We had a very real problem this transfer window – our chief scout walked out the door 20 days before it opened. Think what you like about Lee Congerton, but when Brendan Rodgers took him to Leicester, the apex of our recruitment structure left a significant hole in a club that knew it needed to significantly replenish its squad.
The top priority was to appoint a manager, which happened within minutes after the Scottish Cup Final. It would be Neil’s job to identify where we needed to strengthen and the type of player he wanted, but we also had to find a chief scout of the calibre required. There is not a fluid market for such people.
Nicky Hammond had worked at Reading and West Brom and got the gig on a ‘show us what you can do’ basis. He, Neil and Peter Lawwell needed to quickly get on the same wavelength and work with some targets. He was appointed on 20 June, four weeks before Champions League qualification began, with precious little opportunity to scout players. Even when he did scouting, most were preseason, playing friendlies, when it is impossible to measure true capabilities.
When Brendan left six months ago I was not unduly worried. He had clearly been working his ticket since August, allowing no one with clarity on the future, but taking Congerton in May was a low blow. He must have known the carnage this would cause.
11 weeks on from Nicky Hammond’s appointment and we have signed Moritz Bauer (loan with option to buy) and Hatem Elhamid for the right back role, Greg Taylor and Boli Bolingoli at left back and Christopher Jullien in central defence.
Southampton’s current top earner, but third choice keeper, Fraser Forster made a surprise loan return after Scott Bain was injured, while left-winger Mohamed Elyounoussi also arrived on a season loan from Southampton.
A significant volume of our work this window was done on the youth market. Luca Connell (18), a defensive mid, arrived from Bolton, striker Jonathan Afolabi (18), means the headcount from Southampton reached three. Then last night, we saw right back Jeremie Frimpong (18) come from Manchester City and central defender, Lee O’Connor (18) appear from Manchester United, both on four-year deals.
Out went Kieran Tierney (sigh), Mikael Lustig (again, sigh), Dedryck Boyatak, Marvin Compper, Cristian Gamboa, Scott Allan, Emilio Izaguirre, Doris de Vries and Youssouf Mulumbu, while loaners Toljan, Burke, Weah and Benkovic returned to their parent clubs.
The time to judge a transfer window is at the end of the season, but right now, considering the unprecedented challenges we faced this summer, it appears to have gone better than I expected. We brought in a completely new defence and goalkeeper, lost only two players who would still get into the team (KT and Dedryck), strengthened an already strong forward line with Elyounoussi and bought four teenagers.
Ahead of the visit to Ibrox, it was clear so some of us that despite the Clujbacle, we had navigated a path through some choppy waters. Sunday’s win, and our subsequent transfer dealings, seem to have convinced the more sceptical that this will be our second nine-in-a-row season. A few panicked over-reactions out there? Sudocrem is available from all good supermarkets.
We will know soon if Nicky Hammond will be retained, but in his short tenure, he has worked well with the manager and chief executive. I am sure those inside the club are still too stressed to agree, but maybe we will look back and consider it a good thing that both Brendan and Lee Congerton left when they did. After eight-in-a-row and a treble-treble, you might expect some staleness at the lack of genuine challengers, but there is a fresh feel about Celtic this morning. We are in a good place.