It’s always difficult to assess a signing upon its announcement. Elhamed is a recent example of a signing that didn’t send shocks through the Celtic world and yet has impressed time and time again. Bigger names, such as Juninho and Ljunberg, have had Celtic fans eager with anticipation and yet have left us wanting. Sometimes we look back on signings and appreciate them for the genius they were at the time and sometimes we love them for the nostalgia. I’m Stephen Russell (@SJRussell23) and in this article Matt Evans (@SkylandsCSC) and Stephen Wallace (@stephenwallac16) will discuss their top 5 favourite Celtic signings.
EVANS: Artur Boruc (Legia Warsaw, 2006/07).
Number five is probably a free hit; there are a number of players who could have made the list but didn’t (see Honorable Mentions at the end). But the reason I put the Holy Goalie on the list, besides him being my favorite player of the immediate post-Seville era, is how bloody hard it is to sign top-level goalkeepers. The long history of Glasgow Celtic has been blessed with much, but goalkeeping talent hasn’t always been what it could have.
Boruc was the kind of keeper who had not been seen at Celtic before and arguably was sui generis – a ballsy, arrogant, outstanding player who gave as good as he got and was incredibly loyal to his teammates and his club. His European record was excellent, particularly early on, as three clean sheets in the 2006/07 Champions League group stage and a hero’s performance the next season in the penalty shootout with Spartak Moscow saw Celtic make the CL knockout stages two years running.
WALLACE: Georgios Samaras (Manchester City, 2008/09).
One of my favourite players, Sammy had it all. Signed for over £2m, he brought unreal pace, brilliant skill, 48 goals and smouldering good looks. I will always remember Sammy Sunday as being one of my favourite Old Firm games.
EVANS: Paul Lambert (Borussia Dortmund, 1997/98).
Probably one of the most under-the-radar Celtic players of the last quarter-century. In the midst of recent success it is nearly impossible to describe the turnaround that began that year. Lambert’s signing was a bit of a strange one, and not because it was November – Celtic were picking up a real talent from a German giant who had just won the freakin’ European Cup. He shut down Zinedine Zidane!
Thus equipped, Celtic went on to stop the ten that year; six years later Lambert was captaining the side in Seville, alongside a much-improved squad (many of whom were considered for this list). When he left Celtic near the end of the career he had played nearly 200 matches in green and white, with four leagues and four cups to his credit. In many ways he presaged the rise of Scott Brown as the future long-term club captain, and it’s fair to say Lambert and the entire 2003 team put Glasgow Celtic back on the map.
WALLACE: Scott Sinclair (Aston Villa, 2016/17).
Sinclair’s first season was unreal. Even his first few weeks. He was a big name when he came to Celtic, and he more than lived up to it. Very few signings have made such an impact in their first season, but he scored goals for fun. Signed for around £3.5m, he more than made that back with scintillating performances during the invincible season as well as loads of goals throughout the treble-treble.
EVANS: Virgil van Dijk (Groningen, 2013/14).
I’ll just give you a fact, here. Six years ago, Celtic signed Virgil van Dijk. Today, he is the consensus best defender in the world, a European champion at one of the top five clubs in the world. While with Celtic, he was nearly immediately a successful defender and grew into a nearly unbeatable force, also chipping in with goals at the other end.
Virgil is included on this list because he, along with Victor Wanyama (who would have been #6 on this list), illustrates the paradox for Celtic in the modern football era. The days of Henrik Larsson signing and staying seven seasons are over. When Celtic unearth and sign a future superstar, they will be with us for two, maybe three seasons before the lure of big wages attracts the player and the lure of big fees attracts Peter Lawwell. It’s difficult to see how it could be any different, but the fact that modern players are more mercenary than dyed-in-the-wool is a tough one to face.
WALLACE: Victor Wanyama (Beerschot, 2011/12).
This deal was one that I loved and one that was good for the club. Signed for £900,000, he was then sold for £12m. A great deal for the club who got two great years out of him. I remember being as his first game and I was sitting next to the tunnel with my dad and both of us said “Jesus Christ look at the size of him”. He was a great player for us, and I’d love to get him back.
EVANS: Scott Brown (Hibernian, 2007/08).
This was not only a massive coup of a signing in the first place – multiple English clubs as well as the financially doped Huns were after Brown as well – it was the signing that would kick off what will eventually be seen as one of the legendary careers at Celtic. Twelve years later, he is a stalwart play-every-match captain, hard as nails, a leader of men, and a possible future manager.
Where would Celtic have been without Scott Brown anchoring midfield? It is hard to quantify the intangible qualities he brings in. New signings rave about the way in which he has worked with them to integrate them into the squad, opponents loathe him, target him, abuse him physically and verbally. Broony simply lets his gallusness and footballing intelligence take over, and far more often than not, he ends up the winner. If and when Celtic accomplish ten in a row, #8 had more to do with it than anyone.
WALLACE: Gary Hooper (Scunthorpe United, 2010/11).
As a 12-year-old boy, all you want from your favourite football team is to have a goalscoring striker. Now that I’m older, I can appreciate players like Eddy who do more than just score goals, but when Gary Hooper was here, he was just an out and out goal scorer. He was signed for £2.4m from Scunthorpe, and he more than made up for that, with 63 goals in 95 appearances. It’s hard not to argue that he’s up there with the best Celtic strikers this century.
EVANS: Henrik Larsson (Feyenoord, 1997/98).
The clear number one on this list, for a million reasons. Imagine, in the current market, not only being able to pick up a proven scorer from Feyenoord on a free, but getting seven years of remarkable success out of him before he left for Barcelona. And oh yeah, he helped lead Celtic to a European final. That player simply doesn’t exist anymore.
Could Celtic repeat this feat ever again? The scouting network has proven their ability to find diamonds such as Wanyama and van Dijk from lesser-known clubs in the footballing world, but in the modern game you’d never be able to keep them from the big money of the top 5 leagues for more than a couple seasons. Henrik Larsson is a special player in the long history of Celtic Football Club and a massive part of it is the commitment he made to play in Glasgow when he could have gone anywhere.
WALLACE: Moussa Dembele (Fulham, 2016/17).
My absolute favourite transfer. One of my all time favourite Celtic strikers, and a great deal for the club too. When we signed Prince Dembele for £500,000, a lot of us were shocked. I already knew his talent from Football Manager, so I was pretty buzzing. Not only did we make a profit of around £19m on him, he also gave us that invincible season as well as two treble winning seasons, and those goals against them.
Matt Evans has also included the following players from his shortlist:
HONORABLE MENTIONS THAT DIDN’T MAKE IT: Bertie Auld, Victor Wanyama, Moussa Dembele, Lubo Moravcik, Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon, Stiliyan Petrov, Tom Boyd, John Collins