Celtic’s January transfer window saw seven new players sign deals, although only four will be at the club for the remainder of this season, and only one of those, Vakoun Issouf Bayo, is on a permanent deal.
Bayo is a classic centre forward-target man, unlike Leigh Griffiths or Odsonne Edouard, who like to play in the channels. He has not played for two months, so it is likely to be a couple of weeks before we see him. He is here because of our Ivorian Connection through Kolo Toure, who is a coach at both Celtic and Ivory Coast. That being the case, the club should know more about him than most new signings, which should mitigate the risk inherent in any signing.
Since the resumption of action after the winter break, we have seen Oliver Burke and Timothy Weah fulfil the striker role, each on loan, from West Brom and Paris Saint-Germain respectively. Neither player is here to play the striker role long-term; expect them to supplement the wide positions after we return to a more normal compliment up front.
With minutes to spare, Jeremy Toljan signed on loan from Borussia Dortmund. This is a player who great things were expected from when he left Hoffenhiem 18 months ago, but Dortmund is a different beast and he did not find the move easy.
That’s not dissuaded many of his talent, which means Celtic’s chances of securing his services on a permanent basis are slim. I also believe the player is on pretty decent (cough) contract. He will not be here beyond May.
Maryann Shved, 21, arrived this week from Karpaty Lviv in Ukraine, where he has returned to stay until the summer. We moved early for Maryann, interest in the player was generated in only 38 competitive games. Players grow up on the football field and Maryann needs as many opportunities as he can get right now. With the manager having so many wide options for the remainder of the season, loaning him back to Karpaty was an easy decision.
Two American full backs were signed yesterday, Andrew Gutman (22) and Manny Perez (19), both loaned back to US clubs.
So all these loans arrivals, signings-only-to-be-loaned out, what’s the plan?
The top-level plan is to win the league, do our best to win the two cups and to give us the best chance of qualifying for the Champions League. Everything else is a consequence of this. Two decades ago, when Martin O’Neill set his mind to the same task, he signed talent who were at the peak of their physical capabilities. Many of those who arrived not only had experience in the English Premiership, they were top performers there.
By the time Gordon Strachan took over, signing strikers who were recently top scorers in England was no longer possible. Gordon took to Poland (as well as Easter Road), as we searched for talent in value markets.
Neil Lennon’s term saw the transitioning to where we are now. Neil found African talent, and successfully raided the lower leagues in England, but under his tenure we embarked on what would become one of the mainstays of our recruitment planning – loaning young players (Fraser Forster) who were not getting a sniff at wealthier clubs.
Many doors have closed to us in the last 20 years. There will be no more Chris Suttons, while competition for players across Eastern Europe is vastly greater than it was when we signed Artur Boruc.
The news is not all bad, in fact, significant things are much better than they were 20 years ago, most specifically, the development of young talent. Callum McGregor, Kieran Tierney and James Forrest are more successful than any player Paul McStay and Aiden McGeady – and both of them were notable as exceptions for their eras.
The ‘Fraser Forster strategy’ – scout teams too distracted elsewhere to give opportunities to players, has been very productive. Olivier Ntcham, Odsonne Edouard and Dedryck Boyata all fall into this category (we’ll reserve comment on Daniel Arzani). We managed to get Odsonne on a try-before-you-buy loan first. During his loan he did enough to convince Brendan Rodgers to beak our transfer record on him. Celtic think this will continue to be a productive furrow for them.
Not all signings are Development Projects
Not all loans fall into this category. Some, like Jeremy Toljan, are here to do a job for a specific period. Development Projects are not the only game in town, sometimes you just have to plug a hole to strengthen the team.
There were choices for the right back role. Lech Poznan’s Robert Gumny was looked at and liked, but the player failed a medical a year ago and has not played enough football since a subsequent operation to convince anyone he would be fitter than Jozo Simunovic. Or we could have tried to find a nugget elsewhere, but Jeremy got the nod.
We sign a lot of players
Two American full backs on the same day we sign a German full back, “millions of wingers”. This has been going on for a while. You, me, Celtic and the players know, not all of them are going to make it. Football, for a century, has harvested talent, picked the cherries and cast the darnel aside.
I remember Martin O’Neill, flush with the success of his early signings and before his Ulrik Laursen and David Fernandez period, told us that every signing a football club makes needs to be a success. Yes, if you have the wisdom and insight, the luck and the money, maybe you can be so bold. But there is a real world out there full of scouts and managers who each carry the weight of experience of players who just didn’t work out.
There are formulas, some better than others, but we should know that just putting a Celtic jersey onto a player will not, and has never, made him a certain success. Martin would have been more accurate by saying ;You have to kiss a lot of frogs in this business’, just do your best to get some handsome frogs in the first place.
We have exceptional domestic talent: Scott Brown, Kieran Tierney, James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie – better than any Scottish team in 30 years, and we have done very well to retain them.
There is room for others to follow. The opportunity is there for Scott Bain and Tony Ralston.
As well as developing our own talent, we have cooperated with two of the world’s richest, Manchester City and PSG, to foster young players who are not getting a chance at their parent club. This is affordable, enhances the squad, and has helped achieve our football objectives.
We have five young players out on loan: Lewis Morgan, Calvin Miller, Andrew Gutman and Manny Perez, and Maryann Shved. The hope is some develop into first-team regulars, like Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie did.
That’s the strategy. Is it better than signing the best permanent players we can? Like you, I prefer the good ones to be tied down to long-term contracts at Celtic, but despite this, the answer is a clear yes. We need to work angles with PSG, Borussia Dortmund and Man City. We need to take risks on players with only a few dozen games under their belt. When an opportunity to sign a Ntcham or Boyata arises, take it. And we need to continue to do what we are doing with youth development.
Will it deliver 8-in-a-row? You bet your bum it will.