Transfer windows have been a hot topic in recent years for Celtic with the board, and often manager at the time, receiving heavy criticism for the way they conducted business. With tensions ramping up as we near the fabled 10 in a row, there is more and more pressure on the club with each passing window and, with the departures of Kieran Tierney and Mikael Lustig launching us deeper into a defensive crisis, criticisms were at an all time high. However, new signings in this area won over every Celtic fan in a convincing display at Ibrox. I’m Stephen Russell (@SJRussell23) and I’ve asked Eoin Coyne (@toomanybigwords) and Stephen Wallace (@stephenwallac16) to grade our transfer window performance.
Improving the first team
It’s extremely early days but when looking at what we have lost from the first team and square them up with what can be considered their replacements we are, overall, slightly stronger from a first XI perspective. As good as Boyata could be on occasion big Jules looks like he could be a marked improvement on the Belgian. PC Lustig has also exited and has been replaced by a far less creaky looking Hatem Abd Elhamed who has slotted in with impressive seamlessness, Moritz Bauer is only just in the door but will hopefully provide competition and gives us right back cover we have been sorely lacking for the last couple of years. Of course, we were never likely to sign a player as good as Kieran Tierney to replace him. What we do have though, is an enviable option of two very good left full backs – one of whom is more attacking the other a little more defensive in nature.
Whilst Gordon and Bain remain at the club, for now, big Fraser Forster’s return means we have three capable first team goalkeepers and, for my money, Forster is an improvement on both previous incumbents. Also still technically here is Scott Sinclair but the arrival of Mohamed Elyounoussi, an exciting wide attacking player would seem to signal the end for the Englishman. It does remain to be seen though whether Elyounoussi ends up being an upgrade on Sinclair, in spite of a drop off in overall performance his goals and assists stats have remained among the best in the team.
We finished last season with a team consisting of Bain, Lustig, Ajer, Simunovic and Hayes, Brown, Mcgregor, Rogic, Forrest, Johnston and Eddy. In attack, nothing had to change. We had the best attack in the league without a doubt. It was defence that we had to improve. We were starting to get thin on the ground and had to bring in some quality.
At the end of the window, our defensive squad depth is looking brilliant. Fraser Forster came in and will step into the goalkeeping position comfortably, leaving us with the 3 best goalkeepers in Scotland. We’ve brought in 2 right backs, including an Austrian international and a guy who has already proven himself to be class. We also brought in a £7m centre back who has walked into the first team after a bedding in period. We’ve also changed Bitton to centre back which could prove to be one of the best decisions of our summer. Having had no left back’s after the season finished with Tierney’s imminent departure, we’ve now got two left backs that could easily start every game. Taylor is a brilliant signing. He has potential and Boli has started to prove himself to be a quality left back. Manchester United youngster Lee O’Conner also joined on Deadline Day and I believe that he has the quality to step in when needed.
In attack, our squad depth has also been improved with the signing of Elynoussi. He is an absolute player and will give Johnston a bit of pressure to play consistently. Overall, the first team has been massively improved in this window with the first eleven and the squad depth as good as it has been in recent years.
Dealing with departures
It is difficult enough to replace vital cogs in a team but replacing large characters in the squad was the dual challenge this summer. Both Tierney and Lustig were replaced with two players in their respective positions. We also have a new centre half and goalkeeper to give the back four a very different look at the start of this season to the one we have seen for the majority of the treble trebie era. A number of us have been griping about quality full back cover for some time now so it is nice to see this finally addressed. Jozo’s ongoing injury issues may see Nir Biton continue his rise to best centre half in Europe but Benkovic was a nice security blanket to have there last year and we may miss some cover there should injuries or suspensions work against us.
Thankfully, we have not had to deal with replacing French Eddy, James Forrest or Ryan Christie so it has been mostly a defensive rebuild and, though it took us a while to get there, we look in good shape in that regard for the rest of the season.
We have dealt with departures brilliantly. Our two first choice full backs left the club this year and were replaced with 4 more than competent players who can add quality to the first team: Elhamed, Bauer, Taylor and Boli. Boyata also left the club and was replaced with Julien, who has shown that he could be a step up and can take the club to the next level. In terms of other departures, the wage bill was cut massively. Players like Izaguirre, Compper and Lustig had high wages and now that they are off the wage bill, the bulk of the squad was replaced with numerous young prospects with massive sell on value.
Planning for the future
This is a little more difficult to gauge. We do have a number of loans once again and if they all go back to their parent clubs then we are looking at a summer with some gaping squad holes to fill whilst we head into the qualifiers. The added risk of losing a French Eddie, Ajer or Christie is an unfortunate additional factor that has to be considered. I’m not sure where we stand on options to buy but decisions will need to be made quickly on both sides if we do not want to toss away another Champions League qualifying shot by virtue of simply not being ready.
That being said, there have been some very astute looking raids on clubs in England for highly rated young players who could well be first team ready within the next 6-18 months. Coming in this window we had; Jonathan Afolabi, Luca Connell, Lee O’Connor and Jeremie Frimpong to add to a number of exciting talents around a similar age already at the club that shows shoots of a form of long-term planning. Of course, there are no guarantees with young players but each of these guys comes highly rated and sought after by other clubs. Celtic have clearly garnered a reputation as a club where a young player has a decent shot at a run in the first team and it is good to see us push the boat out to bring in the best talent we can. If we can pilfer them for a song from the likes of Manchesters United and City then all the better.
The young players that we have brought in look immense. We already had players like Dembele, Oko-Flex, Henderson and Gutman. We’ve added O’Conner, a player who Manchester United fans were upset at losing. On the same day we signed Jeremie Frimpong from Premier League champions Man City. We’ve also added Afolabi and Connell from Sunderland and Bolton, two Irish boys who Celtic fans would love to see succeed. Each of these players are for the future but could also play a part this season. Definitely signed for the future is young Norwegian defender and the next Kris Ajer: Leo Hjelde. If he can have similar success to his fellow countryman, then we have a real gem on our hands. Vincent Angelini, grandson of Davie Hay, and Tobi Oluwayemi from Spurs have also signed and will hopefully be challenging for the number 1 spot in a few years. Former Rangers youngster Liam Burt also made the switch and will hopefully be putting in top class performances against them in the future.
All of the signings made for the future are promising but will hopefully bring some more success for the reserves and youth teams. Celtic have a long history of producing top class players and long may it continue.
Overall, Celtic score a B. Marks are always removed for tardiness and Celtic have taken a long time to get the formula right. Overall though, we seem better off from a first XI perspective. Tierney will be a miss but other positions across the back four have been improved upon.
Celtic lose a little with losing players because the failure to address certain positions has, arguably, cost us Champions League prestige. Early as it is though, we have upgraded on several starting positions but the overall squad seems a lot stronger. The cover at both full back positions is a wild ride that I am loving.
Looking at the future, there are still some loans in here with all the associated uncertainty that brings, that’s the short term future planning – longer term looks very promising though with us targeting ambitious, highly rated young players who want a decent crack at first team football.
Overall, I’d have to give this window a 100% A+. We are in a stronger position than we were at the end of the season which is the main point of transfer business. As well as adding quality to the first team squad, we have planned ahead for (hopefully) beyond 10 in a row. The youngsters that have joined have joined from top clubs and come with a pedigree that Celtic can help them fulfil their potential all the while reaping the awards. Furthermore, the club have dealt with major departures very well. You can argue that they have replaced most of them with better players, and again, that is the point of the transfer window. I am really excited for both the league season and European season coming up.
Having taken into account the points Eoin and Stephen have made and the grades given, Celtic have earned an A overall. The new signings began to gel at Ibrox and showed that they’re here to succeed. Every defensive position has cover that is capable at the very least which is much more than can be said for the squad last season.
As Eoin points out, leaving things late into the window has cost Celtic once more the price of Champions League football and the bonus money that comes with it. However, late is better than never and, like Stephen said, the replacements don’t seem to be rushed panic buys like Izaguirre’s return or Ryan Kent at £7m.
I personally have been quick to criticise the board for transfer related activity but I’m shockingly confident following this window. We’ll see if lessons have been learned in terms of timings for the Champions League come January but I’m delighted that we can all agree that Celtic have not only earned pass marks, but have risen above what we’ve come to expect.
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