McLeish chase for defender Balde gathers pace
The 16-month saga surrounding Bobo Balde’s move from Celtic to Birmingham City moved closer to a conclusion yesterday.
From the moment Alex McLeish accepted the job as Birmingham manager he has had his sights set on the Guinea international centre-half but his pursuit has been a drawn-out, and often comical, affair.
Since talk of interest in Balde surfaced in January 2008, Birmingham have been linked with a move for the 33-year-old in every transfer window. Balde has continued to honour his £28,000-per-week contract, much to the frustration of the Celtic bean counters, while managing to maintain his professional dignity despite it being obvious he was not wanted.
Signed for Celtic by Martin O’Neill from French side Toulouse in July 2001, Balde has played only four first-team games in the last two years and regularly found himself training with the youth team.
Inquiries have been made, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa once expressed interest, but Balde has stuck to his guns. However, his frosty relationship with Celtic is drawing to a close with his lucrative contract due to end this summer and McLeish has moved to add the African to his threadbare defence.
The France-born defender is due to play in World Cup qualifiers, against Ivory Coast and Burkino Faso next month, before joining Birmingham for pre-season training.
McLeish will then run the rule over Balde before deciding whether to sign the free agent. “We don’t want to talk about it publicly but we extended an invite to Bobo to train with us and that’s as far as it has gone,” he said. “We don’t know if that will happen, he’s got internationals in the summer and I’m pursuing legitimate targets. Bobo looks like he will be a free agent so I have to look at every opportunity I can get. Right now my priority is centre backs.”
The recycled speculation linking Rangers striker Kris Boyd with a move to Birmingham refuses to die down but McLeish is already known to have set his sights elsewhere having cast doubts over the exiled Scotland international’s ability to perform in the English top flight.
Elsewhere, McLeish has confirmed that Boyd’s team-mate Madjid Bougherra, the Algeria international defender, is likely to be out of Blues’ price range.