One of my favourite films is Ridley Scott’s Roman warrior epic; Gladiator. In that film we follow Russel Crowe’s Maximus, a disgraced general, as he attempts to avenge his murdered family, fighting his way through many of the Roman Empire’s provincial fighting theatres.
In one such rural outpost the gladiators are forced to fight in pairs, pushed into cooperation by a set of unifying chains. Maximus get lucky and is drawn alongside the capable African, Juba. The towering German Hagen, however, is not so lucky, bound with a buffoon who pisses himself in the tunnel waiting to enter the arena. He immediately gets himself killed, bludgeoned in the face within seconds, leaving Hagen to fight a series of armed opponents all the while tethered to this useless, literal, deadweight.
This for the last couple of years has been the best way of describing what is has been like for any of the defenders unlucky enough to find themselves making a partnership in the heart of defence with the beleaguered Efe Ambrose. Time and time again the affable, yet calamitous, Nigerian has proved about as resolute as a tin-foil shield. Not only is he slow, weak and poor in a positional sense, he also has the worrying tendency to let his mind wander. For too long now he has been a perpetual source of ire for the Celtic fans, thankfully that spell appears to have come to an end with a move seemingly forthcoming. Now that we are entering a new era, who should Brendan Rodgers look to as a replacement?
Firstly, and perhaps most obviously would be a move for Blackburn Rover’s stopper Shane Duffy. The move has been touted for a number of weeks and I’m yet to find a fan who thinks it is a bad idea. He looked good at the recent Euro’s and at twenty-four still has room to develop. Sadly it may be the case that we have waited too long. With Rovers already selling a centre back, Grant Hanley, to Newcastle, a deal may be difficult to strike.
My second recommendation is something of a wildcard; Joseph Baffo, who currently plies his trade for Eintracht Braunschweig in Germany’s second tier. In the 2015 under 21 European Championships Baffo excelled for eventual champions Sweden looking powerful, composed, technically assured and quick enough to recover, in short the complete modern defender. He did have a mistake or two in his game but given his youthful nature (he is still only twenty-three) that is understandable. What I like most about Baffo is that he operates largely on the left side of a defensive pairing, meaning that a bountiful partnership could be struck with Erik Sviatchenko – Celtic’s best player and someone who looks destined to captain the club. By all accounts the young Swede impressed in his twenty-eight showings last season. Not someone to get the masses rejoicing but a target I would love to see the club pursue.
However, it may prove to be the case that Rodgers is happy with his current roster and sees the acquisition of Kolo Toure as the final piece in the puzzle, despite the fact that the Ivorian is almost as old as Father Time. Youngsters O’Connell and Ajer bear promise, even if they do wander without an older head to guide them through a game, and we are yet to see the return of Dedrick Boyata. Whilst it is true that the Belgian has looked woefully erratic you would like to believe with more experience and a guiding hand from Rodgers, he could turn his game around. Perhaps that is just wishful thinking. There is also Jozo Simunovic to consider, assuming of course that he is not a mythical invention, a fabrication designed to lessen the blows felt after a season of defensive nonsense.
The Rodgers era has not exploded into life as many had hoped it would, yet it chugs along at a decent pace, building momentum with each passing week and with some defensive reinforcement there is every chance that this could be a season to live long in the memory.
BRAND NEW RANGE OF SHIRTS