Last month I wrote about the highly-effective transfer windows culminating with the capture of Mikael Lustig in January 2012. The list of those who arrived over the next 18 months, culminating in the signature of Teemu Pukki on 31 August 2013, is largely a catalogue of expensive mishap. If only one of of the strikers signed during that period: Miku, Lassad, Balde or Pukki had made the grade, we would have been in better shape for the Champions League qualifiers.
Those mishaps sowed the seeds of where things went wrong recently but we brought in six players this summer, and in order to compete in the Europa League, we pretty much need five of them to command a regular starting place.
Craig Gordon is an excellent piece of business. Fraser Forster overcame almost all those doubters who would rather we bought Stipe Pletikosa in 2012 instead, but we have replaced Fraser with an equivalent, and banked the lion’s share of £10m in the process.
This alchemy is only possible due to doubts over Gordon’s fitness. We’ll find out how well-established his recovery is in the months ahead but the signs are good on this front.
Jo Inge Berget was signed on loan, like Amido Balde a year ago, he early in the transfer window. There is a great misunderstanding that there’s a shortage of players available early in the window. There are lots of players available the moment the window opens. For a reason. Jo wasn’t wanted by Cardiff City, who he made only two appearances for since joining in January.
He was given an unfair burden on his debut, in a highly-dysfunctional performance by Celtic in Warsaw, and, a solid performance against Dundee United apart, has been one of a number of players who have appeared lost in our game-plan since then. He has until Christmas to make his mark before he is due to return to Cardiff, but his chances will be limited by the subsequent signing on Wakaso Mubarak.
Wakaso is here on a year’s loan, with Celtic having an option to make the deal permanent, if he proves his worth. I hear good things about him; he has pace, strength, skill but his most prominent attribute is attitude, which he has in spades. This didn’t sit will in Kazan, where he was somewhat isolated.
Bulgarian midfielder, Aleks Tonev, bounced straight from medical couch to treatment table after his loan move from Aston Villa. He’s now fit and will be available for selection when play resumes after the international break and I hear Ronny Deila is keen on the player.
We now know that Manchester City teenage central defender, Jason Denayer, was brought in to play first team football. The player is highly thought of by City and Ronny, but I wouldn’t expect too much from him in what is his inaugural season of first team football.
Stefan Scepovic has the distinction of contributing 100% of the money spent on players signed by Scottish clubs this summer. He was Celtic’s first choice striker, and, as we discovered late in the day, was wanted by scouts in Spain, so the indicators are reassuring. His experiences over the past week have not without trauma for the player, but he kept focus and his word to join Celtic.
The overwhelming observation from our activity this year is the predominance of loan signings, which is a strategy I suspect was hatched after the ‘No refunds’ deals for Pukki, Balde and Boerrigter last season. We will get more from some of them than others.
Taking Berget for six months was clearly a short-term fix to an immediate gap in the squad. I don’t think we’ll see too much of him from now on. Despite the fact that Jo didn’t make a perceivable difference during our European qualifiers, I don’t have a problem with short-term deals in principle. We could have benefited from one for a target man.
Denayer will almost certainly return to Manchester next year, a more mature player, having pushed Efe and Virgil for a year.
Aleks Tonev and Wakaso Mubarak are here to impress, both are working for a permanent deal. I expect Mubarak to play in his favoured position on the left, with Tonev behind him in a more central role alongside Brown and Johansen.
Ronny has been putting apples in orange crates so far this season but with a central three of Tonev, Johansen and Brown, behind Mubarak, Scepovic and Forrest (or McGregor), he’ll have the personnel to play his favoured 4-3-3.
Two first team regulars left the club, the thoroughly professional Fraser Forster and Georgios Samaras. It was time for both to move on. Fraser, as Southampton was the right club for him, and £10m was the right price for us, Georgios, as he had become increasingly peripheral to team plans under Neil Lennon and would have been even more out of the picture under Ronny. Would Georgios have made a difference in our Champions League qualifiers? There’s a good chance he would have against Maribor but the gap against Legia was bigger than 6’3”.
Pukki and Balde were sent on loan, in the hope they impress and move on. Bon chance. Tony Watt was sold for £1.2m to Standard Liege, who will fancy they can take Tony’s undeniable potential and turn it into an asset their manager wants to work with. It’s been years since we’ve produced as exciting a young player as Tony but he’s now been shipped on or out by three managers.
I would still like to see John Guidette added to this list, even without European football – especially if he is prepared to stay beyond the end of the season. The incumbent strikers, Stokes and Griffiths, will continue to get game-time, but neither is suited to the lone-striker role.
I’m not going to sell a Europa League campaign as anything like the Champions League, but it is very important this squad is ready for Europe. Without much domestic competition (I’m ignoring Inverness and Dundee for a moment) we need to be competitive in the group stage and aim to progress to the latter stages of the competition.
Thumping Dundee United 6-1 taught us nothing, we need to mature as a team against European competition and exorcise the ghosts of Legia and Maribor. No matter how good the new arrivals are, there’s no way they would gel well enough to allow us to do anything more than endure >80 minutes of defending our 18 yard line in Champions League football this season.
We’ll miss the money, prestige and Zadok the Priest, but the Europa League is a better level for us right now.
My thanks to Canajunbhoy, who retires after running the Quick News section for the best part of a decade. Quick News will be back in a different format in the future.[calameo code=000390171586f6fbaa2ba lang=en page=122 hidelinks=1 width=100% height=500]