Peter Lawwell can deliver Celtic their next Virgil van Dijk in Philadelphia Union’s “unbelievable” enforcer Mark McKenzie.
While speaking with MLS Soccer, Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner has confirmed that his Major League Soccer side are being proactive ahead of the winter market with interest building in McKenzie’s services.
The 21-year-old USA international has been linked with a potential move to Parkhead after the Hoops requested to be kept informed on the youngster’s situation this summer, with McKenzie keen to secure a move to Europe.
Celtic prioritised the arrival of a new full-back in the off-season, but were eager to bolster Neil Lennon’s central options in search of a tenth Premiership title in a row after Jozo Simunovic’s exit.
Philadelphia are believed to value McKenzie at less than £1million with his current contract set to expire in 2022, and are now actively searching for replacements.
“At this moment, there is nothing on the table,” Tanner said. “But we are not blind, we can’t wait until something comes, we’ll do our homework and always look for replacements.”
Lawwell striking a deal with Philadelphia Union to sign McKenzie in January could see Celtic land their next Van Dijk, with the USMNT defender lauded as an “unbelievable” centre-half for his ability to stop opposing forwards.
Van Dijk spent two years at Parkhead before joining Southampton in 2015, helping the Hoops to clinch the 2013/14 and 14/15 Premiership titles and the 2014/15 Scottish League Cup.
He has gone on to become one of the top defenders in his position and was named as UEFA’s best player in Europe in 2019 after supporting Liverpool’s backline to the 2018/19 Champions League, before clinching a first Premier League trophy last season.
The 29-year-old’s ability to thwart attacks is one of the aspects that makes the Dutchman stand out from the rest, with just eight players able to dribble past the Reds’ £75m brute in three years of Premier League football heading into the current campaign.
Union boss Jim Curtin has lavished similar praise on McKenzie in the past, noting: “Mark was unbelievable again. He doesn’t seem to get beat.
“He’s fast when he needs to be, his passing, his stepping into midfield, winning balls, also connecting his passes, playing through the lines, he’s playing at a level not many CBs can play at.”
McKenzie started all 26 of his appearances across 2020 as Philadelphia Union reached the MLS Play-Offs, helping to 10 clean sheets with 4.1 clearances, 1.8 interceptions, 1.6 successful tackles, 2.4 ground duels won, 2.0 aerial duels won and 35.5 accurate passes per game, per SofaScore.