Celtic want former Rangers defender Carlos Cuellar

EXCLUSIVE: Celtic target controversial move for former Rangers defender Cuellar

Celtic are plotting a shock January move for former Rangers central defender Carlos Cuellar.

Parkhead manager Neil Lennon had listed a striker and a defender as transfer priorities for the New Year.

And Sportsmail understands that Cuellar, who spent a year at Ibrox before leaving for Aston Villa in an 8million deal, is high on the list of targets.

Heading north Cuellar has struggled to hold down a first team place at Villa

Heading north Cuellar has struggled to hold down a first team place at Villa

Ironically, Rangers tried to t ake the 30-year-old Spaniard back to the SPL last summer, but were unable to conclude a deal.

Now, on the back of Wednesday’s 1-0 SPL win over their arch rivals, Celtic hope to have more luck.

Swedish full-back Mikael Lustig has already been secured from Rosenborg by the Parkhead club and is set to be officially unveiled as Lennon beefs up his squad for the title run-in.

And, with only six months to run on his contract, Cuellar is free to talk to clubs from January 1 and could sign a pre-contract agreement.

Aware of interest from elsewhere, Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish is preparing a new contract offer to avoid losing the defender for nothing.

Currently on 30,000 a week, however, Cuellar is keen to secure guaranteed first-team football after flitting in and out of the Villa team and being asked to serve as a stand-in right-back.

Target: Celtic remain interested in signing Maritimo striker Baba Diawara

Target: Celtic remain interested in signing Maritimo striker Baba Diawara

Lennon has prioritised the signing of a new striker, with Maritimo’s Baba Diawara still a possibility after Monaco had a 2.5m bid rejected.

Algerian Rafik Halliche is also under consideration for defence, while Nottingham Forest’s Wes Morgan, who is attracting interest from Reading and Cardiff, has also been mentioned.

Celtic, meanwhile, are poised to resist pressure to hand striker Gary Hooper a new contract.

The English striker and his father have gone public on their wish to discuss a new, improved deal after signing from Scunthorpe for 1.6m 18 months ago.

The 23-year-old has scored 15 goals this season and insists he is enjoying life in Glasgow.

No go: Celtic

No go: Celtic”s Gary Hooper (left) is keen to stay with the Glasgow club

With two-and-a-half years left on his current 16,000-a-week contract, however, Celtic’s management see no urgency to discuss the issue and are angry with Hooper’s new agent, Simon Dent, for revealing plans for a meeting next week.

Dent, who moved in after Hooper parted company with his Glasgow-based representative recently, said: ‘We are pleased to be representing Gary Hooper exclusively and are meeting Celtic next week to discuss Gary’s situation. He’s loving life in Glasgow and really enjoying his football up there.

‘We have had interest from a number of clubs in England but, at the moment, Gary is focused on winning the SPL with Celtic.’

So far this season, the Parkhead club have handed new contracts to Beram Kayal, Emilio Izaguirre, Charlie Mulgrew and Scott Brown.

Lennon has already responded to talk of a Hooper agreement, however, by saying that talks will be held now only with out-of-contract players.