I have finally gotten round to writing up my annual Summer Transfer Window review. Unlike Celtic, I’ll apologise to you for the tardiness of this particular piece of work and for making you wait for it – I know that you were.
Let’s start with the obvious observation that that was not a very successful or well-managed transfer window from a Celtic perspective. As everyone knows, the golden rule of all transfer periods is not to leave the window weaker than you started it. Clearly, no one thought it worthwhile to advise Rodgers, Congerton, Lawwell et al of this elementary fact.
Somehow, from a position of great strength – as I wrote about in my column – Celtic has managed to throw away the euphoria from just ten weeks ago when a second successive treble was secured and now have the appearance of a fractured club. 2018 should have been the summer when Celtic asserted their dominance in Scotland once and for all. Signings should have been made to freshen up the team and secure 10-in-a-row.
Instead, there was a complete lack of investment in the playing squad resulting in failure to qualify for the Champions League and the loss of a star striker. All of which now has the doubters questioning whether 8-in-a-row will be realised, never mind 10.
Despite the success of last season, there were clear signs that the squad was in need of freshening up and that quality additions would be needed to help the club achieve its ambitions, or least those of the fans, in the coming season.
An experienced centre-back was viewed by many as a must, as was another energetic and combative midfielder due to the expected departure of Stuart Armstrong and Scott Brown’s ageing legs. Finally, a wide player or number 10 was also seen as an area to improve on, especially with Europe in mind and, if we’re being honest, a right-back to replace Lustig was also on the list.
To help finance this fine-tuning, not an overhaul, as let’s face it, we all knew that only two or three of these signings would actually be made, Celtic had the sell-on fee from Virgil van Dijk’s transfer to Liverpool, the incoming Stuart Armstrong fee, £30 million cash-at-bank, and whatever they could raise by offloading fringe players such as Scott Allan, Ryan Christie, and Eboue Kuassi.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I was more than a little bit excited when the transfer window opened on July 1st. Oh, how naive.
|FW||Odsonne Édouard||Paris Saint-Germain||Transfer||Summer||£9,000,000|
|MF||Daniel Arzani||Manchester City||Loan||Summer||Loan|
|DF||Filip Benković||Leicester City||Loan||Summer||Loan|
Things started well enough with the confirmation that Scott Bain had signed a permanent contract through to 2022, thus pushing Dorus DeVries further own the pecking order. Initially signed on loan last term, Bain made a good impression when called upon to replace the Craig Gordon and played a crucial role in Celtic’s 3-2 victory at Ibrox in March. This was eventually followed up by the announcement that Odsonne Edouard had done likewise and turned his loan contract into a permanent one following a club record transfer. What a time to be alive.
Unfortunately, things went quiet after that for most of the rest of the summer. Names were linked, but, with the exception of John McGinn, the interest never seemed overly concrete.
Next in through the front-door at Celtic Park was the return of fan favourite Emilio Izaguirre as cover at left-back for Kieran Tierney. Izzy might be a fan favourite but his re-signing hardly set the heather alight; sorry Izzy but you were not the hero we wanted this time. All the best on your return though.
Daniel Arzani, on the other hand, is a prospect worth getting excited about, even if the board did their best to drag out his loan signing for as long as possible. Arzani is a skillful direct winger, with an eye for a pass and a decent shot on him, much like Patrick Roberts, the man he is replacing. Arzani first came to my attention during the World Cup warm-up friendly between Hungary and Australia, a match I was covering for hungarianfootball.com. Arzani came on as a second-half sub and made an instant impact scoring the opener within a minute of his arrival. He followed that up by playing a killer through pass that led to the winner for the Aussies. He went to impress in cameo appearances at the World Cup and although he is far from the finished article, he has shown enough promise to suggest that he is one to watch.
But still no experienced centre-back, or right-back, or midfielder to replace Stuart Armstrong, or even a new signing ready to go straight into the first-team in any position and going into deadline nothing had changed. By the time the clock struck midnight, however, there were two new faces. Youssouf Mulumbu, a combative midfielder who impressed greatly at Kilmarnock last season and Filip Benkovic a commanding centre-back whom @timomouse had urged Celtic to sign for about two years now.
Both players filled gaps in the squad that was in need of addressing however it remains to be seen how much they will add to the side. By all accounts, Benkovic is an excellent defender, hence why Celtic was priced out of any move to sign him permanently in the summer but he is still young and not the old head we require. Mulumbu certainly comes with experience and proved himself to be one of the better midfielders in Scotland last season, he will easily do a job domestically but whether he is the player to make a difference in Europe is up for debate.
To summarise the new arrivals, not including Bain or Edouard, Arzani who has bags of potential but is untested at this level, has been signed to replace Roberts; Mulumbu has been signed to replace Armstrong despite having different qualities and being less likely to make an attacking impact on a game; Izzy is cover for Tierney; Benkovic fills the hole in defence but will probably take a few weeks to get up to speed. Regardless of anything else that’s gone on, that’s pretty uninspiring,
My only defence of the club, the board, transfer committee, whoever sanctions signings is that it is not easy to sign the kind of quality of player we need given the limitations of playing in Scotland and budget constraints, both self-imposed and market dictated. However, we have a scouting department and a Head of Recruitment whose responsibility it is to scour the world for talent and identify targets in advance of the transfer window opening to allow the club the leeway to make the deals happen. I mean, we managed it before when we were able to spot and sign a certain French striker, why not this summer?
|MF||Charly Musonda||Chelsea||Loan Cancelled||Summer||Loan Cancelled|
|DF||Erik Sviatchenko||FC Midtjylland||Transfer||Summer||£1,000,000|
|DF||Sam Wardrop||Dundee United||Transfer||Summer||Free|
|MF||Jamie Lindsay||Ross County||Transfer||Summer||Free|
|FW||Nadir Çiftçi||Gençlerbirliği||Contract Terminated||Summer||Free|
|DF||Jamie McCart||Inverness CT||Transfer||Summer||Free|
|MF||Joe Thomson||Dunfermline Athletic||Transfer||Summer||Free|
|GK||Ross Doohan||Ayr United||Loan||Summer||Loan|
Along with hoping for some new arrivals the summer also brought with it the hope that some fringe players might be moved on to new pastures. The likes of Gamboa, Compper, Benyu, Kouassi, Allan, Christie, Ciftci were all players deemed surplus to requirement at the start of the summer, some more than others depending on where you read your Celtic news.
But just as with transfer in over the summer, it was the hope that killed us over some expected moves out the door, as only Nadir Ciftci said his fond farewells from the list above. Not many tears when the Turk had his contract terminated.
Erik Sviatchenko’s departure met with slightly more sadness as the Dane had built up a strong following amongst the Celtic support but it had become apparent that he did not feature in Rodgers plans for the future. Oh, how he may have been the man to steady the defence through Champions League qualifying.
After toying with the idea of leaving last summer, Stuart Armstrong finally took his spectacular hair with him down the road to Southampton for £7 million. Armstrong wasn’t everyone’s favourite during his time at the club as his form suffered several lows as well as many highs, season 2016/17 being a particular highlight as Armstrong became a key member of the midfield. His dynamic runs from deep and knack of scoring big goals will be missed, however, we at least have John McGinn to fill the void. Oh, wait…..
A cohort of young talent including Ross Doohan, Calvin Miller, and Jack Aitchison have all been shipped out on loan to gain valuable first-team experience which will hopefully serve them well in their quests to become Celtic regulars.
Dembele and Boyata
No review of the summer transfer window can be complete without dedicating some time on these two.
In the case of Dedryck Boyata, the Belgian refused to play against AEK Athens citing injury after the club had refused a multi-million-pound offer for him from Fulham. Brendan Rodgers disputed this claim and called in to question Boyata’s loyalty and commitment to the club. In turn, his agent threatened that Boyata would whittle down his contract before signing a pre-contract elsewhere in January. The Celtic support, myself included, turned on Boyata, called him a few not so nice words and advised that never play for Celtic again.
Rodgers handled the situation differently, maybe even better, called the team together and brought Boyata back into the fold for the game against Hamilton where he naturally scored the only goal. All might not be forgiven but it’s blown over a little. His future is still unclear but for now, at least Boyata is still a Celtic player, and seemingly still capable of turning in a decent performance for us.
Dembele, on the other hand, has gone from hero and prized assets to something even worse than all the nasty words we used against Boyata just a week or so before.
We all knew that he was not going to be here for the long haul. The days of signing players and expecting them to stay for four or five years are a thing of the past, with the odd rare exception, but the manner of Moussa’s departure has left a bad taste.
I firmly believe that he was sold on joining Celtic with the promise that if he lived up to his potential then he could earn a move to a top European side after two years; note could and not we promise that you can leave in two years time. After all, Celtic is a selling club. We are a stepping stone to the English Premiership or Serie A or Ligue 1. Like it or lump it, that’s where we stand right now, and that’s how we attract good young players.
In his time at Celtic, Dembele has grown massively into a top-class striker and someone who I thought back in January 2017 had the potential to become Scottish football’s first £20 million man; I wasn’t far off. His raw strength, pace, and ability in front of goal made him a much sought after talent, and his of scoring against Rangers made him a Celtic hero. However, a recurring hamstring injury resulted in him missing too many games to say with any certainty that he had fulfilled his potential with Celtic and that a move away was definitely on the cards this summer. That said, a contingency plan should have been in pace.
Regardless of any gentleman’s agreement in place or not, the decision to accept a bid for Dembele lay at Celtic’s door, not his. Given that the offer came in with very little time for Celtic to arrange for a replacement to be signed then rejecting the offer now and perhaps negotiating for a January sale was quite within Celtic’s entitlement.
The reaction of Dembele, calling out the manager over a promise he claims not to have made, goes beyond the level of disappointment you would expect and accept from him. It was down-right disrespectful and left the club with no alternative but to allow him to leave as he was fully in the act of burning bridges and breaking down internal relationships beyond repair.
It’s sad to say that in his final days at the club Moussa Dembele had become a disruptive influence and one that had to go. It’s sad that we will never see him bulge the Rangers net again. But Celtic survive without him and hopefully, as strange as it sounds given we have not been able to replace him, become stronger without him.
In other transfer news, I’ve been re-hired to write for CeltsAreHere again after losing my login details umpteen times. It’s great and emotional to be back.