I ended my last article on Brendan Rodgers on a positive note. Surely having brought him back with the appropriate salary then mistakes from the previous term would have been learned and we ‘d be moving forward on a united front. In particular transfer windows would see him not looking particularly downbeat and end with gaping holes in the squad. A few weeks on from saying how surprising it was to see him back at Celtic and here I am in a state of real bewilderment at a transfer window which has the feeling of groundhog day from so many summers where the potential for the team to kick on has been missed.
Moving forward from a position of strength is a historical issue that seems to plague Celtic. How often have we gone into pre-season feeling things should be looking up and then to up the ante ? In early 80s we always used to say that improve at full back and centre half then we will do something in Europe a la Aberdeen and Dundee Utd – those positions were never ever addressed. After the centenary season we all felt great but the feel good factor had all but evaporated after August the 27th 1988 as we signed absolutely nobody other than the lamentable Ian Andrews in the close season and were on the receiving end of a 5-1 drubbing at Ibrox.
Move forward a decade and following a nerve shredding season, we had stopped Rangers and 10-in-a-row. However by not signing a single player for over a year, we would embarrass ourselves in Europe and go out to Zagreb and a very poor Zurich side. The league was of course thrown away to a Rangers team under going a massive rebuild.
Many of us thought that Seville in 2003 would be the springboard for greater things. In fairness, the debt meant that the board could not spend more money without sales and unfortunately we had a man in the dugout who hated wheeling and dealing. Much as I like Martin O’Neill, he was a good manager but not a great one and his failure to move players who were on the slippery slope, together with MOTD scouting, would cost us. I have written at length about the failures under the previous CEO who is now chairman. 2008 and 2018 being particularly bad summers when we had momentum from the previous campaigns. So given the past, many Celtic supporters do go into every June with a degree of caution about what lays ahead.
It is our current chairman who said that the aim of every transfer window is to come out stronger than before you went into it. So it’s a relatively easy question. Are we in better shape than we were at the end of May ? In my opinion unfortunately and pretty unforgivingly we aren’t. Despite the disappointment at having to change managers at the start of June, we all thought we were in a decent position. Yes some players may leave but we were very cash rich and a few tweaks here and there and replacing any departees should see us ready for the season ahead.
I had heard at the end of last season to expect Starfelt and Hatate to be sold and we may get bids for Jota. Two of those three scenarios came to pass – Fans shouldn’t have an issue about accepting the offer from Saudi. So we obviously had vacancies to fill but there are others areas of the team that needed to be looked at..
I like Joe Hart but during the course of 22/23 it was obvious that his reliability was fading. No disgrace given his age but goalkeeper was a position that badly needed upgraded. However until the end of December at least, we will have the same goalkeeping trio as last year. Bain’s performance at Easter Rd last season is enough for anybody to realise that he should be nowhere near the first team. His use is as a “last resort” emergency and making up the homegrown quota in Europe – nothing else. But if Hart gets injured then he is likely to start. For a club of our size that is basic failure.
Then of course you will have a new manager and his style of play which may mean that players who were had qualities under Ange may cease to have their uses with Rodgers. He also doesn’t use inverted full backs. And its no secret that Brendan Rodgers doesn’t rate our two current left backs. I have always thought that Greg Taylor gets a tough time from some Celtic supporters but for whatever reason Rodgers clearly doesn’t fancy him or Bernabei for that matter who has not impressed at all since arriving from Argentina.
So what did we do ? Representatives of Celtic tried to see if Kieran Tierney would be interested in coming back. (and to certain folk on social media – don’t embarrass yourselves by saying we were never in touch with him) A player on a £100K a week, with three years of his contract left and a current international. There is aiming high and there is being unrealistic. That falls badly into the latter. So whilst we chased after him, hoping that Arsenal would entertain an offer way below what they were looking for, the transfer window ticked away. And the end result is that we have a left full back position occupied – again for the first half of the season at a bare minimum – by players who the manager has no confidence in and who by all accounts both know that the manager feels that way. That’s a recipe for trouble
Elsewhere, Daniel Podence featured prominently on our wanted list after Jota left. He isn’t on as high a salary as Tierney and has one year of his contract left. But again surely the question must be asked about how viable it was that he would come to Celtic ? By going after KT and the Wolves winger it would suggest that we were targeting players who – when push comes to shove – are far more likely to fail to reach an agreement with us than sign on the dotted line. Holding out on the off chance that somebody who has fallen out of favour at an EPL club, is asking for it, especially if you go all in and decide to ignore other possibilities whilst you wait.
One other issue that should have been looked at was up front. Celtic were linked with strikers especially Mathias Kvistgaarden of Brondby. We weren’t able to do a deal with his club. Now there may be good reasons for that but as it stands, we face losing all our strikers to the Asian cup at the start of January until very possibly mid February. Can I be so bold as to suggest that getting another one in now would likely benefit the team in the long run ? If Oh, Maeda and Kyogo are called up by South Korea and Japan respectively, it is NOT beyond the realms of possibility that Mikey Johnston may be asked to reprise his role from Ibrox in Dec 2018 at New Love St in January of next year. A genuinely ridiculous position to be even considering.
We did sign a number of players who we hope will come good but who may not be first team ready quite yet. I have no issue with Celtic signing projects. Red Bull Salzburg famously get the replacement in a year in advance. The cameos from Holm and Yang in particular have been impressive. But what I don’t understand is us signing not one but two projects for each position. Yang & Tillio on the wing. Iwata and Kwok for defensive midfield. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Then there is our midfield which at the time of writing is malfunctioning. It’s clear that Hatate is in the “cream puff” or his head is elsewhere. That is not the club’s fault. But that is leaving a midfield of McGregor, Turnbull and O’Reilly. A trio lacking in pace, bite and energy which doesn’t suit Rodger’s tactics. If other areas had been attended to you could say it was one of those things and fingers crossed Hatate knuckles down. But given everything else it is now another fairly open sore and will continue to be unless Paolo Barnardo is able to help with some of the aforementioned issues. Mooy’s importance from the 2nd to 3rd quarter of lats season seems to have been forgotten about. I think he is being badly missed just now and no obvious replacement has been bought. Another hole in the side.
After the 0-0 draw with St Johnstone, Rodgers briefed journalists that he wanted 5 signings in the last week of the transfer window. That was a sure sign that things had not gone well. The injuries to centre halves were outwith anybody’s control and at least that was addressed. But other than Bernardo, (Palma had already been agreed) nothing failed to materialise resulting in pretty obvious deficiencies in the team going into the season in full.
Money is certainly not an issue in preventing the team getting better, We’ve taken in far more than we’ve spent – we have over £70M in the bank. Our season books sold out – our home games are currently selling out. We’ve got extra Champions League money due to being the only Scottish club in the Group stages. Bluntly we never been in a better position to finally move forward from a good spot. Yet at the very best we’ve stood still. And that depends on whether Nawrocki/Lagerbielke & Palma are at the level of those who have gone. We won’t know that until we see them play over a period of time.
The general feeling around the club, up until the result at Ibrox, was one of a downer. We lost our manager in fairness to circumstances beyond our control. That was a sore one. We lost arguably the fans favourite player to a bid too good to turn down. We’ve seen Rodgers return to the dugout in a move not welcomed by some fans (although the Green Brigade’s abuse after the St Johnstone game was a disgrace). The transfer window was the chance to improve the atmosphere and general mood around the club. Instead it appears that we have applied the brakes to improving the side.
By spending between £2M and £4M per player we are limiting options. Red Bull Salzburg, Club Brugge, Feyenoord and PSV are NOT financially better off than us yet they spend far higher sums on individual players. Hold on, I know what’s coming – “aye but will they fancy Ross County away ?” (to paraphrase the infamous John Guidetti quote) Oscar Gloukh was in demand and Salzburg paid £7M for him. Do you think he fancies travelling to Lustenau or play in front of less than 5000 spectators at Blau-Weiss Linz ? He went to RBS because he knows he will develop, get to give a good account of himself in Europe (which he is already doing) with a team that takes the competition seriously and will be in the shop window in two years. By getting further in Europe, you make yourself an attractive destination for players. But it seems lost on those running Celtic.
In the last 50 years only two Celtic managers have won a tie in Europe beyond Xmas. That is a damning statistic. In that time, three seasons, 1973/74, 2002/03 and 2003/04 – you could argue that we were a genuine threat in Europe. I said in my last article that Spurs were probably the world’s most unsuccessful big club. Well in Europe, can you tell me a club with an average gate of 40,000 plus with a poorer record than us over the last half century ? You could possibly point to Fenerbahce or Besiktas but other than that I’m struggling to think of any other.
So in order to address that European record we have to spend money on the team and address deficiencies. But we will wait now until January to see if goalkeeper and left back will be looked at. A striker will HAVE to be signed right at the beginning of 2024. So who is to blame for the fact that we have finished the window in a poorer shape than when we went in, and most fans I know dreading Europe despite our bank account bulging at the seams?
In order for major football clubs to work, both the manager and the recruitment teams have to be on the same page. The concerns from this transfer window is that they aren’t. That some targets were never going to come to Celtic yet we wasted time by persisting with chasing possibly resulting in gettable players going elsewhere. That projects (plural) have been signed for one position resulting in the squad being lop-sided.
I doubt the board went after EPL players on big money. That has the manager written all over it. But surely Messrs Rodgers, Nicholson and Lawwell jnr get round of table and hold frank discussions about likely scenarios. The club cannot turn around and say that there are no goalkeepers or left backs valued between £5M and £8M out there who wouldn’t come to Celtic. If they do, it would merely insult our intelligence. The end result of this transfer window is that it raise huge questions over squad management yet again.
The Chairman’s statement as the Club issued its financial results really did insult the supporters and shareholders. “We’ve got loads of dosh but we mustn’t spend it as we might not make CL next year”. Don’t anybody kid yourself on. Distill it down and that’s what it means. Nobody is asking us to run up an overdraft or compete with EPL teams for players. But it is just silly to have that kind of money in the bank yet a team that as I write this very few of us expect still to be in Europe by the end of December (I hope I am proved wrong and will happily take the stick if that’s the case)
However, I don’t buy into conspiracy theories that the non exec Chairman is interfering. IF this season were to go wrong, its the manager, the CEO and head of recruitment will have some serious explaining to do over what happened during July and August. The general word on Rodgers return was that he wanted Europe to be taken more seriously. I don’t expect miracles overnight but I hoped that it would mean a better points total (even if we fail to qualify) in the Group stages this year. I’m far from convinced that this will be the case.
As for the league, as I write this our main rivals (at this early stage) seem to having difficulty with their new signings – and we deservedly beat them at Ibrox. But just now we are far from fluent. That may take time with a new manager and new tactics. None the less, the feeling remains that our business in the summer should have been conducted far better from having a real advantage at the end of May. That in turn raises the question – Will we never learn ? Doesn’t look like it, does it?