That’s it for another year then. Jim White has removed his yellow tie, washed off his fake tan and removed his glowing dentures; the transfer window is shut. And with its closing, we have the annual debate as to whether or not Celtic have completed as much business as they could and perhaps should have done.
Celtic are in a curious position; how can you enhance the “Invincibles” in a transfer market that is succumbing more and more to madness? Oxlade-Chamberlain, a talented yet inconsistent player, committed to just one year of a contract, is sold for over £35million pounds. Arsenal, in a frenzied daze, are said to have launched a bid of over £90million for Thomas Lemar, a talented wide man with just one season operating at an elite level. How are a club of Celtic’s limitations to cope under such duress?
Celtic, as is their style, have gone about their business in a slow, measured manner. Benyu has already shown enough quality to stake a claim within the squad, and at just 19 there is enormous room for improvement. Jonny Hayes, a player who divides opinion, is yet to settle but evidently, has enough quality to act as back up to Scott Sinclair.
The return of Paddy Roberts is as welcome as it is unexpected. During the closing few months of last season, Roberts reached an unbelievable standard, dazzling the crowd with a dizzying blend of faints, dummies and step-overs. At times, he looked as though he was in one of the over-stylised Nike adverts, so thrilling were his performances. For my money, he is the most entertaining player Celtic have had since Lubo Moravčík. Many have griped, bemoaning another loan deal, yet by the end of this season, we will have had the little magician for two and a half years, an age in today’s rapidly changing landscape.
The marquee signing Olivier N’tcham has put in enough performances to suggest that he is the real deal. The young Frenchman, shooting aside, looks to have it all. A range of passing is unmatched in Scotland, and an ability to orchestrate play from a deeper starting position could prove instrumental in Celtic’s European adventures. If he continues in his upward trajectory, then we can expect bids eclipsing those made for Van Dijk and Wanyama.
And finally, we have the deadline day arrival of Odsonne Edouard on loan from PSG, with an option to buy. While few Celtic fans can confess to have seen the youngster play, the 19-year-old comes with a glowing report card. Top scorer at the 2015 European under 17 Championships, scoring 8 goals, winning both the golden boot and player of the tournament awards – outscoring the likes of Patrick Cutrone who is making a name for himself at AC Milan. The forethought gone into replacing Moussa Dembele, who is bound for a big money move sooner rather than later, is admirable. Such joined up thinking is sadly lacking in today’s frantic market.
However good the above aspects have been, there is still a gaping area of the squad that went unaddressed throughout the window, centre half. Many have looked at the Champions League opponents, glanced at our own defensive unit, and felt inadequate. The prospect of Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar running at our ramshackle defence isn’t a prospect any fan would relish.
However, perhaps there was sense in staying our hand. Dedryck Boyata is due back this month and after his scarcely believable resurgence, it would be hugely unfair to block his path back into the side. We also have Jozo Šimunović, a player that never looks happier than when he is asked to defend. Bids of £10million were rumoured to have been made for the towering Bosnian, those thankfully, were laughed away. Talkative, commanding and disciplined it is easy to forget the guy is still only 22. Sviatchenko has come under some scrutiny in recent months, but remains a reliable option, armed with the ability to switch play quickly.
With numbers spread so thin, Nir Biton has been asked to replicate the performances of someone like Javier Mascherano and make the transition from central midfield to centre-half. While his technical ability allows Celtic to slip comfortably into their passing style, doubts remain about his positional sense. Without Šimunović to usher him through the away tie at Astana the big Israeli looked worryingly out of his depth. Rodgers, aware of Biton’s limitations, tried to allay fears when he said, “We know he is not a centre-half, but he is a WARRIOR.” Whether a warrior’s instinct will be enough in the face of one of the best attacking trios in world football remains to be seen.
There is also the option to play Tierney in at beside Jozo and allow the increasingly impressive Calvin Miller to take up the left back slot. Tierney is such a remarkable talent that you could field him anywhere, and he could deliver a 7/10 performance. Rodgers was keen to emphasise his suitability to the role when on national team duty saying, “He can sit in there and serve, he wants the ball, he can play, he is quick.” After deploying Tierney in the heart of defence against Kilmarnock it is a ploy that is viable in club football.
Rodgers has tried his best to ensure that we go into the remainder of the season in buoyant mood saying, “We can cope. We have Ajer who’s 6ft 5ins, but he can play. Lustig can play there. We don’t need to worry about centre half.” Such quotes would have allayed more fears if Rodgers hadn’t then moved to sign Rivaldo Coetzee – a centre half.
The main gripe from most Celtic fans seems to be the fact that our current predicament is one entirely of our own making. The need for a new defender has been evident all summer and despite accumulating the much vaunted £30million Champions League riches, no one was forthcoming. Many fans will feel this is just the latest example of Celtic failing to capitalise on a position of strength, an unwelcome reminder of the club’s “biscuit tin mentality”.
However, after spending fortunes bringing Brendan Rodgers to the club, and all the brilliance that has come from the union, perhaps judgement should be stalled. Rodgers deserves the benefit of the doubt and is imminently capable of conjuring a plan for both domestic and continental arenas.