Celtic fighting losing battle over Larsson

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The Independent Football

Martin O'Neill, the Celtic manager, appears to be losing heart in his attempts to talk Henrik Larsson into staying at Parkhead beyond the end of the season.

The former Swedish international is adamant he will walk away when his current contract expires in the summer. But that did not stop O'Neill from pledging to do everything in his power to change the player's mind - until now it seems.

With Larsson refusing to budge under pressure from him and the supporters, it appears that the Celtic manager now fears the worst. O'Neill said: "Henrik is out of contract at the end of the season and the fact is that we would all like to keep him. But Henrik is pretty adamant what he wants to do and if he was to change his mind tomorrow morning then I would be absolutely delighted.

"If he doesn't change his mind, then he has had seven years at the football club and has been fantastic and you would wish him the best for the rest of his life.

"I think we should try our very, very best but the player is in command of these situations as any player who is relatively near the end of their contract. It would be terrific if he decided to stay another four or five years but that would be highly unlikely and if he was to leave the football club it would be with everybody's blessing."

But there was more encouraging news on the contract front with Liam Miller, Johan Mjallby and Jackie McNamara, whose deals also come to the end when the season finishes.

O'Neill continued: "It's going on pretty nicely and there will be talks this month with a couple of players and Liam is included in that group.

"I think things are going okay and with a little bit of luck we can get there - but like anything I would rather be able to announce something than pre-empt anything."

O'Neill is contemplating making changes for the trip to Dundee United with Alan Thompson and Liam Miller recovering from calf and hamstring problems, respectively. Shaun Maloney is a doubt with a calf problem which he picked up for the under-21s.

The Celtic manager welcomed back his internationals but admits John Hartson and his Scottish contingent have taken their Euro 2004 play-off disappointment badly.

O'Neill continued: "They are a wee bit disappointed obviously - Rab, Jackie and big John especially. But that's the way it goes. I'm pleased to see them back in relatively one piece."

Dundee United will welcome back the midfielder Charlie Miller. The former Rangers man has not played since 27 September after an ankle injury. United's manager, Ian McCall, has only two other absentees - both long-term casualties - the defender Scott Paterson and the goalkeeper Tony Bullock.

Rangers, who play Aberdeen, welcome back the defender Zura Khizanishvili after the Georgian missed the 3-2 win at Kilmarnock because of a groin problem.

The champions will still be without long-term injury absentees Ronald de Boer, Craig Moore, Steven Thompson and Christian Nerlinger. Moore is still sidelined by a hamstring problem, Nerlinger has torn a calf muscle and Thompson and de Boer have had knee operations.

Aberdeen will be without David Zdrilic and Steve Tosh. The pair are suspended after their sendings-off against Hearts a fortnight ago.

Scott Morrison and Kris Robertson drop out of the squad while Darren Mackie, Fergus Tiernan, Chris Clark and the former Bolton forward Michael Bird are drafted in.