By Tom Blackburn

Celtic could have signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic for just £2million in 2001 but manager former manager Martin O’Neill took too long to make up his mind.

The Swedish striker was spotted by former Scotland Football Association chief executive Gordon Smith when he was playing at Malmo in his teenage years.

Smith, who was working as an agent at the time, tipped off former Hoops manager O’Neill about Ibrahimovic when he was still available.

But O’Neill dithered, the chance was gone and Ibrahimovic was signed by Ajax to kickstart a brilliant career at some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

“I was an agent back then, running a winter training camp for football clubs in Cyprus,” Smith said in an interview with the Sunday Post. “One of the clubs that came over that year was Malmo and I spotted a striker, an Eastern European, who I thought looked to be some player.

“I spoke to one of the scouts and he said: ‘No it is a Swede, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He is only 19 years old’. When I heard that, I was really impressed.

“So I called Martin O’Neill, the then Celtic manager, and said: ‘Get someone over here to come and see this guy. He looks great and you should be able to pick him up for £2m’.

“Martin left it a few weeks, though, during which time Zlatan had made a bit of an impact in the Swedish club season.

“Eventually, though, Martin did get in touch and said: ‘Right, we are getting someone over this weekend. Find out his contract situation for me’.

“I replied: ‘Sorry, you are too late – Ajax have just bought him for £5m.’”

Following his move to Ajax the forward instantly impressed and has since plundered goals for Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and most recently PSG.

Ibrahimovic has scored a staggering 373 goals in 629 club matches and will spearhead Sweden’s Euro 2016 campaign as he hopes to add to his 62 international goals from 113 matches.

The all-time great’s most likely destination is Manchester United, where he is expected to team team up this summer with former boss Jose Mourinho.

As reported by Football Insider, there is an agreement in place between Ibrahimovic and the Premier League giants.

In other Celtic news, Joey Barton has explained why he thinks the Hoops’ key man isn’t good enough.