So, just what does a player have to do, or more likely not do, to make it into the rogues gallery of underachievement and anonymity behind an, ahem, ‘elite’ most of whom only made it into the top ten themselves on default? That’s what I’m charged with discovering as we run the rule over, quite literally, the worst of the least worst.
Of course it’s more than a tad unfair to tar everyone on the periphery in this way. The Celtic squad at large is at present a rather curious mixture of round pegs in square holes (a total of 37 players were eligible for a vote), from babyfaced ‘projects’ through unproven arrivals during the January window to not-so-dearly departed veterans of the Strachan era who made their way out the revolving door after only a handful of appearances in the early stages of the campaign.
A full dozen players to appear in the jersey this season found themselves stranded from the peloton altogether on no votes whatsoever. Amongst them, former captain, Stephen McManus, now a Celtic player once more after the culmination of his loan spell at Middlesborough, but reportedly without a realistic future at the club as Neil Lennon’s managerial tenure beckons. Also sitting on a big fat zero, Willo Flood, another to hook up with Gordon Strachan at the Riverside, on a permanent basis in his case. And completing the criminally titled Boro Three in true three-strikes-and-they’re-out fashion, is World Cup-bound Chris Killen.
Keeping them company, Danny Fox, a candidate for perhaps the most bizarre and short-lived Celtic career in recent memory. Recruited from Coventry City in the summer by Tony Mowbray having been touted as one of the more promising young talents in the English Championship, the tattooed Englishman came with a reputation as a dead-ball specialist and a capable if middling replacement in a long-term problem position.
He was duly packed off again by the same manager for a negligible profit, at the first opportunity come the January window. In his time here he stood apart not very much at all from the previous incumbent, Lee Naylor, happened upon an international career with Scotland and…well, that was about it. No glorious free kicks to behold, although on his debut for new club Burnley, he duly banged one home, a strangely fitting bookend to a thoroughly curious chapter for player, manager and club.
Another transfer window afterthought also without recognition from the finest minds CU has to offer is Zheng Zhi, the Chinese international captain brought from Charlton Athletic, who briefly excited in an Old Firm debut where he slotted into a tetchy midfield battle only to play like one of most confident and assured performers on either side. But that was that, bar a sprinkling of substitute performances throughout the remainder.
Also languishing at the border control of point-scoring hinterland – Mark Wilson (a Celtic career blighted by injury, and when fit, performances that have rarely indicated the ability to progress beyond the level attained at Dundee United), Paul McGowan (loaned out to Hamilton); Paul Caddis (spate of promising performances early in his elevation to the first team, little since, and now another very likely to exit as Lennon’s team takes shape); Koki Mizuno (shirt-selling project that has failed to work out); and Edson Braafheid (ill-fitting loanee from Bayern Munich prone to temper tantrums, whose World Cup call-up as part of the Holland squad proves the Dutchies are not completely without a sense of humour).
Jos Hooiveld, and James Forrest, all also failed to score. Those two are perhaps most excused however. Hooiveld, the January signing with a decent reputation as a stopper at AIK Stockholm, has still to get off the ground in Glasgow on account of injuries. Youth graduate Forrest now has an encouraging, albeit fledgling series of late-season appearances under his belt, capped by a neat goal in the Parkhead routing of Motherwell.
Recognition was not altogether lacking for central defenders Gary Caldwell and Glenn Loovens, but with a combined total of 3 points between them (from a potential 280), it’s hardly the stuff of notable mentions. Heid has of course now made his way to a £25k p/w deal at Wigan, yet whilst many Celtic supporters rightly scoffed at the notion of the club coughing up similarly for a player whose capacity for self-destruction was matched only by his own notion of self-worth, there can be little doubting that the decision to punt Caldenbauer long before plans were even in place to capture a capable alternative did considerable damage in the early part of the campaign, leading in turn to some frenzied activity in January now firmly filed away under ‘too little, too late’.
Loovens on the other hand was going nowhere fast. And it was the same off-field, as the Dutchman survived each transfer window cull to keep his starting place for large swathes of the season. That tells you everything you need to know after a term when many of those ranked higher did so often on little more than the basis that they at least figured consistently as starters.
Further up the table between the positions of 15 to 25, we come across the first bundle of heavyweight underachievers, including one of the club’s highest paid players, Sean Maloney. Now struggling to overcome not only injuries, but, if rumours and hearsay are to be believed (which of course we don’t encourage in the least round here), the associated psychological distress. Contributions of any sort were rare for the 27-year-old this term, let alone highlights, but it should at least be pointed out that had he not been the repeat victim of “honest mistakes” whilst genuinely on song one afternoon at Ibrox, things may have worked out entirely differently for not just the player but arguably even the club and indeed, manager Tony Mowbray.
He was and they didn’t however, and the season served up few more indications that Maloney can recapture the form of his one full-blooded campaign in both spells as a Celtic player, 2005-06. In hindsight, you might say the decision was flawed to fork out over £20k p/w to return him to the fold barely one season of EPL failure after deciding first time around the player had yet to consistently justify that kind of earning power. Only in hindsight mind, and we can all surely absolve Peter Lawwell and Gordon Strachan of any culpability for that whatsoever, at a time when the club regularly plead penury.
Ki Seung Yeung is another interesting case occupying mid-table. The Korean was another identified by the Lawwell-Park shirt-selling machi…ahem, worldwide scouting network, secured in the summer and delivered in January with the obligatory handful of Maciej Zurawski-esque YouTube clips selectively sourced to back up his reputation as the ‘Korean Steven Gerrard’.
Unlike Gerrard, he’s thus far struggled markedly to bring some fight to the club, appearing ill-equipped for the physical nature of the Scottish game and having been in the main thoroughly passed by in the handful of matches he’s been permitted. That he arguably was not the manager’s signing may not have helped him acclimatise speedily either. But time is on his side, and it’s to be hoped there is a defining talent in there somewhere, so, mitigating factors, n’aw that.
Massimo Donati had a brief and, like others alongside him, pretty curious campaign in a Celtic jersey in 2009, playing consistently, and consistently well throughout a pre-season in which nobody could make up their mind (perhaps including the manager) if he was once again a genuine contender for regular football, or instead being placed in the shop window before the competitive action got underway. He scored a spectacular, sadly meaningless goal at the Emirates in our CL qualifier, was first in line with Boruc to bark publicly at the dying swan Eduardo in the aftermath, and then was back to Italy with AS Bari.
It was at least enough to get him some notice from us lot, though not much, with even Lee Naylor picking up double the amount of points. That’s four, mind you, in case anyone gets the wrong idea. F-o-u-r. 4. From a combined 14 voters handing out 55 points each.
Above them still scrapping for attention outwith the top 15, Niall McGinn, Darren O’Dea (who spent half the season at Reading before heeding a desperate SOS), and Scott Brown. Alongside, Thomas Rogne, who is that rare exception of someone placing admirably high on the list given circumstances. Two standout yet injury-curtailed performances at Ibrox and Tannadice hint that we may have serious potential on our hands in the shape of the 19-year-old Norwegian defender. Much more disappointing is the placing of Marc Crosas, the young midfielder signed from Barcelona and recipient of much supporter acclaim whilst flitting in and out of the team in Strachan’s last season, who instantly failed to win over Mowbray and failed to get his season going at all thereafter. His future at the club now looks under serious question.
And so finally to the last handful who just missed the cut. At 15, Diomansy ‘Joe’ Kamara, with extra points for a fantastic nickname (Oi, points deducted, surely? Ed). Many of us are rather unsure exactly what to make of the loan signing from Fulham, who has been industrious and indeed periodically dangerous in his spell at the club to date, without appearing a specialist in any particular attacking position. He may or may not be around next term to build on that. A handy option for sure, but does that justify shelling out more than a few million on a permanent deal? It ought to give pause for thought at least.
14th is Scott McDonald, arguably the last genuine h*nskelper (I know, I know – but Eddie wants this on NewsNow to annoy certain, more overground websites) in the vicinity, yet who nevertheless fell victim to the short-lived Mowbray experiment and a fondness for his namesake’s drive thrus if the Mike Galloway-esque waistline was anything to go by. He said farewell with one last goal against the hu…that mob, before becoming the 114th former Strachan charge to hook up with the gingermeister in Boro.
In at 13, pap-pickers, is Barry Robson, the 115th to disappear over yonder to the same locale. Quite a divisive figure, in that plenty supporters continued to argue to the very last that selling him was a serious error of judgement at a time when he still had a major role to play on account of his physical approach and seemingly undiluted spirit. The rest of us, who know football, thought he was a one-footed oddity with the turning circle of an articulated vehicle whose work here, having long-since smashed Christian Dailly firmly in the coupon, was done.
Two strikers round things off. Firstly, finishing 12th, the rather unfortunate Morten Rasmussen. I have to admit to liking what I’ve seen so far of the Dane, bar the haircut. He fell victim to circumstance perhaps more than any other when Robbie Keane’s availability quickly usurped any plans TM may or may not have had to focus his attack on the former Brondby man. As a consequence he has barely featured, yet encouragingly, looked pretty much the part of a bruising, instinctive penalty-box poacher on the few occasions he has. He rounded off the season with another snappy finish from close-range in the season-ending friendly at St Pauli, though sadly, his inactivity has cost him a berth in the Danish WC squad. Hopefully, that will only serve to fire him up further ahead of his first full season.
Finally, the not-so-nearliest of the not-even-nearly men, Georgios Samaras. Little is left to be said about the gangly Greek that has not already been gone over ad nauseum – capable of the sublime one moment (the season’s highlight for Sammy was almost certainly his single-handed dismantling of Aberdeen at Parkhead) to the ridiculous the next. Like many others, he heads into 2010-11 with a serious question mark over his ability to contribute, if not quite over his level of potential, and sheer awkwardness to opposing defenders, when in fact contributing. You can’t help but feel though that in a Neil Lennon team, his questionable attitude and lack of appetite for the fight may become a central consideration, in which case it is difficult to get terribly optimistic about his chances.
So there you go. The Outsiders, but not in a cool, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, you don’t wanna mess with those cats, their Marlboros are tucked under a rolled-up shirt sleeve kinda way. Although rolling up their sleeves may be precisely what’s in order if most or indeed all of them are to thrive under the new manager-elect. And on that pathetic pun-cum-segue into a closer, having spent the last two hours reminding myself of the lowest individual ebbs of a shocking year, I’m outta here, having done the bare minimum of my own. Till next season’s countdown.