As if the seemingly interminable wait for winter transfer window signings wasn’t bad enough for Celtic fans, they now have to countenance the prospect of the potential departure of their star defender.

Most of the speculation surrounding a possible exit for one of their key men has thus far centred upon Matt O’Riley, but reports yesterday citing ‘a source close to the player’ have credited West Ham, Brentford and Nottingham Forest with an interest in taking Cameron Carter-Vickers back to the English Premier League.

It is easy to see why they would want to, and hence, easy to believe such stories, even if they have a whiff of kite-flying about them. The man that former Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou called ‘the best defender in Scotland’ has been outstanding since his arrival in Glasgow, and perhaps the only surprise is that it isn’t his former boss who has been linked with an interest in taking him back to his old stomping ground in North London.

Perhaps that is because he knows just how hefty the price tag would be.

READ MORE: Is Nicolas Kuhn the next Di Maria or next Celtic project?

I wrote at the outset of the transfer window that it would take a club record fee, or close to it, to tempt Celtic to part with O’Riley at this critical juncture in the title race, and the same logic applies to Carter-Vickers. Perhaps, even more so.

Despite the wealth of options Celtic have at centre-back, you don’t have to look too far for evidence of the destabilising effect it has on them when you take Carter-Vickers out of the heart of their defence.

His injury issues this season have meant that his absence has proven his value to Celtic beyond any reasonable doubt, and manager Brendan Rodgers made no secret of the fact that he was desperate to have the ‘fantastic’ USA international back in his side during his latest lay-off.

All that being said, Celtic have managed to win both matches against Rangers this season without the 26-year-old, for just the concession of one goal, too. That was James Tavernier’s late free kick in the 2-1 win for the champions at the tail end of December.

There can be no doubt whatsoever though that as well as Liam Scales has performed this term, and even with the likes of £4.2m summer signing Maik Nawrocki, Stephen Welsh and (apparent misfit) Gustaf Lagerbielke in reserve, Carter-Vickers would leave a colossal fridge-shaped hole at the centre of the Celtic backline. He has been on the losing side just three times in 87 domestic appearances, after all.

He will go, of course, sooner or later. The Celtic board didn’t sanction the £6m transfer fee to land him permanently a couple of summers ago, after his successful loan stint, solely because of the value he would bring to the team in the short term. His longer-term sell-on value was just as likely to have been a driver behind that decision.

While there is absolutely no suggestion that Carter-Vickers is hankering for a move, most – if not all – Celtic supporters have made their peace with such facts, even if they may grouse about the model now and again.

Carter-Vickers, indeed, could be a prime example of how that model can benefit the club if he does go on to bank Celtic a large fee. But there is a time and place to cash in on your assets, and this is not it.

Carter-Vickers is contracted at the club until the summer of 2026. Any value he has now, barring an unforeseen and unprecedented collapse in form, will hold until the summer at least.

The only mild concern may be that recent injury record. His manager has spoken of how the knee operation he underwent at the tail end of last season has had a knock-on effect, and that the problems he has suffered from since have been a result of him overcompensating for that weakness during his rehab.

It has to be hoped that he can overcome that in short order, not only for the sake of Celtic’s Premiership title defence, but for the sake of his career. And of course, for the sake of the fee that his club can ultimately command for him when it is time for a parting of the ways.

If that time is the summer, then so be it. It might be a case of kicking the can down the road, and Rodgers may be left with an almighty rebuild for next season if he does indeed lose Carter-Vickers at the end of this campaign. Particularly if he loses O’Riley, too.

READ MORE: The view from Israel on Celtic, the Green Brigade and Abada

But such a blow is softened – and such a task made a little easier – if you have £40m of Champions League money behind you on top of the gargantuan fees (in Scottish terms, at least) they will be able to attract.

You can argue all day, and no doubt we will all summer, whether a move to the likes of West Ham, Brentford or Nottingham Forest can offer Carter-Vickers more than what he can get at Celtic beyond the contents of his pay packet. It will be a case of weighing up the attraction of a higher level of competition on a weekly basis versus the chance to have another crack at Europe’s elite.

But from Celtic’s point of view, the only thing that matters right now is that their lead at the top of the Premiership table could potentially be whittled down to two points if Rangers win their games in hand. They have an infinitely better chance of keeping their city rivals at bay with Carter-Vickers in their team.

Sell him in the summer, and sure, there will be disappointment from the Celtic fans. Sell him now, and there will be mutiny.