With the January transfer window just around the corner the next round of transfer craziness and mayhem is almost upon us. Already, as is to be expected, the myriad of transfer rumours involving Celtic has begun in earnest. Depending on which papers and websites you read we have been linked with pretty much every half decent young player in Scotland, several over priced English Premiership flops or, according to Balkan Talk a fair few of the next ‘big thing’ to come out of the Balkan nations. Come the end of January, Celtic could have the largest squad in world football if we complete the signings of even a fraction of the players linked thus far.
Given the number of players linked already including the likes of Kevin Grosskreutz, Erik Sviatchenko, Libor Kosak, and the entire Balkan region, you could be forgiven for thinking that the current squad is in dire need of a complete overhaul. Furthermore, given the vehement reaction of some fans in the wake of Celtic’s disappointingly early European exit, this appears to be a notion that carries favour amongst a vocal element of the support.
Indeed, Celtic’s early European exit was disappointing to say the least, however, it could be argued that that was down in small part to a large slice of misfortune and small margins going against Celtic. A valid argument given that had Izzy not seen red in Amsterdam, Efe not done an Efe against Fenerbahce, and Scott Allan not taken his eye of the ball for a split second against Ajax in the return game, Celtic could have feasibly won all three games and thus qualified from the group. It could also be argued that those mistakes highlight a lack of basic ability within the current squad, even more so when the errors are repeated game on game; something I have raised in previous posts and that therefore gives weight to the notion that a squad overhaul is needed. If the players can’t do the basics and repeatedly make the same mistakes then drastic changes must be made. Players must come and go, and so must the manager.
It is a compelling argument and not one without some merit it must be said, however, despite that I am inclined to believe that all is not so bad and that while change is needed to some degree, it is certainly not to a mass degree.
As I’ve stated before, I’m on the Deila bus. I like him. I like his ideas and philosophy on the game both on and off the park, and I think that he needs time to make a success of things. Talking of success, he’s still in with a shout of winning 5 out of 6 domestic trophies – and only a ridiculously wrong handball decision away from a possible treble in year one. Compare that to Neil Lennon to won only two out six domestic trophies in the first two years that Rangers were not in the Premier League. It also was not until his third season in charge (2012/13) that he made any real impact on Europe. As Deila is already sitting on two trophies and with at least one more to come this season, one would like to hope, his domestic record should merit another stab at Europe. Success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Returning to the playing squad and transfers, the original theme of this article, it is obvious that the current squad is not the finished article. Again, this is something I’ve spoken about previously. It is evident that on too many occasions it is the simple side of the game that is catching us out; failure to make simple passes, defending too high up the park. There are several answers to these recurrent conundrums, but none of them is panic bulk buying of players.
Instead, when you look at the squad, and in particular the starting eleven there’s not too much that NEEDS to change. I stress the word needs as the current squad is good enough to clean up domestically, without a shadow of doubt. For Europe, yes, we need players, but even then given that we must accept that we are, at best, Champions League group fodder – given the financial resources of others and the lack of real and sustained domestic competition – do we really NEED to spend big or overhaul the squad? Nope, it simply doesn’t make sense.
But the reality of life in football is that if you are not moving forward, you are going backwards and therefore in order to make sure we have even a remote chance of becoming Champions League fodder next season it will be necessary to add to the squad. Preferably sooner rather than later to give the new players time to adjust.
And just who should those players be I hear you ask. Well, in my opinion, given that our recent downfall has been of our making, through poor defensive play, slack passing in midfield, a lack of creative spark, and not having a penalty box striker, I’d say it’s pretty obvious where we need to strengthen. Sounds like I’m contradicting myself given what I’ve said just two paragraphs ago but I stand by everything I’ve said. Domestically we are head and shoulders above the rest and therefore don’t need to buy, but in Europe the shortcomings identified above have been made apparent all too often.
To sort out those shortcomings we need to sign a strong, decisive, and experienced centre half to play alongside Jozo Simunovic to help him develop his already impressive game. The type of player I have in mind is a Johan Mjallby style defender. Uncompromising, solid, and a leader; something that we lack defensively. While it is difficult to source a reliable and affordable modern day Mjallby, I’d be very surprised if the Scandinavian leagues did not posses several good candidates and at reasonable prices too. Scandinavians generally settle well in Scotland, therefore it’s a market we should certainly be considering. At 24, Erik Sviatchenko from FC Midtylland may well be a possibility and is one of the many players already linked with January move to Paradise. I’ve never seen him play but the press reports sound promising, but then again, they would.
Balkan Talk has solved the creative issues in midfield by having us sign every playmaker in the region, how very thoughtful of them. While I criticise Balkan Talk for linking us with so many players, it is correct to highlight that we need a playmaker for the big European nights. A Lubo Moravcik – oh how I long for the days of Lubo. The likes of Commons, Rogic, Armstrong, and Johansen are all good players. Extremely good at domestic level, but don’t quite cut it at European level as they lack the guile and craft needed to play in either the number 10 role or as second strikers. To progress in Europe next season, that is one issue that must be addressed.
Everyone knows we need a striker so that’s barely worth talking about. For Griffiths see Commons, Rogic, Armstrong, and Johansen; SPFL Premiership level and decent in Europe, no more. But God does he try and that alone is worthy of mention. Ciftci is domestic level, Cole is a decent target man option but too early to tell otherwise, and Stokes is out the door. A striker who has a proven goal scoring record in a decent level Europe league would be most welcome. Did I hear someone say Stefan Scepovic? Why not. He barely got a chance last season but had a decent goals to minutes ratio, is a penalty box striker, and has proven during his time in Spain that if he plays regularly he score regularly. We could, and have, done worse.
But the big one, and the elephant in the room, is the inability of the midfield to play the simple ball and keep possession. I do not include Nir Biton in that comment, and I also consider the three behind the front man more as forwards. So who does that leave? Scott Brown. I want to like him, I really do, if for nothing else than that celebration in El Hadji Diouf’s face but I just can’t bring myself to get 100% behind him. He can’t pass, he can’t shoot, he’s not great in the air, and his tackling is dangerous at times. He also lacks positional sense and discipline in big games. But he runs about daft all game, is full of energy, and does cajole others into working. He’s the only leader in the team and that scares me because without a player who can’t really play the game – bit harsh, I know – we miss him. Answer, we need another experienced holding midfielder who has mastered the basics and can bark like a dog to motivate those around him. Then perhaps Broony can develop his game without the burden of being the sole leader.
So there we have it, an experienced centre back, experience holding midfielder, a number 10, and a penalty box striker, who we may already have, and we’ll be laughing all the way to 4th place in a Champions League group near you next season. In all seriousness though, we might just be a couple of players and a slice of good fortune away from getting back to the Champions League, and who knows what could happen then.
Thoughts and comments welcome.