Chris Sutton: Celtic need statement signing to replace ‘big game player’ Jota

Chris Sutton has issued a rallying call to the Celtic heirarchy and recruitment team to find a statement signing this summer transfer window to replace the Portuguese winger, Jota. The ex-Benfica youth player signed on initially on a season-long loan deal back in the close-season of 2021, during Ange Postecoglou’s debut year in charge of the club.

Celtic v Aberdeen – Tomoki Iwata and Jota celebrate after the cinch Premiership match at Celtic Park, Saturday May 27, 2023. Photo Andrew Milligan

Showcasing his talent and class from the get-go, he went from strength to strength during that first year and it prompted Celtic to splash out £6.5 million on the trickster who has now departed to the Saudi Pro League with Al-ittihad. At £25 million, it was a swift and very astute return on a player they only signed this time last year – even with his old club’s sell-on clause.

Missing a significant part of the jigsaw from our recent success as a team and club, the onus will be on Brendan Rodgers and his staff to find a replacement for the near-perfect Jota. It won’t be easy to find a player of such quality for us, but former striker Sutton insists that is the challenge the new Celtic boss must rise to. Writing in his Daily Record column this week, he said: “The new league season is three weeks away and there are seven weeks left in the transfer window. But I can’t help but feel Celtic need to get a shift on and starting making serious signings now.

Brendan Rodgers. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

“There’s no real need for Brendan Rodgers to panic and I have no doubt there will be plenty of work going on in the background, even if it does seem quiet. However there is no escaping the fact that as things stand, Celtic are weaker than they were at the end of last season.

Losing Jota is the big one. We know the reasons and the money that came in, but there’s no denying he will be a huge loss – and he’ll be extremely difficult to replace. Former manager Ange Postecoglou was a major fan of wingers but Jota brought something a bit different. He had a wide ranging skill set but the main thing with him was the fact he was a game changer.

“Jota was a player for the big occasion and if you look back at the last two seasons, in the major moments, he was front and centre. He was the difference in games against Rangers, cup semi-finals and finals. It’s not easy to find that kind of player. One that can come in straight away and be such a massive influence.

Kyogo Furuhashi of Celtic reacts after the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Rangers FC at Celtic Park on April 08, 2023. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

It will be nigh impossible to get a like for like replacement – but that’s the challenge for Rodgers. It’s a good start getting key men tied down for the long term. It was smart business getting Kyogo and Daizen Maeda on extensions as it just gives an extra layer of insurance in case there are other clubs interested.

He said: “It’s also a reward for their performances. The same goes for Callum McGregor. The captain is such an important influence at the club, it makes sense to make sure he’s happy. There also could be a need to raise some of the wages for the big players, because others will be on the way. You can’t have new faces coming on on high salaries when the ones who have been successful in the past are left behind.

The question now turns to just who will be signed. I’m not sure the injuries to Cameron Carter-Vickers and Alistair Johnston will change too much of Rodgers’ thinking. He will have known he was short of cover at centre half but it sounds like Carter-Vickers will be back sooner rather than later. He might need to look at right back in the short term, but he does have Tony Ralston, who did well under Postecoglou. It’s not ideal Mikey Johnston getting injured again or Marco Tilio arriving with an issue.

“But Rodgers would not have been banking on those two being immediate starters anyway. Tilio has been signed as one for the future that might do a turn at some stage this season. Johnston would have been hoping for another chance but the lad can’t seem to catch a break. These are side issues for now. It’s the quest for exciting arrivals that is front and centre. It’s going to be interesting to see how it unfolds.

“Postecoglou was in total control of the signing policy – and you’ve got to say he barely got one wrong. He was at the centre of the perfect model. Bring in them in relatively cheaply, develop them and sell on for profit. Virtually every player he bought in if not all would have increased in value. It was a different model under Rodgers last time around. He came in when there were changes behind the scenes in the scouting department and had Lee Congerton on board.

“They got a lot right. Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair were spectacular successes. But a lot of the arrivals later on were underwhelming. There is absolutely no question about Rodgers’ ability to develop and improve players. That is a big part of the job – but so is recruitment. So far Rodgers has signed Odin Thiago Holm and Tilio but those players were clearly in the pipeline for a long time and the manager just gave his seal of approval. It will be the same with Yang Hyun-jun, as the Korean market is clearly an area Celtic have been scouting for some time. He looks decent from the clips I’ve seen but there is an element of risk around every signing. They could all still do well, but you still need the wow factor – the kinds of signings that give the club and the fans a real lift.

“Managers are judged on their recruitment. I’d imagine Rodgers will have a central role this time, but it’s a difficult market Celtic are in. The model will remain the same. They will want to buy players with potential, develop them and eventually sell them for a big profit – and then bring in even better players to do the same. Postecoglou talked about it last season. You buy a £2m player and turn him into a £10m player. Then you get a £5m one and get him to be worth £20m. That’s where Rodgers is right now.”

Brendan Rodgers. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

He added: “He needs to add quality that’s at a higher level of the ones who are there now if he wants to make more of an impact in the Champions League. It’s tricky, because the players they will be chasing will be wanted by other clubs as well. That might call for some patience – but there’s no such thing as patience in football. I’d be stunned if Celtic didn’t have a couple of marquee signings on board for the start of the season. But they do need to get a move on.”

Paul Gillespie

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About Author

I'm a Garngad Bhoy through and through. My first ever Celtic game was a friendly against Italian side Parma at Celtic Park, in 2002. Currently a student of English Literature and Education at the University of Strathclyde for my sins. Favourite game would be a toss up between beating Manchester United with that Naka freekick, or the game against the Oldco when Hesselink scored in the dying seconds. I'm still convinced Cal Mac is wasted playing that far back.

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