West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Mowbray would be forgiven for thinking his days of losing players to Celtic were over but it appears his transfer targets are still susceptible to interest from the Scottish giants even from the Barclays Premier League.
The long-awaited start to the Baggies’ pre-season business stalled again yesterday after Derry City winger Paddy McCourt turned his back on a move to the Black Country at the 11th hour.
The deal was nearly complete but reports from Northern Ireland confirmed the 24-year-old did not undergo a medical with Albion this week. He felt the opportunity to play in the Champions League for Celtic was too good a chance to turn down and it is also believed his wages at Celtic - £5,000 per week - were more appealing than those offered by Albion.
McCourt’s snub is a blow for Albion, who have failed to sign any new players since the season ended while losing Zoltan Gera to Fulham.
Derry manager Stephen Kenny believes protracted negotiations between Albion and Derry have caused problems. The McCourt transfer is one that could have been tied up weeks ago had Albion chairman Jeremy Peace not offered what was later described as an ‘insulting’ £50,000 offer to the Candystripes for the midfielder. A deal was subsequently agreed for three times that figure last week.
How prominent McCourt’s involvement at the Baggies would have been this season is open to question, however, he is a player who has interested Mowbray for some time.
Mowbray watched the 24-year-old at the start of last season and tried to sign him while he managed Hibernian. He had passed a medical and agreed personal terms but still the transfer collapsed.
Derry chairman Pat McDaid was not answering phone calls and McCourt was in talks in Glasgow.
Albion released a statement on behalf of their manager.
Mowbray said: “Pat was one of the players we wanted to bring in, but on our terms.
“While we are trying to get the first team right for the Premier League, we are also looking to bring in players to strengthen the underbelly of the club.
“It’s a process we started last season and Pat was one of a few players we are looking to bring in.
“These are players who, while we’re trying to develop their talent, can step into the first team at any given time.
“However, during the club’s discussions with Pat, it became clear he has other options where he feels he may have a greater opportunity to play first- team football and we wish him all the best.”
While Mowbray has made it unmistakably clear in the past month that, in his view, the Northern Ireland international was not yet at the level necessary to become a regular in Albion’s first team, the player’s former international manager, Sammy McIlroy, believes he will prove a hit with Celtic fans.
He said: “I had him as a young boy and, when he played at Rochdale, you could see the ability and skill that he had straight away.
“People were talking about him going on to become a big international player at that time. Maybe it all just came too soon for him.
“It was a matter of sticking at it and I was shocked that he didn’t kick on, to be honest.”
He may well kick on now – and it will not be at Albion.