Like his former club, Jozo Simunovic is looking to get back on track. The Croatian defender’s season has not got going since leaving Celtic in the summer at frustratingly short notice.

Simunovic, 26, is without a club after being told his contract would not be renewed. The centre-back has been training in his hometown Zagreb after being surprisingly released by Neil Lennon, leaving the defender out of work.

“In the beginning it was strange,” said Simunovic, who helped the Glasgow club beat Hearts to win the Scottish Cup final last year.

“It was settled that Celtic were going to extend the contract with me and just a few days before they needed to let me know that they were going to extend the deal, I got the phone call and a letter saying that they are very sorry but due to the situation with Covid they were stopping it.”

Numerous clubs have approached the robust defender but been unable to tie up a deal. The likes of Liverpool and AC Milan were linked to Simunovic in recent weeks but that is merely paper talk. Turkish side Goztepe are the latest club rumoured to be signing Simunovic but there is no foundation to it.

“There have been some talks with two or three clubs but never to the end. Everything was OK and then we wait and wait but nothing happened at the point when we needed to do something and get to the final point. That was just with two or three clubs and there is a lot of talk about other clubs but I do not know who throws the names out there and where they get your details.”

One club who showed a serious interest in Simunovic was Rijeka in his homeland, but the defender decided the move was not for him. The deal did not come close to a conclusion but still resulted in some confusing headlines that he failed a medical due to a knee problem. Simunovic required surgery to clean out his knee while at Parkhead, an injury which has led to questions about his long-term fitness.

“That is nothing new, as all the time with me there was that cross with the injuries and everything. I understand some clubs that could not get me to sign that they put out this but it was not true and I expect in the future that if I have talks with a club and we do not do a deal to the end then they can blame the injury because in all my years at Celtic, that was my biggest cross. Every time if I was not in the team or on the bench, I knew they would blame my knee. I now have to live with that and for me it is no problem.”

Simunovic is fully fit and his knee has not relapsed, leaving him more frustrated by the long wait to find a new home after five years in Glasgow. During his time with the Hoops, he won five league titles and was involved in some memorable moments. His cult status was confirmed by his challenge on Kenny Miller in an Old Firm derby - sometime that still makes him smile when it is brought up - and scoring a poignant 67th minute winner in the first match following Billy McNeill’s death, while wearing No.5 on his back.

“I had amazing memories there because I won everything that is possible. I have many more good memories than bad with Celtic. I cannot moan now about my contract finishing and not being extending there, I need to focus on better things, on the great things I did with the club when I was there with my teammates. The tackle is one of them for sure but also many trophies, many finals, many derbies and the testimonials, playing in honour of club legends.”

Those five league titles seem a long way off for this current crop of players, who sit 13 points behind Rangers in the league. Watching from afar has left Simunovic bewildered by the poor domestic and European performance from a team he knows extremely well.

“It is very, very strange as this is not the Celtic it used to be when I was there. They changed many things in the summer and, unfortunately, in the end it has not proven to be good. There are still many players who have been there for several years and I believe they have the quality and the mentality to turn it around. They are experienced players, they know what it is to be a Celtic player and how to be a great team again.”

Simunovic does not want to look at what he left behind, instead he is focusing on his next move after a frustrating time without a club. His aim is to join a club in one of Europe’s top five leagues. “I just want to be back playing as soon as possible, doing what I love most. I am 100% fit and I am just waiting for the perfect opportunity for me to get back into football at the best level possible.”

After six months of building up tension away from the pitch, especially with a few doubters to prove wrong, strikers, as Kenny Miller will testify, should beware of a coiled Simunovic ready to come back out of his box.