ANDY Payton fears Burnley could struggle to hold on to Charlie Austin if Celtic decide to make a move for the striker before the closure of the transfer window.
Celtic assistant manager Johan Mjallby has publicly admitted this week that Austin is among their list of options if they sell fellow forward Gary Hooper before the end of January.
The SPL side want to keep Hooper but the former Scunthorpe man has 18 months left on his current contract and is reported to have turned down Celtic’s latest offer of a new deal amid interest from the Premier League, most notably Norwich.
Austin’s own contract also expires in the summer of 2014 and the striker is attracting admiring glances from clubs after netting 23 goals for Burnley so far this season.
The 23-year-old’s performances at Turf Moor have earned him comparisons to former Clarets ace Payton, who hopes Austin remains with Burnley, but is realistic about the attraction of playing for Celtic – having represented the SPL club himself.
“Charlie has scored 23 goals so he is going to attract interest,” said Payton, who played for Celtic between 1992 and 1993.
“I think Burnley will probably be tested with an offer before the end of January and then it will be very interesting to see what would happen.
“As a Burnley fan I hope he stays. We’re doing really well at the moment and you never know, we could get into the play-offs and you’ve seen a lot that the team that finishes sixth can go up.
“But what I’d have to say is that Celtic are a massive club.
“They get crowds of 60,000 and I’m going up there next month to watch their Champions League game against Juventus. They are in the last 16 of the Champions League and massive clubs like Chelsea aren’t.
“When I played for Celtic I played in Europe against clubs like Cologne, Young Boys and Borussia Dortmund.
“Unless you go to a top six club in the Premier League, players aren’t going to get the chance to play in games like that.
“If Celtic did come in with an offer and Charlie said he wanted to go, it would be very interesting to see what Burnley would do.”
Austin has always stressed he is committed to Burnley but Payton fears his contract situation could complicate matters.
“Ideally you’d get Charlie signed up to a five-year contract now, but it’s whether the club can do that with the finances, and I can’t imagine him going into the last year of his contract,” he said.
“If you get told that maybe another club could double or treble your wages, it’s hard for players not to be tempted.
“I am a Burnley fan and went to school in the area, but Charlie isn’t from Burnley so it’s not quite the same.”
Burnley have insisted on several occasions that they have no plans to sell Austin but Payton fears they could possibly receive an offer they cannot refuse, should Celtic make their move.
The former Turf Moor star says, however, that should Austin depart Burnley must ensure they hold out for a similar fee to the £7m Southampton paid for Jay Rodriguez in the summer.
“If Gary Hooper left I wouldn’t be surprised if they did put a bid in for Charlie because they are similar types of players,” he said.
“I think they probably could afford him because they have the Champions League money and they have a mega rich owner.
“You see some fans talking about wanting £15m but you have to be realistic. I think you’d be looking at a similar amount to what they got for Rodriguez.”