VASILIS BARKAS is still waiting to make his first save of 2021.
The Greek international became the most expensive goalkeeper in Celtic history at the £4.5million he cost from AEK Athens in the summer.
He was a virtual unknown to most of the Hoops followers who had been disappointed with the news the on-off saga of fans’ favourite Fraser Forster had concluded with the skyscraper shotstopper deciding not to extend his loan period at the champions to remain at Southampton where he had two years of a lucrative contract still to run.
Craig Gordon had already left as a free agent to rejoin Hearts in the Championship and that left Neil Lennon with a No.1 problem with only Scott Bain as a netminder with first-team experience.
Barkas agreed a four-year deal and arrived in July. Hours after the switch, the 26-year-old was quoted in CQN as saying: “I’m very happy to be here, it’s a dream to come to one of the iggest teams in Europe and I can’t wait to play for Celtic.
“Winning medals and trophies is why I came here. I want to win 10 in-a-row and I want to help us get into the Champions League. That’s what I want.”
Alas, his move from the Greek capital to the east end of Glasgow has not worked out as everyone had hoped or anticipated. He has failed to convince and has been dropped a few times this season following indifferent form.
NUMBER ONE…Vasilis Barkas is slow to react for Connor Goldson’s header for the opening goal.
NUMBER TWO…Barkas is rooted to the spot as the ball rolls in.
Lennon reinstated him to the first team at the turn of the year after rookie Conor Hazard turned out in a series of games, including the delayed Scottish Cup Final against Hearts where the 22-year-old Irishmen made a couple of mistakes during the 3-3 extra-time draw, but atoned with two saves in the penalty-kick shoot-out as the Hoops triumphed 4-3 to complete the phenomenal quadruple treble.
But Barkas got the nod to start against Steven Gerrard’s side at Ibrox on January 2 where the reigning kings of Scotland knew they had to win in an effort to battle their way back into the race for the coveted crown.
The home team did not have a solitary effort on target in a game that turned around the hour mark when Nir Bitton was banished after hauling back Alfredo Morelos. The only goal arrived when stand-in skipper Callum McGregor deflected a right-wing corner-kick into his own net.
LIVI HELL…Barkas after the 2-2 midweek draw.
The Greek was one of the 13 players ordered to self-isolate in the Covid-19 fall-out after Christopher Jullien tested positive for the virus upon his return with the squad from the ill-fated trip to Dubai.
With Bain also quarantined, Hazard was brought back and Ross Doohan was recalled from his loan period at Ross County for the games against Hibs (1-1) last week and Livingston (0-0) at the weekend.
Barkas came back for the midweek match against David Martindale’s side in West Lothian and conceded two in the dismal 2-2 draw. Amazingly, the header from Ciaran Brown and the equaliser from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas were the only efforts on target.
The keeper came up short twice and his positioning at the first goal is worth further examination. Bizarrely, Barkas is wide of the centre of his goal to the right. The ball travelled 45 yards from a right-sided free-kick before the opponent got round a woefully-inept defence to get to the ball.
With a wide open space to the keeper’s left beckoning, Brown couldn’t believe his good fortune as he placed his header into the inviting space. Barkas had too much to do to get back across his line.
WAIT FOR IT…Barkas is poised as Cairan Brown gets on the end of a long-distance free-kick.
WIDE OPEN…Barkas has allowed the Livi man a huge gap to aim for.
S-T-R-E-T-C-H…Barkas thrusts out a hand, but he has left himself too much to do.
DOWN AND OUT…Barkas and his dozy defenders can only look on as Brown celebrates.
The second goal is another typical example of the lack of awareness from the keeper. Once more, Barkas is not primed and ready to go. He is rocking on his heels as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas makes contact with the left-wing cross. He seems to freeze when efforts are coming in his direction. Think back to Connor Goldson’s header in the 2-0 loss in October. And the second goal from the Ibrox defender that trundled over the line with the Greek rooted to the spot.
STAND – AND LIVI DELIVER…Barkas is static as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas knocks the ball goalwards for No.2.
The first goal from AC Milan in their 3-1 win in Glasgow. The truly awful positioning for the Italians’ free-kick that brought them their first goal in the 4-2 comeback victory in the San Siro.
Ross County’s headed goal from the right-wing corner-kick that sealed the Hoops’ Betfred League Cup fate, the second killer goal that saw the unbeaten domestic Cup sequence come to a halt at the 36th hurdle. St Johnstone had one chance to score at Parkhead on December 6 and Barkas was caught in no-man’s land when Stevie May squared the ball from the left and Chris Kane rolled it in from under the crossbar.
CQN could go on and it would appear we are conducting a witchhunt on the unfortunate individual. We’ve said it before, Celtic win and lose as a team. However, some of the facts regarding Barkas are inescapable.
FREEWAY TO DISASTER…Barkas gets prepared as AC Milan’s Hakan Calhanoghu prepares to take a long-range free-kick with his team trailing 2-0.
FREEZE FRAME..Barkas doesn’t move a muscle as the ball sails into the net as the Italians kick off the fightback to win 4-2.
For someone in the 6ft 4in bracket, he does not command his box. His uncertainty is getting through to the defenders immediately in front of them. It’s unsettling everyone and there must be a feeling of doom any time the opposition work an opening for a shot. His distribution is fairly awful. There is little structure to his lengthy clearances and they seem to come into the hit-and-hope category.
Last year, Chris Sutton claimed he hadn’t seen Barkas make a decent save. The same applies today. It is acceptable the player will be experiencing difficulties settling into a new environment and a new culture, especially during a pandemic, but that reasoning can only go so far. They cannot excuse bad positioning and his all-round inability to pull off a solitary stunning save.
According to statisticians, Barkas’ Premiership save percentage is just .652, the fourth worst in the division.
Only Hamilton’s Ryan Fulton, Livi’s Robby McCrorie and St Johnstone’s Zander Clark have performed to a lower level.
Some transfers work and some transfers do not. There are no guarantees.
Unless Barkas finds some unexpected form from somewhere, this big-money deal is going to go down as one of the most spectacular own goals in Celtic’s history.
Celtic needed a strong and reliable custodian in this season that promised so much.
Simply put, Barkas has been a Greek Tragedy in the midst of the champions’ desperate woes.