The former Heart of Midlothian captain Steven Pressley spurned Charlton Athletic, of the Premiership, to sign for Celtic last night, lured by the prospect of Champions' League football next season in Scotland rather than a relegation battle in England.
The 33-year-old Scotland central defender, who has signed a 17-month deal at Parkhead up to May 2008, had been a free agent since leaving Hearts on 9 December, and will be eligible to make his debut on Tuesday against Kilmarnock.
He underwent a medical at Charlton on Wednesday, but Celtic's manager, Gordon Strachan, who was a team-mate of Pressley's for a short time at Coventry in 1995, has remained in close contact over the past few weeks and persuaded him to opt for Glasgow. Pressley's private life has also influenced the decision. His wife gave birth to a daughter a fortnight ago and the family is more comfortable remaining in Scotland.
Pressley has already played in Europe this year for Hearts so is ineligible to appear for Celtic in the Champions' League this season. However, his agent, Blair Morgan, confirmed that the player is thinking longer term. "It was a really, really difficult decision," Morgan said. "Steven had two fantastic offers from two good clubs, but the lure of European football next season won the day."
Pressley left Tynecastle six weeks after he used his club captaincy to lead a players' revolt against the unorthodox rule of Hearts' owner, Vladimir Romanov. In October, he convened a press conference where he read a prepared statement saying "it has become an impossible task" to "implement the correct values and disciplines" under the Romanov regime. Romanov quickly froze him out.
Celtic urgently need defensive back-up, with Bobo Baldé out for several months after breaking his leg last week, and the first-choice players Gary Caldwell and Mark Wilson still on the long-term injury list.
Celtic are 15 points clear of Aberdeen at the top of the Scottish Premier League ahead of this lunchtime's trip to Motherwell, and are 17 ahead of arch-rivals Rangers, in third.
Rangers' manager, Paul Le Guen, under renewed pressure after defeat at Inverness in midweek, gave the clearest hint yesterday that he intends a clear-out of unsupportive players in January. "I want positive players, that is clear," he said as his side prepared to host St Mirren today.