In the wake of last night’s, frankly, absurd election of the ginger gaffe machine Donald Trump it feels a little difficult to take football all that seriously. However, let’s give it a bash.
How good does it feel to be a Celtic supporter at the moment? The Brendan Rodgers era has blown away the debilitating cobwebs of the Deila regime, leaving scores of fans with a newly found optimism. Domestically the Hoops look imperious and while continental exploits have, understandably, proven to be much more demanding, the lack of any group stage wins is mitigated by the spirited performances. The feeling that there is a coherent plan in place and that in the not too distant future Rodgers will have the staff in place to complete on a more level playing field is palpable.
The 4-3-3 formation has been a delight to behold. This allows the side to attack opposition from all angles in a relentless bombardment. Sinclair on the left of the attacking trident, cutting in and chipping in with a staggering return of goals is a welcome treat. While Dembele and Griffiths battling it out for the centre-forward role leaves the club the most well stocked they have been since the days of Larsson and Sutton. The one gripe, for me at least, is on the right flank. James Forrest is far too erratic for my tastes, capable of scoring delicious, composed goals one moment only to lose his footing and comically trod on the ball the next. There is also a real lack of bravery around the young man that is worrying. Celtic spread the game really well, leaving spaces out wide. This, you would imagine, is the ideal scenario for a winger. Yet time and time again Forrest has shown a reluctance to bomb passed the opposing full back and deliver either a shot or an assist. He is the clear weak link in the front triumvirate.
Patrick Roberts is a player I have an almost inexhaustible amount of time for; his drive, intelligence, flair for the dramatic and the ability to mirror Sinclair’s game from the opposing flank is terrific. Alas there have been a number of reports suggesting that Roberts’ dereliction of his defensive duties make him too much of a gamble – especially in the Champions League, in the eyes of Brendan Rodgers.
Luckily, there are a number of players out there that can be attained, giving the club the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with some of the continent’s biggest clubs and dish out a few bloody noses. The player I would most like the club to go out and acquire is K.R.C Genk’s Jamaican starlet Leon Bailey.
The youngster is a player many believe is destined to rub shoulders with the game’s elite. The blistering wide-man is a rare beast in that; he is so beautifully adept at beating his opposing fullback and then having the wherewithal to contain an end product, yet with the athleticism and energy to cope with the demands of Rodgers’ system. Whilst I would not claim to have watched him week in week out in the Belgian top flight, I have seen him strut his stuff in the Europa League – a tournament of a far higher standard than the kicking it routinely receives would suggest. And in Europe’s second tier competition he has dazzled scoring 7 goals in 10 games. In the tightest group, containing Athletic Bilbao, Sassuolo and Rapid Vienna, where all four clubs are separated by just a single point, his performances have been crucial.
We have reached a critical junction in the player’s burgeoning career; at the moment, he is attainable (albeit at a cost some would find prohibitive), yet wait a little longer and the opportunity will be missed. Already there have been reports linking the Jamaican to the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea (you know the usual suspects). If you look at the players who have won the Young Professional Footballer of the Year award in Belgium, an award recently bestowed upon young Bailey, and you can see how much potential he possesses. Since the turn of the century players like Vincent Kompany, Axel Witsel and Lucas Biglia have all scooped the gong.
It does seem like an approach for a player of this promise may be beyond Celtic, especially in today’s financial climate where clubs as historically obsolete as Red Bull Leipzig can blow storied clubs out of the water, yet if you said to me six months ago, that the Hoops would employ Moussa Dembele despite all the Premier League interest I would have laughed. Let’s just hope that Brendan Rogers can weave another one of his spells. Leon Bailey would be worth it.