Top Ten Players of the Season – No 5: Hooper

In at number 5 or should that be out at number 5? Drifting out from last year’s number 3 it’s ooh aah Gary Hoopahh.

Will Hoops still be here before I finish this or before Eddie gets off his backside and around to putting this up on the site?

Furthermore should this be a look back at 2012/13 or a look back at Gary Hooper’s Celtic career? To be fair when he leaves someone else can write an overview of his time in the hoops but I assume they will mention that third goal in our final ever game against them – a rare strike outside the box.

In the spirit of sporting integrity I’ll stick to season 2012/13.

This time last year Southampton, having won promotion to the land of milk and  honey were interested in Gary Hooper for an alleged £7m. It was easy to see the connection with Nigel Adkins, his previous boss at Scunthorpe, and, like all newly promoted teams, goals and enough points to stay out of the bottom three is the ONLY priority.

At that time Hooper gave us some comfort with his response:

“There are always rumours about that. “But I have two years left on my contract, I am scoring goals and I am loving my football. There is a big chance for us to play Champions League football next season and that has been a personal ambition of mine for a long time. I loved playing in the Europa League this season and I think the game away to Udinese is one of the highlights of my career. I would love the chance to sample the Champions League now.”

So the season kicked off with Hooper still at No.88 and his goal in the Champions League qualifier against HJK Helsinki ensured we came back from a goal down to win less convincingly than we would have liked 2-1. A very good away win 2-0 was followed up with the same result in Helsingborg where we certainly took our chances. Hooper scored again in the second leg and this meant he now had his chance to sample Champions League football. At that time little was he to know what the draw would be and how the group would unfold, although ITV appeared to know exactly how it would unfold, much to their later embarrassment…

By now the league had kicked off with less than inspiring performances against Aberdeen, Ross County, Inverness, Hibs and unexpectedly a defeat away at St Johnstone.  Hooper failed to score in any of these games

The first Champions League game saw a cagey 0-0 with Benfica. This game provided us with a chance to see where we were despite the fact that it appeared to be a result which favoured Benfica at the time.

Hooper followed this up with an incredible four goals in the 4-1 home defeat of Raith Rovers in the Communities League Cup; just a pity there weren’t too many people about to see it.

Back to back league wins against Dundee and Motherwell, Hooper scoring in both set up the first away game at Spartak Moscow nicely. Could we do the impossible and actually win an away game in Europe against a team that had played well in Barcelona?

After 12 minutes strong play by Wanyama in midfield fed Lustig out right and his pass inside for Hooper was, for me, everything about Gary Hooper and if he does go will be how I remember his style of play – getting onto a square ball into the box. He followed this up by being the man dragged back which resulted in Spartak going down to 10 men, thus changing the game. Hooper then set up Forrest for the 2-2 equaliser before every one of us were out of our seats celebrating  a Samaras winner from a brilliant Izaguirre cross (was that the last decent ball in from Izaguirre?).

Highlights of Spartak away:

http://www.itv.com/sport/football/article/2012-10-02/match-report-spartak-moscow-2-3-celtic/

Hooper kept up the goal scoring through December and January with an incredible 10 goals including back to back doubles against Hearts and Dundee United.

The January transfer window saw two players arrive in Gershon and Rogic and despite intense press speculation one didn’t leave. That one was likely to be Hooper with Norwich most interested at anything up to £7m. Early speculation of Liverpool interest was dashed when they signed Sturridge from Chelsea for £12m.

Hooper finished the season by scoring in the league winning 4-1 performance over ICT.  This was his only goal against ICT. The double was secured in the Cup Final with two early Hooper goals including a rare headed effort.

If we fail to get £6m for Hooper don’t start Harry Brady about asset management and our inability to capitalise. With the Juventus game coming up only 12 days after the transfer deadline it would have been seen as a massive own goal if the SSM had sold our centre forward and with it any ambition to progress.

Remember, Scunthorpe managed to turn him from £175,000 to £2.4m in two years. We will hopefully still at least double our money with Hull rumoured interested at that price range. Not bad for a player some would say has no pace is one footed and can’t head a ball. Assistant Manager Mjallby, perhaps unfairly, comparing him to Larsson said, “I think that’s something Gary Hooper and Stokes as well as Sami must look at. If they want to be Celtic greats they need to, not only score goals and create goals, but they need to work harder without the ball as well.”

Could we have the best of both worlds if everyone holds their nerve? This time last year Hooper was willing to stay for Champions League football. The final qualifying rounds are 27/28 August and the EPL is due to start on 17 August with Hull away at Chelsea.

The last two seasons has seen Hooper play 50 games and get 29 and 31 goals respectively. Not bad for a player whose partner is chopped and changed.

Personally I’ve always liked Hooper and thought he had good feet. His goal away in Moscow will probably be how we all remember him. Still only 25 he has a good career ahead of him. You only know what you had when it’s gone and the choice of Hull or Reading against Champions League football is his prerogative.

Last Season – 3rd.

Image kindly supplied by @vagelisgeo of biglens.co.uk

 

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