By Daniel Hayes
Celtic are expected to bring in a striker this window with Albian Ajeti and Ivan Toney two players the club have looked at. With a potential future fee of around £5 million agreed between the two clubs if the Ajeti deal goes through, itwould suggest that he could be a central figure at Celtic Park this season.
The Hoops are already rich in the striking department. Odsonne Edouard swept up all player of the year awards at the end of last season and fans will hope he is the team’s talisman for the season ahead.
Patryk Klimala was signed at just the start of this year. Despite not getting the chance to make many senior appearances before the Covid-19 pandemic, fans have been impressed as the Pole has returned to preseason in tremendous shape, showing glimpses of his talent in recent friendlies.
Leigh Griffiths is a name that so often divides the Celtic support. Never far from the headlines, the hitman was recently called out for returning to training overweight, and did not accompany his teammates to their preseason training camp in Loughborough, nor to their friendly tournament in France. However, since receiving public criticism from the media and indeed his manager, Griffiths remarkably seems to have returned to shape, putting him into contention to feature in Celtic’s opening league games.
Finally, it is almost easy to forget Vakoun Bayo. The Ivorian arrived in January 2019 for £2 million and since then has made just a handful of appearances. Plagued by injuries, the former Dunajská Streda goal scorer has never got his Celtic career truly up and running.
Now, with the relatively high-profile addition of Albian Ajeti, it begs the question as to whether Celtic are too congested at the top end of the park.
Yesterday, despite neither confirming nor denying Celtic’s imminent agreement for Ajeti, Lennon highlighted that he would be interested in another striker. The Swiss International will become Celtic’s 5th first-team striker. In the second half of last season, Celtic excelled in a 3-5-2 formation, with Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths linking up to excellent effect. This preseason, the Hoops have mainly worked in their reverted 4-2-3-1 shape, leaving room for just one striker.
The potential lack of opportunities could leave one of Celtic’s forwards out to dry and a number of fans have suggested that time may be up for one of the hitmen.
As a worst-case scenario, some believe Ajeti may be a replacement for Odsonne Edouard. The Frenchman has been linked with a number of high-profile clubs, with Arsenal regularly touted as his future destination.
The truth is that Ajeti probably is Edouard’s replacement – but not for this season. Celtic appear to have employed the same tactics as they did when they signed Edouard initially. The striker was originally brought in on loan to test the waters, and then in the following season replaced Moussa Dembele with a permanent move for a hefty fee. Plenty of Celtic fans have made their peace with the fact that this season will almost certainly be Odsonne Edouard’s last in a Celtic jersey. Truthfully, 12 more months out of the young Frenchman would be extremely fortunate for the club. While the former PSG finisher does seem happy at the club, it will be a long two months before the end of the transfer window with rumours likely to be flying around left, right and centre. Ideally, the club will be able to tie Edouard down to a new deal, allowing him to leave at the right price next summer.
Patryk Klimala is barely in the door, therefore he will unquestionably be allowed to stay and fight for his place. The youngster has shown a lot of promise during the summer and the Celtic faithful will hope he can link up well with Edouard or Ajeti in a 3-5-2.
With Leigh Griffiths’ latest discrepancy, a number of supporters and journalists alike have suggested that this could be the end for the Scot at Celtic. Having missed a significant amount of football in the last few years due to lack of fitness and, of course, his troubles with mental health, Griffiths appeared to be finally back at his best in the latter half of the 19/20 season.
Alas, the lockdown period appeared to take its tole on the former Hibee, as he was reported to return to training overweight. However, Griffiths has remarkably seemed to get back in his manager’s good books, coming on to tremendous effect in Celtic’s preseason victory against Hibs. The question must be asked if there was in fact more to his banishment from the Hoops’ preseason camp, with such a quick turnaround. However, the important thing is that Griffiths looks ready and willing to be part of this massive season for Celtic.
Vakoun Bayo now seems the obvious choice to depart, with the Ivorian unable to make a long-lasting impression in hoops. Despite signs of promise in some games, for example in Celtic’s 3-1 victory over Hearts in August last year – Bayo’s only league start for the club – it simply does not seem to be working out as the hitman appears unable to change his luck with injuries.
However, to simply give up on a £2 million investment after 18 months would seem a bit rash. Bayo has been given very few opportunities, generally appearing late in games from the bench.
Now of course, this is not the season for experimentation. Celtic need to be sure to pick up every single win available, by hook or by crook.
Essentially, Celtic should be looking at two scenarios.
Last season, despite having three first team strikers in the squad, the Hoops found themselves with winger Lewis Morgan leading the line in the Betfred Cup Final. The lesson from winter 2019 is that injuries happen, and you can never be too careful. If Celtic are to use their highly successful 3-5-2 formation again this season, opportunities will arise and each striker will feature at some point in what will inevitably be another fixture-heavy campaign.
However, if Neil Lennon feels the need to move a striker on, ideally the club would find a suitable loan move for Bayo. Celtic have witnessed the benefits to sending young talents on loan to other SPFL clubs with both Kris Ajer and Ryan Christie vastly improving during spells at Kilmarnock and Aberdeen respectively.
As mentioned, Odsonne Edouard will almost certainly move on next summer, and Celtic will need as many high-quality strikers as possible. If Bayo could get a serious crack at the Scottish game for a season, he could be of significant value to the Hoops in a year’s time.
What do you think? Is it time for us to move a striker on? Could a loan deal benefit the club long-term or should we keep as many resources as possible ahead of this busy season?