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LENNY STEPS UP DEFENDER CHASE

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CELTIC face a battle for centre-back Mark McKenzie with Philadelphia Union chief Ernst Tanner insisting the club want to keep their star man.

However, the MLS outfit’s sporting director also admitted he would find it difficult to block the 21-year-old defender’s hopes of a dream move to Europe.

Neil Lennon is stepping up his efforts to strengthen his squad for what he terms a “monumental” season with the club bidding for a historic tenth successive title as well as making an impact in Europe and the domestic Cups.

Christopher Jullien and his central defensive sidekick Kristoffer Ajer toiled against battering-ram striker Nicke Kabamba in the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Sunday where the Frenchman gifted the Ayrshire outfit an equalising penalty-kick.

Lennon had already revealed he was looking to bolster the middle of the rearguard after Jozo Simunovic left the Hoops at the end of his contract in June.

The champions have scouted highly-rated McKenzie on several occasions and have spoken to his club about the possibility of a transfer.

Supremo Tanner confirmed initial contact, but admitted there were other European clubs enquiring about the United States international.

ON THE BALL…Mark McKenzie in action against Ronny Deila’s New York City side.

The Union chief, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “We have had interest. There was a talk with Celtic, but I told them: We were not willing to talk before the MLS in Back tournament or during the tournament, but maybe then later on.

“Will they come back? That is not in my obligation. That is up to Celtic. There is obviously a little bit of an interest, but there are so many players in the market at the moment.

“We have a situation where we don’t need to sell because we also have goals as a club.

“We have a competitive team in our league and that’s quite a strong argument for us.

“You know American players, in general. It is their dream to go to Europe and that is okay. But, when you do a transfer, all sides have to come under one hat and that’s the critical point.

“I cannot speak for Celtic. I might think the interest (is serious), but there are so many players out there. It is not only Mark, but he’s an interesting asset.

“He is probably the most interesting prospect in our country in terms of defending. He is good.

“There is interest from a lot of clubs and I have already been talking to some. We are the last ones who are hesitant in these situations, but it needs to be suitable for everyone.”

Nick Hammond’s recruitment staff have noted McKenzie’s club form and the player has admitted he would relish a chance to play in the Champions League.

The situation is expected to become more clear early next month.

 
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