Football: Dalglish welcomes latest coup

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The Independent Online
KENNY DALGLISH predicted yesterday that the whole of Scottish football will benefit from Celtic's signing of the Brazilian international Rafael Felipe Scheidt. Dalglish, Celtic's Director of Football Operations, was welcoming the Department for Education and Employment's decision to grant the 23-year-old defender a three-year work permit.

That means Rafael can join the Parkhead club in the New Year having already agreed a four-and-a-half-year contract with Celtic, who will pay Gremio pounds 4.8m for his services.

The news is a coup for Celtic, but Dalglish was keen to stress today that the Scottish Premier League's status will be boosted by the signing. He said: "From Celtic's perspective, we are delighted to be bringing a player of Rafael's quality to Celtic and we are sure that he will not only enhance the Celtic squad but also Scottish football as a whole."

An independent panel, which met in Glasgow yesterday, had been expected to finalise their verdict over the next 48 hours once it had been approved by Margaret Hodge, the junior Education minister. However, a positive verdict was delivered yesterday morning meaning Rafael will be able to be paraded as a Celtic player after the Scottish Premier League's winter break, which the Glasgow club will spend in Portugal.

The case for a work permit was undermined by Rafael's failure to have played in 75 per cent of his country's internationals during the past two years. However, Celtic made a firm case for the player's credentials stressing he is now established in the Brazilian squad.

Northern Ireland aim to appoint their new manager in early January. Jim Boyce, the Irish Football Association president, hopes to be able to call a meeting of the international committee in the first week of the New Year at which Lawrie McMenemy's successor will be chosen.

The IFA had hoped to have their man before Christmas and it is understood they are still waiting for Martin O'Neill, the Leicester manager, to rule himself out. It is understood that O'Neill has hinted he might do the job part-time and he has a clause in his Leicester contract that would enable him to accept the job. It is believed O'Neill will make a decision over Christmas.

Boyce refused to discuss the possible candidates and instead would only comment on the timetable for the appointment. He said: "It had been hoped that an appointment would be made before Christmas. That has not been possible and now it is my hope that we will be able to call a meeting of the international committee for the first week of January. There, myself and general secretary David Bowen will report on each candidate to the committee members before they make the final decision."

O'Neill, who captained Northern Ireland in the 1982 World Cup finals, would be hugely popular with the Irish fans. If he does rule himself out, Sammy McIlroy, the Macclesfield manager, would then become the new favourite.

However, the IFA may baulk at Macclesfield's compensation demands and McIlroy has 18 months left on his pounds 90,000-a-year contract.