Devil’s Advocate – PL Loans | Ajer | Ledley and Hooper | Simunovic

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 Andy Gorman (@andygorman94), Sean McGinlay (@seanjmcginlay), Alex Papadopoulos (@AlexPapa67) and Stephen Wallace (@stephenwallac16).

Older Premier League players on loan is an appropriate strategy for Celtic

Gorman: I hate to point it out but look how Defoe has worked out for Rangers. He’s there to provide cover for Morelos and it looks as if it has worked out well. These players have experience of playing at a top level and can only add quality to the squad.

McGinlay: The whole premise of the loan market should be to bring in players to improve your starting XI who you could not afford as a permanent transfer. Bringing in older Premier league players would tick those boxes on the whole, they also bring in experience from a higher level that will allow the squad as a whole to become a more experienced unit. This works specifically with us at the moment because of the amount of younger players our squad is filled with, to bring in that sort of experience and quality even on a short term basis can be priceless.

Papadopoulos: Given the loss of several big characters in the Celtic dressing room over the past few years, you can certainly make he case that a careful number of experienced heads on experienced shoulders sprinkled amongst the players could improve the squad. Obviously not every player will be appropriate for this, however there is something to be said for bringing in a player in his twilight years to give a boost, the ilk of Kolo Toure for example. 

Wallace: In the situation we are in, signing young players with potential is too big a risk. There is always a chance that they will flop, so getting older, more experienced players who have proven themselves in the Premier League is a good shout. They can add quality to the first team or be a reliable back up to come off the bench. 

There’s definitely something to say for experienced and reliable players to steady certain positions as a short term fix. No signing is guaranteed to work out but a player who has made it at that level in the past and just wants football on a no-strings-attached deal for a year is about as close to it as you can get.

Ajer should play RB from now on

Gorman: Ajer at RB has been so impressive in recent weeks. His marauding run and beautiful finish against Motherwell was proved that he is as good at RB as he is CB. Ajer is head and shoulders above anyone else who can play that position, even after convincing performances from Elhamed and Bauer.

McGinlay: Ajer can play any position on the park. He is one of the most well rounded footballers in Europe and he will only grow from here. His game sense has improved dramatically in terms of positioning and knowing when to make runs forward. These are two perfect assets to have as a full back especially when you factor in the quality of his deliveries and ability to mix up his attacking and defensive approaches in terms of aggression.

Papadopoulos: First things first. Kristoffer Ajer is both a very handsome man and an excellent player of football. Much like Callum McGregor, he is good enough to be able to move into other positions and perform well (except for left sided fullback). In the games so far this season where Ajer has played RB he hasn’t been shown up and has provided a powerful attacking option, even providing an assist for Bayo against Hearts. 

Wallace: He has shown this season that, wherever he plays, he is arguably our most important player. The big question I had about him playing there was the fact that it would harm the attack, however he has already shown that he is not afraid to get forward. He has the pace to track back and the strength and determination to defend well. The only issue is that we lose him at CB.

After Elhamed and Bauer winning our hearts and filling the right back sized holes in our lives, this was a particularly tricky point to defend. I would still argue that Ajer plays right back better than most actual right backs but that says more about the Norwegian’s ability than anything.

Following Forster’s return, Celtic should aim for Ledley and Hooper

Gorman: Think of the moments these guys gave us back in the day. Ledley’s bullet header against Rangers to take us top of the league in the 11/12 season, Hooper’s delicious double against them in the 10/11 season. Ledley and Hooper will only add quality to the squad! Of course, they might be a little older, but their past records with Celtic speak for themselves in my opinion.

McGinlay: Celtic have already gone full peak Celtic this transfer window so why not carry it on in January. Let’s bring the band back together, Lenny flying in to Caracas to pick up Miku looks viable too.

Papadopoulos: Following on from the first statement, having players such as Ledley, Hooper and Forster in the squad can offer something to Celtic. Despite the painful cliché that it is, they know the city well enough to be taxi drivers, they’ve been at the club in the past and despite the advanced stage of their careers would most likely be able to slot back into the day to day workings of the club.

Wallace: Getting the band back together. It is no question that Celtic need a Scott brown replacement, and for me Ledley would fit the bill. He has leadership qualities as well as being one of our best midfielders this decade. Hooper is deadly inside the box. Just because he hasn’t been at it since leaving Celtic doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t play well. Our build-up play needs a deadly finisher, and Hooper could be that man. That time he sent Davie Weir for a hot dog warrants bringing him back alone. 

Another tricky one considering how pleased most of us are with the squad at the moment. I’m such a big advocate for a modern setup with youth players on the production line, it’s hard to accept some of these points but, in all fairness, their past records are incredible as Andy pointed out and their experience up here wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Jozo Simunovic should remain Celtic’s third choice centre back

Gorman: After a glorious win at Ibrox and a terrific performance from Nir Bitton, I can see why people may believe that he should overtake Jozo as third choice CB. However, we cannot forget that Bitton is not a CB and still has frailties to his game in that position.  Bitton is a great passer and carries the ball well. However, in games when we must defend resolutely, I find Bitton’s defencive fragilities are exposed. Simunovic is more qualified to play in these situations. Yes, Jozo is partial to a bloomer but if one of our first choice CBs gets injured or needs to be rested, I think it is more suitable for an out and out CB to come in and replace them.

McGinlay: Long term our strategy has to be to actually have players who play their positions. Now that sounds simple but we know how Celtic work and that is a difficult thing to achieve these days. I mainly want to fight for Simunovic because Nir Bitton should be playing as a holding midfielder because naturally he is a cracking player in that position on that day. It’s all about squad depth and as much as Jozo has a slip in him, most of the time he is another solid addition in that position. 

Papadopoulos: As good as Nir Bitton has been in his last few performances as a centre half, let’s not get too excited. He is a very versatile player and he does play well in defence but ultimately he remains a midfielder. Yugoslav Jozo (that only works if you pronounce it yozo), on the other hand is a natural CB and has had a lot of strong performances there for Celtic, especially under Lennon in his second spell and came into a real run of form before summer. Think Bitton wins the xHandsome battle for me though.  

Wallace: Jozo has been there and done it all. He’s been a part of this magnificent period in the clubs history with the invincible treble, double treble and treble treble. He has also put in great performances against Rangers and in cup finals. He also played extremely well under Neil Lennon when he took over at the end of the season. He is our 3rdbest natural centre back, so its hard to argue against him keeping his place. 

I was actually all for Bitton before reading these and I think the panel have won me over. Consistency and fitness is an issue but if those barriers can be overcome then we have already seen some top class football from Jozo (and it is pronounced yozo). Bitton’s incisive through balls are unreal when they come off and wouldn’t be amiss in lesser games as a squad rotation defensive midfielder.

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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