Celtic have started yet another season short on players in key positions. Three right-backs of varying quality have left the club and we have struggled to find one to bring in.
The only remaining right-back on the books is Anthony Ralston, whose Celtic career hasn’t kicked on in anything like a similar fashion to Kieran Tierney.
Tierney is 15 months older than Ralston and, as the likes of Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and even James Forrest have shown, patience can be rewarded in spades when young players are still learning their trade.
That said, Ralston appears not to be a standout candidate for the right-back slot in the immediate future.
We’ve been in for a few right-backs, but we seem to be working our way down the list pretty rapidly. Tommy Smith has gone for £4m. If we actually were willing to pay it, the fact that he’s gone to Stoke City highlights that maybe England is not the best place to be shopping.
Tierney’s future is still unclear. Will he be at Celtic or Arsenal by the time the English transfer shuts in a couple of weeks? Chuck Napoli into the mix and everything could change yet again.
Whether he stays or goes, the fact is he’s unavailable for selection due to recuperation from surgery.
Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo is a welcome addition, but cover/competition was needed anyway.
With Romain Perraud looking to be on his way to Brest, we could be facing a similar situation on the left as on the right. While there is at least a fall-back option of Jonny Hayes, a quality left-back would be required.
Should we have moved in recognition of Tierney’s situation or should we put the cart before the horse, as usual?
A creative midfielder and a forward are also needed.
These, though, are just this season’s details. A similar situation played out last summer. The argument then was that Brendan Rodgers was working his ticket, but it’s hard to remember going into these vital qualifiers when we haven’t been missing key elements to the team.
Peter Lawwell started working at Celtic in a different environment to today’s football world.
We had recently reached a UEFA Cup final. Lawwell was appointed Chief Executive in September of that year. That same month, Martin O’Neill warned Celtic fans to get used to the ‘slow lane’.
That first meeting between the two may well have been an interesting one!
O’Neill departed in the summer of 2005, with Gordon Strachan taking over. One of the first things he had to deal with was a contract impasse with Jackie McNamara.
The manager wanted him to stay, the player wanted to remain, and yet he still ended up at Wolves.
McNamara, who had just had a testimonial, took flak for that from the fans, but it could also be seen as an early indication of Lawwell’s ‘tough negotiating skills’ leading to a situation detrimental to the manager’s wishes.
The Bobo Balde stand-off, where a highly paid player was consigned to the reserves was another odd situation.
The player stated that Lawwell and Strachan had told him he was now sixth choice in central defence, in a side that went 15 months without keeping a clean sheet.
That dismal run was only broken when Balde emerged from a year-long exile at Tannadice.
When Georgios Samaras left he had this to say: “I cannot lie to the people. I had a chat with the manager. He would have loved me to stay at the club.
“But me and the gaffer, we don’t make the decisions – there are people above us who make the decisions and they never approached me.”
Mikael Lustig is another that the manager would have liked to have kept, who wanted to stay, but ended up leaving.
Obviously, there are plenty of variables in each case. Fans might think that a player’s time is up, but if a manager wants him and he wants to stay, keeping them on the books is probably easier and cheaper than signing a replacement.
As we saw with the John McGinn fiasco of last year, there are also moments when we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. A player who would have accepted a wage far less than the one he ended up on at Villa Park was lost to the club.
He’s now unaffordable to us, largely due to the crazed inflation of the English transfer market. Whether he was going to be good enough to improve the side remains up for debate.
The key point is the manager was scuppered, this time over what’s a modest amount of money in today’s market.
Rodgers tarnished his reputation at Celtic by leaving in the manner in which he did. But I suspect he mistakenly expected the fans to turn their ire on Lawwell. The pair had, certainly for the last year when it was in the open, an acrimonious relationship. The failed signing of Cristiano Piccini didn’t help Rodgers’ mood.
Had there been any kind of harmony, it’s debatable as to whether Rodgers would have left in such a fashion. The fact he’s mentioned he hopes to be back someday could be a not too subtle hint that such a return could be facilitated by a change at the top.
Rodgers’ name is mud amongst the Celtic support, but with confidentiality clauses no doubt in play, this comment might give a clue as to the complete breakdown behind the scenes.
The reappointment of Neil Lennon was also a cause of consternation among much of the support. A hugely popular player and former manager, he serendipitously stepped into the breach left by Rodgers.
The fact he was on a ‘trial’ for his job in the first place is strange. Having been put through this particular wringer once before, it seemed an unusual thing to inflict upon him.
To not give him the role after winning the treble would have been cruel, but to announce him the way they did was a miscalculation, at least.
Having won three titles and two Scottish Cups as boss in his first spell, Lennon was obviously well known. That he’d spent the last couple of years in Scotland as manager of Hibs would have meant that he’d have been scrutinised if there was ever going to be a chance of him returning as manager.
Fans had at least hoped that a selection process would take place similar to that in 2016. In fact, Lennon revealed he applied for the Celtic job in that summer.
He was overlooked for Rodgers and, with all due respect, his managerial career has not have been on the upward trajectory he might have hoped for when he left the club in 2014, feeling he had taken Celtic as far as he could.
The Ronny Deila experiment would follow. Fortunately, under Deila, the main opposition in his time was Aberdeen and he steered us to two league titles.
The job was, however, complicated by a lack of investment at the same juncture of the season we’re at now and we crashed out of Champions League qualifiers against winnable opposition in the shape of Maribor and Malmo.
In that second season, the Champions League exit led to us collecting only three points from a possible 18 in the Europa League.
Last year’s exit to AEK Athens under Rodgers, having failed for a number of windows in a row to strengthen the defence, was our third failure to qualify for the Champions League in five seasons.
Anything can happen in football and no team has a divine right to win. However, we seem to make hard work at what is the most critical aspect of the season, from a financial perspective.
Lawwell may think that spending £10m on a defender won’t help us beat PSG or Barcelona or the like, but when we had a £10m goalie (what we sold him for, not what we paid for him) in Fraser Forster, we did indeed beat Barca.
The rest of the defence that night probably cost about a couple of week’s wages for Lionel Messi, but having quality helped us pull off a win on a night when everything just went right.
Qualification to the last-16 was followed a year later with five Champions League group defeats, including a 6-1 humbling at the Nou Camp.
Van Dijk had signed that summer and his quality was there for all to see. He had passed the previous year’s goalscoring hero in the revolving door and the team, overall, still lacked the talent in key areas to properly compete in this arena. Lennon left that year and the fans shared his frustration. READ PART TWO HERE…