NIR BITTON has revealed he could have left Celtic SIX years ago.
The 30-year-old Israel international said his final farewells to the club and the fans last weekend with his cameo appearance in the 6-0 romp against Motherwell as Ange Postecoglou’s side sealed their tenth title in 11 years.
There were emotional scenes on and off the park as Bitton took over the captain’s armband when he replaced Callum McGregor near the end.
It brought down the curtain on a glittering career in which he won EIGHTEEN honours following his £750,000 from FC Ashdod in August 2013 as he and Tom Rogic waved goodbye and left as champions, as CQN reported.
CAPTAIN’S ROLE…Nir Bitton, standing in for the injured Callum McGregor, celebrates scoring Celtic’s third goal in the 3-1 win over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park on Boxing Day.
However, it has now transpired that the versatile performer could have been on his way after Brendan Rodgers replaced Ronny Deila in the Hoops hot-seat in May 2016.
Bitton, speaking to a local sports media outlet, said: “Let me tell you something no-one knows. When Brendan Rodgers came to coach at Celtic, the club was in bad shape after losing the Cup semi-final to Rangers, who were then playing in the Championship.
“My former agent told me that Rogers did not want me and that the team was trying to get rid of me, and then an offer came from Espanyol.
“I am a person with an ego. When they do not give me a chance, I am going to show everyone what I am worth.
“After a week of preparation for next season, Rodgers came up to me and said: ‘You can play. It is your time’.
“I smiled at him and then I get a message from my agent: ‘Say, you’re serious, what have you done? Now they won’t sell you’.
“I don’t regret it, I stayed at a huge club.”
FIRST PIECE OF SILVERWARE…Brendan Rodgers holds the League Cup after the 3-0 success over Aberdeen at Hampden in November 2016.
HAMPDEN HOORAYS…Nir Bitton celebrates with his team-mates after the silverware victory.
Postecoglou relied heavily of the adaptability of Bitton when he arrived at the club in June and was aware he did not have cover in central defence with Kristoffer Ajer in the throes of leaving Parkhead while Shane Duffy had returned to parent club after his ill-starred loan spell at his boyhood heroes.
The Israel performer was pushed into the middle of the rearguard, but, unfortunately, he did not have the best of starts when he was red-carded before half-time in the 1-1 draw with FC Midtjylland in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier.
Teenager Dane Murray was hastily brought in to play alongside Stephen Welsh as the team crashed out of Europe’s elite competition 2-1 in extra-time in Denmark.
Bitton also played in the 2-1 loss to Hearts in the Premiership opener at Tynecastle with Carl Starfelt making his debut only a couple of days after his £4.2million switch from Russia’s Rubin Kazan.
Thankfully, fortunes changed for the player and the team and he was involved in Postecoglou’s first silverware success at Celtic when he came on as a first-half substitute for hamstring victim David Turnbull in the 2-1 Premier Sports League Cup triumph over Hibs six days before Christmas.
Bitton remained a key member of the manager’s squad until they parted company a week ago.