Nir Bitton says he once thought about leaving Celtic, now he’s the “happiest man in the UK” after signing a new five-year deal at the club.
The Israeli midfielder has seen a stunning transformation in his prospects at the Hoops; from being confined to the periphery and Ronny Deila not knowing what to do with him, to becoming a fulcrum of the Celtic midfield and comparisons being drawn between him and Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets by his manager.
Part of that transformation was helped by a slice of fortune as he replaced Charlie Mulgrew, who had been hampered by a thigh strain for most of the season, and also a pep talk with Deila, but thereafter he has seized the opportunity with both hands.
Bitton himself concedes he has “a long way to go” before he can be compared to Busquets but in his Celtic journey he has already come so far.
“I will be honest, yes [I did think about leaving] because every player wants to play.
“It wasn’t because I wanted to leave Celtic. Sometimes in your career you have tough moments but I am happy that I went through it and stayed here and that I signed a new contract. I think I am the happiest man in UK now.”
Bitton will now be focusing his efforts on bringing more success to Celtic and says he didn’t “think twice” about signing a new deal.
“Of course the targets are to win more trophies, to control the Scottish league, to go further in Europe and to be part of the Champions League every year,” he said.
“This is the best stage for every player. I want to enjoy and make everyone proud.
“The main reason I signed for Celtic is the club, when you pay every week in front of 40,000, 50,000, sometimes it is better even than money. I am happy so why would I change.”
On his manager’s comparisons with Barca’s Busquets he said: “He is one of the best midfielders in the world to be compared to him is something I dream about.
“I have a long way to go to be Sergio Busquets but I just want to build myself at Celtic, to improve every day and have success as a team.
“I think you can learn a lot from players like Sergio Busquets and [Nemanja] Matic – these are the type of players I look to every time I play.
“They play for the best teams in the world and it’s good to learn what they do in the game, before they get the ball and those type of things.”
Celtic have a crucial Europe League encounter in Group A with Molde on Thursday and Bitton says they need to produce they type of form they did against Aberdeen which put them six points clear in the Scottish Premiership.
“We need to play as we did against Aberdeen and do the same things as we try to do on the training pitch,” he said.
“At the end of the day it is just a football game, we need to do the same things that we have done in the past two years.”