THE three January loan signings – Oil Burke, Timo Weah and Jerry Toljan – undeniably gave Celtic a massive boost as the second half of the season got underway.
Celtic looked short in numbers and spirit as they lost 1-0 at Ibrox on 29 December with Callum McGregor at left back (as exclusively revealed on The Celtic Star) and Mikey Johnston playing as the lone striker.
It was never going to work, we ended the day level on points with the Govanites and although we did have a game in hand, they reckoned that the momentum was with them.
So much has happened since then, Rodgers has gone to Leicester and Neil Lennon is in interim charge, with another treble his objective and that will surely lead to him getting the job on a permanent basis.
The stakes are high for Lenny and he’ll have to consider, among other things, how he uses these three January loan signings – together with Filip Benkovic who is returning from injury towards the end of this month.
After a great start with crucial wins at Tynecastle and Easter Road, Lenny stumbled somewhat on his return to Paradise, dropping two points to Aberdeen and in doing so surrendering the 100% win record this season in domestic football.
His team selection was questioned – Toljan was back and Lustig dropped to the bench, and Ewan Henderson started while Odsonne Edouard was also a substitute. With the game goalless at the interval, Lennon tried to change things tactically by withdrawing Henderson and Scotty Sinclair with Edouard and Mikey Johnston coming on.
It didn’t produce the desired result though and Aberdeen completed their preparation for their cup tie at Ibrox by leaving Parkhead with a point.
Ahead of the trip to Dundee on Sunday, Neil Lennon will be considering all of this and the decisions he takes on Sunday could have a significant impact on his own future at Celtic.
The first thing he’ll have to decide on is who is his first pick right back. Does he go with Toljan or Lustig, who yesterday was named in the Sweden squad for their Euro qualifiers? With the next game – at home to the Rangers in mind – it would seem sensible to opt for the experienced Swede.
In midfield the return to the Brown – Bitton partnership brought with it the same old problems from the past but McGregor – Celtic’s best player this season – is just about ready to play. Henderson would certainly be worthy of a start on Sunday if that is too soon for Callum.
Tom Rogic and Olivier Ntcham are also likely to be in contention after the international break. Ryan Christie will also be back early next month.
The pace of Sinclair, Burke and Forrest impressed Lenny at Tynecastle but it’s hard to get much benefit from this when teams sit very deep against Celtic. We need at least one striker in the team and that has to be Odsonne Edouard – who should have started last weekend.
It’s curious that Mikey Johnston seems to have jumped ahead of Timo Weah in the pecking order since the change of manager. Lenny sees the players in training etc but from what the supporter have seen on the park, Weah seems to have offered a great deal of impetus to the side when coming off the bench. Surely he would have been a better option for the first change last weekend?
The four loan players are all scheduled to return to their respective clubs in May, hopefully after picking up league and Scottish Cup winners medals.
Benkovic has already stated that he’s eyeing up a place in the Leicester team for next season and will feel that with Rodgers going there, his chances will have improved. Is there really much point in Celtic playing him – good player that he is – ahead of the likes of Kris Ajer?
Oli Burke, who was the player selected by the club to speak to the media this week, has clearly made the biggest impact of the three January signings and is the one most likely to remain at the club, should West Brom be prepared to cut their losses on a player who couldn’t get near their first team. There has been managerial changes at the Hawthorns too but if Burke wants a move to Celtic then the sums could add up, especially after the news that Leicester paid £9 million in compensation for our former management team.
Would that sum be enough to tempt West Brom? It’s probably as much as Celtic would be prepared to pay.
Timo Weah foolishly congratulated a mate at Manchester United after they knocked out his parent club PSG from the Champions League – that is something that supporters will always hold against him and the option to extend his stay in Glasgow for all of next season is as a result even more attractive – IF he can get some game-time. Weah will feel his performances merit more time on the park than he’s had so far under Lenny.
Jerry Toljan took a wage cut to come to Glasgow but we’ve seen enough to understand why he’s not featured for Borussia Dortmund this season, including the red card in Valencia that effectively ended the tie. That said he does look like he’s good real quality in his game and with the right coaching he could be a success at Celtic. It’s doubtful that any of the parties involved will be that keen on making this a permanent move.
Lustig is still waiting on news about whether Celtic want to activate the year extension in his current contract, given the managerial changes and with so many backroom staff leaving, Lustig experience in the dressing room alongside Scott Brown is surely essential?
Tony Ralston was impressing before picking up an injury against Airdrie and then was involved in that car accident. He shouldn’t be overlooked as an option for the future.
Rodgers wanted a new right back as a priority, maybe that’s not the position where Lenny will focus on in the summer?
So in summary as far as the four on-loan players are concerned, it’s probable that the following outcomes will emerge come May.
Benkovic – will go back to Leicester City.
Burke – could be a big money summer signing.
Weah – if he gets game-time could be here for another season.
Toljan – will go back to Dortmund.
That points to Lenny playing Burke and Weah, less so for the other two.