Twelve months ago I was moved to write the following article on this very website.
As the title suggests I was concerned over Celtic’s lack of activity in the transfer market and the frustrating thing is that, one year on, the exact same concerns are still relevant now.
It’s not that Celtic haven’t made signings. Christopher Jullien, Boli Mbombo and the impending arrival Hatem Abd Elhamed, mean that the club have been active in the market. However these guys are effectively the respective replacements for Dedryck Boyata, Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney (should Arsenal come up with the required £25m fee). So we are not really any better off than we were last season. Arguably, we will be worse off, especially if Tierney departs the scene.
There is growing disenchantment amongst the supporters regarding the ambition of the Celtic board. Each year when we take part in the CL qualifiers we are totally unprepared for these games. For the first two years of Brendan Rodgers’ reign we qualified narrowly. In 2016 we relied on Eoghan O’Connell and Mikael Lustig in centre defence. In 2017, in Astana, we relied on the raw centre back partnership of Kris Ajer and Nir Biton and in 2018 we finally ran out of luck with the untried pairing of Ajer and Jack Hendry, who floundered against AEK Athens.
Rather than learn the required lessons from previous experiences, Celtic have not invested in improving the defence. We are now faced with the prospect of playing Biton at centre half yet again, a position he isn’t remotely suited for. This is the fourth year in a row that a Celtic manager has gone into the CL qualifiers with the backside hanging out of his pants. It doesn’t have to be like this. The unseeded sides should be fearing playing us in the qualifiers but you can just imagine them before the draws saying ‘give us Celtic’ as they realise they have a better chance against us. A reasonable amount of investment would almost guarantee qualification and access to the financial riches that await. One would have thought the board would have speculated a little to accumulate a lot. But this Celtic board is highly conservative and will never do that. I see from the draw today that Rumania or Israel awaits us. There can be no great confidence going into these games and there is still another round after that tie, yet to come.
Investment in the team is also desirable for the domestic campaign. There will come a time when Rangers will provide a stern challenge and we must be ready for it. There is a tendency amongst Celtic supporters to believe that Rangers have not improved much and that there is not a great deal to worry about. That is to miss the point. They don’t have to come up to our level, we could easily descend to their level, particularly, if like last season with Dembele, we sell players and don’t replace them with those of a similar quality. Anyone who overlooks Rangers after the two defeats at Ibrox last season clearly hasn’t been paying attention.
As usual the board seem keen to spend the bare minimum to stay ahead of the rest. They would rather risk a bad season than spend a considerable amount (money that we have already banked) in order to win the magical 9th and 10th championships. We can all laugh at newco Rangers current financial predicament and the fact that the old Rangers are currently in the process of liquidation. However, one thing should be borne in mind and that is the difference in psyche between the Celtic board and their Ibrox counterparts. They would do anything in order to better us. If the shoe were on the other foot they would spend millions to get 9 and 10. I am certainly not advocating breaking the bank and going into debt but I do expect the Celtic board to spend every penny available to us and that is something which has not happened for some time now. Boasting of a great balance sheet and a big bank balance will ring hollow if Celtic don’t win the next two league titles.
It was good to see Lennon trim the squad during the summer as it was excessively high in quantity and not so great on quality. But it would have been good to see him go further. One lesson has to be learned – no more mediocre signings from Scottish clubs. Jonny Hayes, Jack Hendry and Lewis Morgan are not of the calibre that we require. Moving them on and bringing in better quality should be a priority. It seems crazy to criticise Celtic given the fact that we have won a treble treble. However, if you compare the squad of 2017 to the current squad of 2019, then there has been a considerable drop in class. This has to be acknowledged and the aim should be to get back to that 2017 levels.
I hate to end on a negative note but I have no faith in the Celtic board to spend the required sums to bring in a better class of player. I also appreciate that it’s highly difficult to persuade quality players to come to this country to a league which is not regarded as one of Europe’s major competitions. Bit as the old adage goes you get what you pay for and it is possible to attract good players if you pay the market rate.
Let me finish with the following quote from last year’s article.
I hope that complacency will not be allowed to creep in at Parkhead. The only thing we have to fear is ourselves by not doing things right. I know from talking to fellow Celts that there is an attitude out there amongst the fans that no matter who leaves, we will still be good enough to beat Rangers. That’s a dangerous mindset to have. Nothing should ever be taken for granted.
The exact same thing still applies at this moment in time.