The dust has now settled and the fanfare has played its last note of the pantomime that is the January Transfer Window. It’s time to take a moment to review the transfer goings on at Celtic Park. The initial summary would read that not much has changed; a midfielder has left and been replaced by another, and a striker has left and been replaced by another. The names may have changed, but has the composition of the squad really changed? Did it have to change?
As with every transfer window, summer or winter, there is a swell of excitement regards which players will come and go at Celtic Park. There are rumours of ‘war chests’ and multi-million pound signings, of superstars coming to ply their trade at Parkhead – see the ridiculous rumours linking Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a move to Celtic later in his career. There are rumours of discontent within the club and the powers that be – Lawell and Co – looking to sell the family silver and strip the playing squad down to the bare minimum for domestic success. In reality, we are faced with none, or at least very little of the above. Celtic is a football club in an envious, yet undesirable position. The club has money available to spend, of that I am convinced. The sales of Hooper, Wanyama, and Wilson over the summer, coupled with the Champions League money should have Celtic sitting in a very comfortable financial position. The policy of buying cheap, from relatively untapped markets means that Celtic rarely spend more in a transfer window than they recoup in sales. In short, the club has money and is financially stable. Domestically, Celtic is the lone superpower in Scottish football. This season’s current unbeaten run whist playing below average football at times (Barcelona-esque at other times) has shown that even a below par Celtic is still a good few steps ahead of the rest. The season has now developed into a procession to the title that has lead to many doubters openly criticising and questioning the standard of the SPFL Premiership. Domestic success, in the league at least, is pretty much guaranteed for the next few seasons therefore where is the challenge in playing for Celtic? Well, the challenge comes through Europe and the Champions League. However this season painfully showed Celtic’s lack of cutting edge at the top level. Despite being placed in an extremely tough group, it is conceivable that had Celtic had a midfield playmaker to supply the defence splitting passes, a Wanyama to guard the defence, and a Hooper to make the most of the chances we did create, then victories against Milan and Ajax would have been a real possibility; and with them, qualification to the last 16. Unfortunately, Celtic lack those type of players and while some Celtic fans have pointed the figure of blame at Peter Lawell and the board, I believe that a touch of realism is required. Celtic is a big club with a great history, but they are hampered by the fact that they play in Scotland. As already mentioned, the standard of the league is not particularly highly regarded outside of our own borders; therefore attracting big name and big time players is often difficult. When we can interest a player in coming, the chances are clubs from down south or other big leagues are also interested in the player and have the luxury of being able to outbid Celtic on both transfer fee and wages. For example, the much clambered for signature of Alfred Finnbogason was always unlikely to happen as he doesn’t fit the current transfer policy. Yes, he’s a fine striker with a great goal scoring record. Yes, he’d have been a perfect replacement for Hooper and would’ve scored many of the missed Champions League chances however; he is well known throughout Europe and therefore has attracted the interest of English Premiership clubs such as Fulham and West Ham who were both attributed with an interest in the player. His £6million price tag also represents an extremely high risk for Celtic. While the club could no doubt afford the transfer fee, the potential for a much increased resale value would not be there due to the perceived poor quality of the SPFL Premiership. Had Celtic signed Finnbogason, the club would have had to sell him after only one or two seasons in order to make their money back, pretty much regardless of his goal scoring record. A signing like Finnbogason appeases the fans, but does not fall in line with the buy cheap, sell for a massive profit transfer policy. What Celtic have been trying to do is sign another Gary Hooper; a relatively unknown striker with bags of promise and potential, and develop those attributes into a top class striker. Unfortunately that is not an easy thing to do, especially when that striker, in the case of Amido Balde, is rarely given the chance to show what he can do.
Returning to the January transfer window, Celtic faced the prospect of leading the league by a country mile and having no European competition until next season, therefore very little to offer as an attraction to join the club; bar the obvious of playing for Celtic and next seasons Champions League (qualifiers, at least). Two of clubs top players were also entering the final 6 months of their contracts meaning that big decisions would need to be made over their futures. Other than every fans wish list of signings, and the papers trying to link Celtic with anyone Scottish and half-decent, very little was expected on the transfer front; and that’s pretty much how it played out.
20 year old Icelandic U-21 International signed from Fram Reykjavik for around £200,000. Another Neil Lennon-John Park project, signed for the future however, by all accounts, is earning rave reviews from the coaching staff and may be in line for first team action sooner rather than later. Other than that, I don’t know too much about him (he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page to sneakily steal info from!!!! Shock horror).
Another young Scandinavian, Johansen is a 23 year old midfielder and Norwegian International. Described by Jan Aage Fjortoft as a modern midfielder and classic German number 8, Johansen, last season’s Norwegian POTY, comes with an impressive reputation. Further to this, Johansen comes highly recommended as a deep lying playmaker who likes to take the ball from the back four and build attacks. The ‘modern’ edge to his game however means that Johansen is not happy to simply sit in front of the back four and distribute the ball to a more talented and creative colleague, instead he is the one who is most likely to take the ball, and the team, forward. He is a very forward thinking player who, more often than not, looks for the killer pass as opposed to safe square ball. I have a contact within Norwegian football who rates Johansen as one of Norway’s top talents, by all accounts Joe Ledley will not be missed. High praise indeed.
23 year old Scotland International forward, signed for around £1million from Wolves on deadline day. Griffiths is the typical marmite signing; you either love it or hate it. He’s certainly not the striker that many Celtic fans would have gone for and the general social media chat is quite unimpressed by his signing. Having said that, Griffiths had a fantastic scoring record with Hibs over the last two years and pretty much kept Pat Fenlon in a job with his goals last season. He possesses a thunderous free-kick and a penalty box instinct that the likes of Stokes, Samaras, and Pukki do not have. He may have some way to go to win over the fans however he is a proven SPFL level striker and therefore goals at domestic level should not be a problem for him. With half a season to bed himself in, get a few goals under his belt, who knows how good a signing he may prove to be. Anyone care to remember how underwhelmed they were when Gary Hooper signed, well look how that turned out. A confident Griffiths may just have the same impact. Then again, he may just be an SPFL level striker, completely out of his depth anywhere else. Only time will tell.
Forster, Samaras, Van Dijk, and Ambrose were all linked with moves away during January however the only first team Celt to leave was Joe Ledley. Celtic’s Mr. Reliable moved on to EPL side Crystal Palace on deadline day in a deal worth anywhere between £700,000 and £3million depending on where you read. Over his time at Celtic, Ledley proved himself time and again to be the most consistent performer at Celtic Park, regularly putting in solid 7 out of 10 performances; rarely falling below that, but also disappointingly, rarely rising above that. Ledley is a talented midfield player and was a calming influence on a side dominated by Scott Brown’s over exuberance. Capable of scoring the odd important goal – none more so than against Rangers Old Co on 28th December 2011 – Ledley was a vital part of the Celtic midfield; always calm and composed on the ball, and willing to go in where it hurts if necessary. Having said that, I think Ledley had more to offer than he often did and was a prime example of a Celtic player who knew he didn’t have to play at this best every week, but that 70% would still be good enough. Not always the most dynamic of players but still a loss to our midfield. Here’s hoping Stefan Johansen is as good as I’ve been informed.
It just didn’t work out for Mo did it? Signed on the recommendation of Henrik Larsson, allegedly, Mo failed to score in any of his 16 appearances for the first-team. Perhaps he was never really given a chance however on the basis of his fleeting appearances, I think we’ll put this one down to experience. He never looked like a confident player and failed to impress on his loan spells back in Sweden. Bangura’s lingering Celtic memory will be his decision (rightly) to play against the club while on loan with Elfsborg. It was that decision that possibly sealed his fate with Celtic but then again, what use is a striker who doesn’t score. We already have a few of them.
PAUL GEORGE, TOM ROGIC, BAHRUDIN ATAJIC, DYLAN MCGEOUCH, MIKEY MILLER, AND JOE CHALMERS
The above sextet have all left Celtic on loan for various clubs and reasons during January. Some have left for first team experience, some to push for World Cup spots, and others to put themselves in the shop window for the summer. Here’s hoping they all get the game time they need and, especially in the cases of Tom Rogic and Bahrudin Atajic, come back as better players, ready for the Celtic first team.
In summary, the transfer window of January 2014 brought about very little activity at Celtic. But what transfer activity should have been expected at a club who have all but sown up the league by January and remain unbeaten after 22 games? The fans may want an overhaul of players to rejuvenate the squad but, in all reality, that’s not likely to happen. Domestically Celtic do not need to improve the playing squad in order to be successful; hence Ledley out, Johansen in – Bangura out, Griffiths in. It’s like for like signings in terms of positions and probably in terms in ability as well; although here’s hoping that Griffiths has a slightly better goals return than Bangura. As for Europe, we are a Champions League Group Stage club at best. The thought of 2 or 3 qualifying rounds before even getting to stage cannot be appealing to a Champions League level player as, why run the gauntlet of not actually making the Group Stages when you can join a club who begin their European campaign at that stage? The reality is that bargain hunting is Celtic’s future for the time being, but that policy can reap rewards as was shown two years ago. The transfer window has not damaged Celtic, and it has not strengthened Celtic. With that in mind, let’s keep the faith and believe that we are going in the right direction.