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Celtic: Mark McKenzie open to January move from Philadelphia Union

Celtic were in talks to sign the centre-back in the 2020 summer transfer window but chose to sign Shane Duffy from Brighton; Mark McKenzie tells SSN he wants to play at the "highest level" in Europe

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Philadelphia Union defender Mark McKenzie says he is open to moving to Celtic in the January transfer window

Philadelphia Union defender Mark McKenzie is open to moving to Celtic, if the Scottish champions come calling again next month.

The Hoops were in discussions with the MLS side in the summer for the USA international, but they opted to sign Shane Duffy on loan from Brighton for a £2m fee.

It's understood that Celtic are looking for another centre-back in January and McKenzie is high up on their list of targets again, but the 21-year-old is now attracting interest from the Premier League and Bundesliga.

Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports News, McKenzie revealed he would consider a switch to Parkhead and would love to follow in the footsteps of Virgil van Dijk, as he targets a move to the big time in Europe.

Mark McKenzie has made 19 MLS appearances for Philadelphia Union in 2020
Image: Mark McKenzie has made 19 MLS appearances for Philadelphia Union in 2020

Asked if he would consider a move to Celtic in the January transfer window, he said: "Yeah, ultimately it's about the situation being right for all parties.

"As the player you are probably the most important piece in the puzzle, but it's about making sure it's right for the club I'm at now but also the club I could potentially be going to.

"I want to be playing regular and consistent minutes - at least fighting for my spot and then trying to keep that spot. That's the most important thing. It's something I've obviously talked to my agents about and talked to the club and staff about and make sure it's right for everyone.

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"I've done my fair share of research (on Celtic and the Scottish Premiership) and I've always loved football so I've known about Celtic for a while. You hear about Celtic and the path of Virgil Van Dijk - going from there to the Prem.

"I'm no dummy when it comes to understanding the leagues. I have a general idea of what the leagues look like and keeping up with who is at the front of the pack in the league race and tournaments. I know about Celtic and the league - and a lot of other leagues. But it's an exciting time, though."

Mark McKenzie made his debut for the USA aginst Costa Rica in February
Image: Mark McKenzie made his debut for the USA against Costa Rica in February

McKenzie was named in the MLS Best XI and MLS Is Back XI last season, with Union sporting director Ernst Tanner telling Sky Sports News earlier this month that he expects the USA international to reach the top.

Speaking about the interest and speculation about his future, he said: "I appreciate it. It's testament to the hard work I put in.

"It's something I'm excited about. Having it there is something I've dreamt of. But at the end of the day, I'm not getting too far ahead of myself.

"There were rumours and speculation but ultimately I had to focus and that's what helped me finish strongly. As a 21-year-old it's something I'm extremely proud of."

The American's ambition is sky high but he remains grounded about his first move to Europe and admits he may need a stepping stone before reaching elite level.

Celtic's income has fallen to £70m because of the pandemic
Image: Mark McKenzie is open to a move to Celtic Park next month

He said: "Ultimately Europe is where every footballer understands is the highest level. I'm not bashing any leagues but when you wake up as a kid on a Saturday morning at 8am and you turn on the Prem. Right after that, there might be a Bundesliga game or El Clasico. Europe is where you want to be and I find myself in that position also.

"It's out there - my goal is to play in the Champions League, play against the best players in the world, win trophies. That's my goal and those are my personal ambitions.

"Obviously right now I'm still a Union player but I hope in the near future that I find myself in the situation where I can make the jump and put myself forward in those important matches.

"In order to grow your game and diversify your skillset you need to be able to play and compete with the best of the best and getting regular minutes. It's difficult to come in and play here and there. You need regular football.

"I think you have to understand where you're at as a footballer and think 'what is the best option for me? Would it be to go to a top three or four league? What does the club dynamic look like?

"Are there veterans in my position? Are there high-profile individuals in my position? Am I ready to compete in this league? Where are my weaknesses? Do I need more time to develop? Do my strengths align with this league?'

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Philadelphia Union defender Mark McKenzie says systemic prejudice and racism remains a major problem, and he feels the effects of it on a daily basis

"These are all factors I have been thinking about and I'm always discussing with my agent. I'll probably take a couple of more days to chill out before I start really ramping up and start getting ready for 2021.

"But it's definitely booming and I think that's the biggest thing for me - getting myself ready whether it's in the winter, summer or January 2022."

McKenzie has been studying the European leagues for some time to plan out his route map to the top. And he backs himself to fit in and adapt to the different styles.

He added: "There are probably a few (leagues that suit my style). The physicality of the Premier League - fast pace, how little decisions can lead to big moments in the match. That's something I really enjoy. The Bundesliga like to build out the back and create dynamic movements.

"La Liga is another footballing league. Ligue 1 is a hybrid with some teams being more direct. Eredivisie has a dynamic of clubs that want to play and be more direct. So I can see myself in a lot.

"You have to be able to adapt and adjust my style of play. But I also need to be true to myself and what got me here. But I definitely want to go to a league where you can play and lead the attack from the back."

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