Late on Friday afternoon while we were all tucking into the World Cup, Celtic confirmed…
Odsonne Edouard’s record signing for Celtic is undoubtedly a landmark moment in Brendan Rodgers’ tenure at the club. He’ll most likely go on to be worth every penny spent – I wrote as much here – but the significance of the transfer had another effect rather than just underlining Peter Lawwell’s commitment to back his manager in the transfer window. It pointed out, with some clarity, just how little activity we’ve seen from the Scottish champions so far this summer.
Sure, Edouard is a fantastic sign of intent for the new season and years to come but he’s still the only notable signing Celtic have made this transfer window. We’re now approaching the end of June and not only have the Glasgow club failed to add to the 20-year-old but there are also no concrete transfer rumours circling the club aside from the potential future of Stuart Armstrong.
In contrast, Rangers have made no less than six signings since they concluded a rather troublesome campaign. Sure, “the Steven Gerrard revolution” has been met by Celtic fans with a roll of the eyes, at the very least, but there’s no denying that while the Ibrox club looks hard at work, their rivals across the city seem to be in a ponderous, patient mood.
Of course, Gerrard could sign 12 or 18 new players and he’d still struggle to match the quality Rodgers has to work with but despite winning their second domestic treble, Celtic still have notable positions in the squad that need to be addressed in this summer’s window. No great football side ever survived by resting on their laurels and Rodgers will be well aware of the issues that need urgent attention.
Players grow a little older, a little slower and despite their fame and reputation often need to be replaced after a period of time. Fresh blood, new ideas and hungry talent is always a necessary combination for any sports team. Celtic need all of that this summer. And that’s without even considering potential departures such as Armstrong or Moussa Dembele.
So what should be on Celtic’s shopping list?
The biggest problem area for Rodgers’ side is undoubtedly at right-back. Mikael Lustig may be away with the Sweden national team in Russia World Cup at the moment, but you’d struggle to find a Celtic fan that was gushing over his last season at the club. And at 31 years of age, the full-back has quickly allowed his diminishing pace to engulf his game.
The Swede has never been the most technical player going forward but his physicality proved reliable in a position that is often dominated by quick, inconsistent players. His opposite number at Ibrox, James Tavernier, is quicker and far more skilful but until now Celtic fans remained loyal to their steadfast defender. He got the job done.
If Rodgers and the club hope to push on next season in Europe they’ll almost certainly need to upgrade on Lustig. What’s even more concerning is that the Celtic manager doesn’t really have any other options in his squad. Cristian Gamboa has essentially been ostracised from Rodgers’ plans and Anthony Ralston hasn’t yet shown the promise that was hoped of him. A new right-back is needed at Celtic and at least two of the aforementioned defenders should probably be looking for game time elsewhere next season.
Rodgers’ other flank is also an area of some concern. Kieran Tierney is clearly, genuinely, infallible, but over the past two seasons, we’ve seen the young star play a significant number of games. Last season he played 55 matches for club and country and the season before that he played 40.
Although there may be no signs of it just yet, Tierney could quite easily burn out or pick up a nasty injury if he’s required to play all week every week from August to May simply because Rodgers hasn’t managed to find a back up in that position. Like butter scraped over too much bread, another season without cover on the left could be truly detrimental to Tierney’s form and long-term development.
Similar problems await Rodgers on either wing. James Forrest has just had the season of his career, but whether the Celtic manager is prepared to allow Jonny Hayes and Ryan Christie to remain as the alternatives to the Scotland international remains to be seen. Sure, the former has been dogged by injury and perhaps deserves a shot and the latter is still a young talent that may prove his worth at Celtic, but neither offers the immediate talents of Patrick Roberts. And that kind of option is necessary for European football.
On the left Rodgers has three options but no clear solution. He can turn to Scott Sinclair, who was ultimately binned for big games in the second half of last season, and hope that the last 12 months were simply a blip. The English forward is still superb at domestic level, but there’s no doubt that he was far from the game-changing talent that helped Rodgers to his first treble. Moreover, simply hoping he could be that player once again may be a huge risk for the Celtic manager.
The second option is to bring Edouard out left and develop him as an inside forward to roam in from the wing. The French forward did this with some success last season, but there’s no denying that Celtic’s most expensive signing ever is at heart a no.9. And if Dembele does indeed leave this summer then that’s where Edouard will be tasked with earning his significant transfer fee.
If both of those options don’t fill Rodgers with too much confidence he’s effectively left with new signing Lewis Morgan. And although the young talent was superb at St Mirren last season there won’t be too many season ticket holders at Celtic Park that would appreciate the club’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League resting on his young and vastly untested shoulders.
So, essentially, Rodgers has a faltering star, a striker and an untested young player, that will probably go out on loan, as options for his left wing next season. There’s plenty of cover here, but no stand-out left winger that Celtic will surely need for the coming campaigns.
Indeed, those elusive campaigns aren’t as far away as we may think they are. It feels like only yesterday that Rodgers was lifting the Scottish Cup, but on July 10 or 11 the Scottish champions will take their first steps towards qualifying for the Champions League. That’s just three weeks for Celtic and their manager to nail down how next season’s squad will look.
Rodgers is a superb coach, but his talents lie in meticulously developing his players and the system they play in over a period of time. If Celtic are to bring in new players throughout this squad then they’ll need to do so with ample time to prepare for serious clashes in the latter qualification rounds of the Champions League.
Perhaps these transfers are on their way. I’m sure the internet is rife with “in the know” pundits proclaiming a number of top players are on route to Parkhead, but we’re not in the business of speculating on transfer rumours. The best way of judging a club’s transfer record is by simply waiting until they’re standing in front of a stand, holding a scarf in the air. And at this moment in time those instances are few and far between.