Former Celtic man Jozo Simunovic is close to making a return to football.

Released by the Bhoys in 2020, Celtic decided to cut their losses on popular centre-back Jozo. Given his history of injury difficulties, Simunovic had struggled for game-time. Initially, that move looked justified, given that the former Croatian youth international is still without a club.

Signed in 2015 from Dinamo Zagreb, Simunovic made made 126 appearances for Celtic [Transfermarkt]. A ball-playing centre back with strength in the tackle, it’s surprising that nobody’s taken a flyer on him. Granted, he’s been struggling for fitness since leaving Celtic. Still, at a top club with medical facilities, he’d surely return sooner.

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Simunovic is now being courted by Bundesliga sides VfB Stuttgart and Augsburg [Goal]. Premier League club Southampton are also reportedly keen, with Ralph Hasenhuttl keen to bolster his options at centre-back.

In December, Simunovic opened up on his disappointing exit from Celtic [Herald]:

“It was settled that Celtic were going to extend the contract with me and just a few days before they needed to let me know that they were going to extend the deal.

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“I got the phone call and a letter saying that they are very sorry but due to the situation with Covid they were stopping it.

“I cannot moan now about my contract finishing and not being extending there, I need to focus on better things, on the great things I did with the club when I was there with my teammates.”

Celtic Jozo Simunovic

Former Celtic defender Simunovic v Copenhagen / (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Celtic defender Jozo Simunovic: did Bhoys make right call?

Hindsight is 20/20, of course. It’s easy to look at Celtic this season and suggest that they were hasty to get rid of Jozo Simunovic when they did.

 

It appears the club were keen to get an extension done, but as Jozo explained, Covid scuppered the deal. But did it? How is it possible that Celtic spent money on transfer/loan fees, but keeping Simunovic was beyond the club’s capabilities?

The Simunovic situation is a strange one. No doubt, he was unlucky with injuries, but was he all that good for Celtic? For every Kenny Miller tackle, there were plenty of examples of Jozo losing his man or failing to act at set pieces. The corner problem at Celtic is hardly new, and Jozo could be particularly culpable.

In fact, the last Celtic game of note that Jozo Simunovic played in was a disaster. The Bhoys left the Europa League too early, and the centre-back shouldered plenty of the blame [Daily Record]. From where I was sitting, Jozo didn’t inspire much confidence when he was on the pitch.

Certainly, he was better for Celtic than others we’ve seen this season. But he had his faults, and there’s little to indicate we’d have been significantly better off with him. Releasing him was absolutely ruthless, yes, but it’s revisionist to suggest Celtic supporters were clamouring to keep him.

However, that’s not to say we don’t wish him well. If Simunovic makes the grade at Stuttgart, Augsburg or even Southampton, nobody will begrudge him that.

Actually, maybe not Southampton.

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