Devil’s Advocate – KT | RB | UCL | January

In this Cynic feature, instead of asking our panel of writers their own opinions, we take some questionable opinions and ask the panel to defend them in a short paragraph or less. I’m Stephen Russell (@SJRussell23) and joining me is Liam Divers (@LDivers91), Matt Evans (@SkylandsCSC), Sean McGinlay (@seanjmcginlay), Alex Papadopoulos (@AlexPapa67).

Having two dependable left backs is better than having Kieran Tierney at the club

Divers: Having one world class player in any particular position is typically going to result in their understudy being an afterthought. In the case of Tierney and Celtic at left back, for the past couple of years this really was the case. Izzy and Hayes are nowhere near the quality of Tierney (few are), but the issue we faced was that the sum of both wasn’t close to a fully fit Tierney. Where Eddy dropping out for a few games to be replaced by Griff would be an inconvenience, but not a massive cause for panic, the thought of Izzy coming in to replace Tierney filled me with dread.

Now with Boli and Taylor, I’m comfortable that both are of equal quality, while offering the team different options. I’ll gladly take that over the second coming of Izzy (Sorry Emilio!).

Evans: Kieran Tierney was becoming rather injury-prone towards the end of his all-too-short career at Celtic. When fit he was superb and a real asset to the team, but he often talked his way into the lineup half-fit or was missing altogether. The result was a cavalcade of disappointing replacements, forced substitutions, and Callum McGregor being played out of position. Tierney has still not kicked a ball for his new club and would have been no help to Celtic in the Champions League qualifiers. With Bolingoli rapidly improving after a slow start and Greg Taylor still to show us what he’s capable of, it might not yet be time to say “Kieran who?” But I haven’t given his absence a moment’s thought as I think about the current squad.

McGinlay: First off, Kieran Tierney is an irreplaceable talent. He gave us years of memories and a real connection to the fans on and off the field and I have no doubt he will find himself at the very elite soon enough. However, come the end of his spell with us, we were flogging him at 60% in most matches, it was simply unsustainable. Having Bolongoli and Taylor now allows us to have more flexibility across a 60 game season, it allows for like-for-like swaps when injuries and suspensions occur, and most importantly it does not affect the system too much in Tierney’s absence. Tierney has a quality that makes a difference at the top level, but for 59 of the 60 Celtic games a season, that world class level is simply not required.

Papadopoulos: Kieran Tierney was a once-in-a-generation talent for Scottish football and for the Celtic academy. Boli Bolingoli is not touted to reach the heights that Tierney will, and Greg Taylor hasn’t yet kicked a ball in a Celtic shirt. However, as soon as Tierney was injured the left-hand fullback position faced the prospect of Izaguirre or Jonny Hayes which was a significant drop in quality from Tierney. So purely in terms of consistency of quality, there is an improvement in the side.

I feel like this statement is like a rebound, telling yourself you never even liked Tierney in the first place. Of course, we’ll probably never see a left back like him again at Celtic but, as the panel said, it’s not a position we need to be filled at that level. Stability over a season (and £25m) is more suited to our needs. I think. Miss you, Kieran.

Bauer should see more game time this season than Elhamed

Divers: Of course he should. He is, after all, a natural right back, whereas Elhamed is clearly a comfortable enough right back, who is more suited to playing centre half. We have potentially a 60+ game season ahead of us and at present, have two fit centre backs in Ajer and Jullien. Jozo is injured, Hendry is at London Fashion Week modelling for Prada probably and, well, that’s it really. 

I would like to see Bauer getting a regular run of games, building his confidence and understanding with the team and having Elhamed pushing Ajer or Jullien for a centre half spot. In the event of an injury or suspension to Bauer, we bring in Elhamed for that position. He’s shown himself to be capable at right back, but it’s not where I see him long term.

Evans: Although Elhamed has a solid barnet himself, keeping Moritz Bauer’s flowing blond locks on the bench is a crime against Celtic hair. In all seriousness, though, Bauer is a natural right back while Elhamed prefers by his own admission to play centre-back, which he did the majority of the time last year. Once Bauer gets some game time under his belt, and shows off his superb ability at the long shy – a lost art in football, when’s the last time you saw a long throw from Celtic? – he’ll end up being the #1 right back, with Elhamed his backup and fighting for game time with Ajer and Jullien.

McGinlay: Elhamed has come into the Celtic side and shocked everyone with how composed and balanced he is as a full back. He offers a comfortable approach to the position which allows others around him to have more confidence when going forward that he is there to cover if required. However, Moritz Bauer is a young talent with a decade of potential game time left. He is a player that has been on our radar for a long time and clearly offers great potential going forward. It is hard for me to even attempt to defend dropping Elhamed at this time, but in the coming months, we need to invest in the longer term plan and that involves Moritz Bauer.

Papadopoulos: In fairness to them both first, they are both extremely handsome specimens, but if we look at their respective careers to date it gives Bauer the edge. He was very highly rated at Rubin Kazan in Russia before moving to Stoke where he acquitted himself well before falling out of favour. Elhamed on the other hand has so far in his career been unable to really impress outside of his home country and so we can perhaps think it’s a step up for him to be playing for Celtic.

So it’s agreed that Bauer has fantastic hair and has the edge entirely based on that? In all seriousness, I think Bauer’s game time will depend on the squad’s needs over a long season and the likelihood of his transfer being made permanent. Elhamed on the bench wouldn’t be the worst thing, considering his aptitude at both right back and centre back, but it would be unfair to suggest that the Israeli hasn’t earned his chance.

Fantastic domestic form does not excuse Lennon of Champions League failings

Divers: Dropping out the Champions League in the manner in which we did was inexcusable and is still quite raw for a lot of Celtic fans. The fantastic domestic form has certainly helped soften the blow, but the fact of the matter is that domestic games will take place on a Sunday for the foreseeable and that represents a failure on the part of Lennon.

Evans: The job of the Celtic manager is not, “win in Scotland and whatever happens in Europe is a bonus.” That’s a small-time mentality that will simply see the stature of Celtic shrink along with the general stature of Scottish football. It is imperative that Celtic represent the club in Europe, at the highest levels which were once fairly commonplace for us. Yes, the teams in the final play-off round are potentially Pot-4 Champions League levels themselves. But Lennon, with a healthy assist from a shortsighted and cheap Celtic boardroom, didn’t even get to that point, and left even the Europa League in the balance. That is unacceptable from a Celtic manager.

McGinlay: Domestic form should be a given now for Celtic. The finances, the foundation, the playing squad all of it simply should not be under any threat whatsoever domestically. Therefore, as much as it is sensational to watch us playing every team in Scotland off the park, we have to set our ambitions higher. We have to demand more from the club as a whole if we want to remain a force in European competition, and shipping 4 goals at home to the Romanian Champions does not constitute the work of a European force. It is unforgivable in any context to put in a performance like we did and had we qualified for the group stages it would have cemented further progress year upon year for the club going forward.

Papadopoulos: Have any of us forgotten Cluj? Celtic should be expected to have excellent form in the domestic theatre, although praise should still be given for positive performances at home. True judgement upon players managers and the board however should be based on their push for Europe’s highest level of competition. I think however that a positive Europa League performance might well wipe memories of August’s disaster.

Games like the recent draw in Rennes will increase confidence in Lennon but it does still stand that we could have been testing ourself against better competition in Europe’s elite tournament right now. Even as one of Lennon’s biggest critics following his appointment, I do think he has earned some good will after a convincing start to his campaign but Cluj will be a stick to beat him with for a while yet – he is definitely on track to redeeming himself, though. Is the Europa League more our level? Probably. Is it a sickener that we’re not in the Champions League? Absolutely.

Celtic do not need to spend in January

Divers: We’ve done well to strip a quite bloated squad down to one that is a lot leaner, while maintaining the right level of cover for vital positions. We have brought in young players that we are looking to integrate into the first team and develop into the next crop of multi-million pound sales, all the while maintaining the high level of quality that we expect of Celtic players. Rushing out in January and splashing cash about could potentially destabilise all the work Lennon and the team have done with the new and existing players. With the games coming thick and fast around that period, I worry about integrating new players into a potentially settled squad.

Now a centre half on loan, you could talk me into that…

Evans: With some very canny buys and loan deals at the end of the summer window, Celtic should be well loaded for the entire season ahead. Two right backs, two left backs, four centre halves (all of first-team quality), and a robust remainder of the squad which includes a number of very interesting names at the fringes should be plenty to see us through. I’ve never felt there was much quality in the January window outside six-month loans for a disgruntled player or one who has been sitting on an EPL bench for half a season.

McGinlay: This depends on your ambitions. My ambitions would be at a European level, however the club’s ambitions are clearly on a domestic front and as such the squad in place now is going to achieve another domestic treble. There is not a doubt in my mind. The depth in the squad now allows for greater rotation across the board, we have strengthened the areas in which we lacked in quality and again in depth, we have provided extra attacking outlets, some of whom particularly with Elyounoussi, are at a higher European standard. We have all the tools to combat the main objectives of the club going forward and as such we do not necessarily need to spend in January.

Papadopoulos: In theory, the current Celtic team barring injuries should win the league comfortably as well as compete for a champions league place. The first team XI is a large improvement on last year’s team, and perhaps an even greater sign of a good window is the quality of the backup and youth players now on Celtic’s books. The squad could well gain a boost from one or tow clever loans in January as happened last year, and pushed on the players at the club to get the title over the line.

Normally, this would be where I joke about this statement coming directly from the board but the panel raise some fair points. We do have a more holistic squad now and plenty of cover for positions we previously struggled with. They left it late but the board did a great job, as did Nick Hammond who oversaw as Director of Football over the summer. This isn’t to say we can’t strengthen or take an unexpected opportunity but I wouldn’t be totally crushed if the chequebook gathered a bit of dust this winter – that is providing we aren’t expecting any departures next summer.

If you have any points you’d like to challenge our panel with, don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below, on the Patreon app or on Twitter @90MinuteCynic or @SJRussell23. Thank you for reading.

Despite growing up, and now studying, in England, Celtic have always been a huge part of my life. I first watched the team with my dad; I fell in love and then there was no turning back. Torn between a statistically enhanced footballing style and a good, old-fashioned get-it-in-the-mixer-and-score style.

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