need to be smart.

This is the best way for Celtic.

“You cannot compete with this money. This is what I meant — if you have an offer for someone like Virgil, well, if the offer is good enough then you need to sell the guy because it is his career and it is good money for the club. Right now the money in the Premier League, the Championship and even League One is a joke. This is the best way for Celtic, they do not need to do more than that.”

One way to offset the disparity in finances is by qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League, where a considerable sum of £18m awaits for those participants. It ensures that the fight for the title is more than simply about domestic pride. And while there has been an argument to suggest that Aberdeen have made it interesting for Celtic this season, Bitton has revealed that he would much prefer an easy canter to the title.

Two seasons ago the Parkhead side won the league by 29 points; at the minute they are joint-top with Aberdeen, while holding a superior goal-difference and a game in hand.

“I would rather win the league by 45 points,” said Bitton. “This is football. We need to respect our opponents. People outside of the pitch think that Celtic will win the league easily and we just walk on the pitch and everything will be fine — but it is not like that.

“Teams come to play against Celtic and they try to close the game and make it difficult for us. We are not playing the best football right now but we just want to win our next games. But I would not mind winning the league again by 29 points.”