By Matt Farr

Celtic first-team coach John Kennedy has insisted that star defender Jozo Simunovic is not for sale in January following new transfer speculation, according to a report.

The Express claim that the 22-year-old, who Kennedy compares to former Celtic man Virgil van Dijk, is subject to renewed interest from Serie A club Torino.

The Italian club attempted to sign Simunovic in the summer, but the deal collapsed after Torino attempted to re-negotiate the £3million deal amid concerns over his fitness.

Torino head coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, who was a top European defender in his professional career, wants to renew his interest in the Celtic man next month. But Kennedy claims it would be a waste of their time.

He told the Express: “We want to keep him here. He’s a big player for us now and he’s shown that in the last couple of Champions League games.

“He’s a top player and we want to keep our best players. He’s one we wanted to bring in to improve the team. He’s been terrific and is a fantastic player to work with.

“He’s got the height, the strength, the speed and technically he’s very good. On top of that, he’s got a fantastic attitude. Nowadays proper centre-backs are very hard to come by.

“You look at Virgil van Dijk, who all the top teams are now chasing. Jozo is certainly of that ilk… He makes tackles, but he can play when need be.

“Van Dijk’s a top player. Jozo’s still got a little bit to go in terms of reaching that level but he certainly has it in his locker.”

Simunovic has made 13 appearances in all competitions for Celtic this season, and excelled during his two Champions League appearances against Barcelona and Manchester City – despite Celtic’s defeat against the former.

He has proven an indispensable asset to Brendan Rodgers, and is keeping the likes of former Arsenal and Manchester City defender Kolo Toure out of the Celtic first-team.

Celtic have an impressive league defensive record, conceding just 12 goals from 15 games.

Football Insider verdict:

Torino clearly like the look of Simunovic and what he can bring to their team, otherwise they wouldn’t be renewing their interest in him. Celtic seemed happy to let him go in the summer, but under Brendan Rodgers, he’s become a key asset and it doesn’t look as though they’d be as willing to let him leave as they were six months ago. Given his performances, they could probably negotiate a higher price than the £3million they could have got before, but it remains to be seen what Torino are willing to offer. Celtic could find a suitable replacement for him, but if Simunovic is as good as John Kennedy believes, then Celtic should do everything possible to hang onto him.

In other Celtic news, this playmaker is moving closer to an exit from the club, and a deal could be struck by Saturday.