WITH a fair degree of validity, it has often been stated legendary boss Jock Stein, for all his vast and expansive knowledge of the beautiful game, could not spot a goalkeeper.
It’s a specialised position in which a mastery of angles, command of concentration, ability to grasp a wayward sphere and a dash of courage are imperative. Some sit in judgement of the man between the sticks, but clearly cannot identify the wonderful from the woeful, the good from the guisers.
There are some athletic netminders who have the capability to produce a string of what is known as “Hollywood saves”, those breathtaking launches across goal, back arched, knees bent, which are much appreciated by sports photographers.
The spectacular swoops and springs are certainly eye-catching and tend to stick in the memory banks. However, a flash of flamboyance does not a goalkeeper make.
REMARKABLE REFLEXES…Ronnie Simpson defies Rangers’ Orjan Persson from close range as Billy McNeill and Tommy Gemmell look on.
Big Jock possessed the capacity to view Bobby Murdoch, a better-than-average inside-foward, as they were tagged in another century, and move him back to wing-half. Robert Kelly, the Celtic chairman who picked the team during Jimmy McGrory’s managerial era, argued with Stein that the switch wouldn’t work. The interfering supremo was told in no uncertain terms: “I think you’ll see that it will.”
Unarguably, Bobby Murdoch was one of the finest midfielders in the world when Celtic conquered Europe and maintained a place among the elite.
Unlike Filipe Jota, the boyhood Celtic fan was not tempted by the lure of lucre to leave the club. Argentina’s Boca Juniors, one of South America’s richest and most significant clubs at the time, made overtures to sign Murdoch in the late sixties. Money would not have been a stumbling block.
“Naw, Ah’m no’ goin’,” said Bobby and that was the end of the matter.
The iconic Stein moved players all over the place to discover their strengths – Bobby Lennox came in from the wing to wreak havoc through the middle, for instance – but, despite his keen eye for detail in outfield performers, the manager hadn’t a clue about goalkeepers.
SAFE HANDS…Peter Latchord springs across his line to hold a shot.
He was the man who allowed Ronnie Simpson to leave Hibs for Parkhead in 1964 – bought “for sweeties”. according to the popular shotstopper – and at least had the mettle to bring him into the Celtic first team where he became a key member of his historic line-up.
Over the seasons, bang average individuals such as Bent Martin, Gordon Marshall snr, John Kennedy, Graham Barclay and Bobby Wraith were introduced to the first team to the puzzlement of anyone who saw them perform.
The dependable John Fallon was also available while Stein bought Evan Williams (Wolves), Denis Connaghan (St Mirren), Ally Hunter (Kilmarnock) and Peter Latchford (West Brom) as he continued his search for a reliable last line of defence. All four had a measure of success, but they were not Ronnie Simpson Mark Two.
Celtic have been more than well served by Joe Hart since his £1million arrival from Spurs in August 2021. There was no messing about from Ange Postecoglou in his formative weeks in Glasgow.
One sighting of the truly dreadful Vasilis Barkas, one of the worst keepers I have ever witnessed at the club, was enough for the new manager to ditch the £4.5million purchase from AEK Athens.
SINKING FEELING…Vasilis Barkas sees an effort slip past him into the Celtic net.
The most expensive keeper in the club’s history made one more first-team appearance – the 3-1 league win against St Johnstone in Perth on Boxing Day 2021 when neither Hart nor Scott Bain was available – and that was curtains for the Greek international.
With some trepidation, I have been hearing noises that insist Brendan Rodgers has been scrutinising the goalkeeping position. Some reports suggest a change of the possessor of the gloves is something of a priority.
I sincerely hope that is not the case. Okay, Hart’s future may be behind him, as they say rather wittily in football circles, and he is entering the last year of his contract, but I rate him as pivotal to what Celtic have been achieving and, hopefully, will continue to do so.
First time around, Rodgers brought in Dorus de Vries in mid-August 2016 after identifying a perceived weakness in Craig Gordon’s armoury.
I could only believe the Dutchman had improved immensely from the keeper who had spent a year at Dunfermline in 2006/07, a season in which the Fifers were dumped out of the top flight.
De Vries must have done something to impress Rodgers when both were at Swansea before the custodian went on to Wolves and Nottingham Forest. Anyway, he fetched up at Parkhead and Gordon was shoved onto the substitutes’ bench.
The keeper, 35 at the time, made his debut in a 4-1 win over Aberdeen in Glasgow and I saw nothing to indicate he was an upgrade on the previous occupant between the posts.
De Vries looked a nervous wreck in the 7-0 Champions League humiliation against Barcelona in the Camp Nou and he was slow to react to a header that swept across him into the far corner to gift Inverness Caley Thistle a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw in the Highlands.
He suffered the ignominy of being replaced by Gordon at half-time in a game against Kilmarnock on September 24 and that was also his last appearance of the Invincibles’ campaign.
WE’RE BEHIND YOU…Joe Hart has become a firm favourite with the Celtic fans.
Basically, that was the beginning of the end for the Dutchman at the club and he retired three years later. In truth, it was yet another bizarre transfer in Celtic’s history, utterly inexplicable.
We must hope Rodgers is not a mirror image of his illustrious predecessor who just could not understand the mechanics that separate the awesome from the awful in the No.1 position.
Rodgers may even take a glance at the merits of Hart and offer an extension to a professional who has been rejuvenated at the champions.
And please do not point at the keeper’s birth certificate to indicate he is past it.
Joe Hart is 36 years old. The same age as Ronnie Simpson when he won a European Cup medal and made his full international debut for Scotland in a famous 3-2 victory over the-then world champions England at Wembley.
Have a Hart, Brendan, put together a new contract and get it done.