Replacing the outstanding Joe Hart is Brendan’s biggest priority this summer

In my last article after Celtic beat Hearts 3-0 at Celtic Park I singled out a few players who were excellent throughout the 90 minutes, including the obvious ones like Kyogo and Matt O’Riley.

Celtic v Hearts- Scottish Premiership – Joe Hart with Callum McGregor after the 3-0 victory in the match at Celtic Park, on Saturday May 4, 2024. Photo Andrew Milligan

The first player I paid tribute to however was Joe Hart, the Celtic goalkeeper. Hart pulled off three top saves during the match and was just as important as the players in front of him who lit up the stadium with some scintillating football during the course of the match.

I ended the praise of Joe by saying ‘we will miss him when he’s gone’ and that got me thinking about the future and who we will get in to replace the former England number one.

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Celtic v Hearts, Scottish Premiership. Joe Hart saves rom Kenneth Vargas during the match at Celtic Park, on 4 May 2024.  Photo Malcolm Mackenzie PSI.

Personally I have always lived by the idea that having a strong goalkeeper is essential to any team. To me it’s one of the most important positions in the team, a top goalkeeper will not only keep goals out but will inspire the whole defence in front of him.

Unlike other positions on the pitch, it won’t take long for a subpar goalkeeper to get found out. Everywhere else on the pitch players can go through hot and cold spells without it being a huge issue, but if a goalkeeper plays badly it will be magnified instantly.

We only need to look back over the past 30 years of Scottish football to prove my point. Let’s first look at the old Rangers before their demise. Through the 90’s when they were the dominant force they had Andy Goram in nets. We can think what ever we want about him as a man, but as a goalkeeper he was sensational at times for Rangers and was a huge factor in their success on the pitch. They then went from Goram to Stefan Klos, another excellent keeper who had great success at the club.

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Jonathan Gould, 30 September 1998 Photo: Mary Evans Allstar

At that time as a youngster I always remember thinking Rangers always had great keepers while we went from one average keeper to another, it used to drive me mad. During them years we had Gordon Marshall, Jonathan Gould and Rab Douglas. In all honesty I would put this trio down as SPL level goalkeepers, nothing more, nothing less.

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7.02.2003  imago/MIS –  Robert Douglas (Glasgow)  Celtic Glasgow 3:2 Stuttgart

During the heady days under Martin O’Neill I used to remember being greatly frustrated that the man from Derry stuck with Douglas. As decent a keeper as Douglas was I felt he was the weak link in that team, and rightly or wrongly, I still believe if we had a top goalkeeper in nets in Seville we would have won that Uefa Cup.

Photo imago/Miguelez Sports Foto Celtic Glasgow v. Porto Bobo Balde, Neil Lennon, Alan Thompson, Chris Sutton, Joos Valgaeren, Johan Mjällby, Didier Agathe, Stilian Petrov, Henrik Larsson, Robert Douglas

During my lifetime the first real top keeper I remember at Celtic was the holy goalie, Artur Boruc, and I absolutely loved him. For the first time in my memory we finally had a world class talent between the sticks at Celtic Park. Not only was he a fantastic goalkeeper but he was a presence. He wasn’t scared to let his defenders know when they weren’t performing. He also wasn’t scared to wind up the oppositions players and fans. I know the Rangers fans were particularly fond of him!

07.11.2012 . Lionel Messi and Fraser Forster in action during the Champions League game between Celtic and Barcelona from Celtic Park.

This was the start of a good run of goalkeepers for the club. We then picked up ‘La Gran Muralla’ Fraser Forster who at times single handedly kept us in games, especially in Europe. We then had Craig Gordon who came back from a career ending injury to lead us through the majority of our nine in a row run. Craig was a fantastic goalkeeper and perhaps under appreciated by some of our supporters.

Craig Gordon of Celtic walks among smokes as a flare is thrown in after Celtic’s first goal during the  Scottish Premiership match between theRangers and Celtic at Ibrox on December 31, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Then rather naively we let the Scotsman go as old hero Fraser Forster returned in a sensational loan swoop to lead us to our ninth title. Unfortunately we couldn’t tempt him back for our push for 10, and with Gordon already gone we were left searching for someone new.

Photo: Andrew Milligan

Up step Vasilis Barkas, our new £4.5m signing from Greece. What a disaster of a signing he was. After all the years of success for Celtic, with the three great goalkeepers I have just mentioned steering us from trophy to trophy we end up with a man who seemed to literally have holes in his hands. Any time the opposition attacked my anxiety went through the roof. I honestly can’t remember Barkas ever making a save of note during his time with Celtic.

Now we know the failed attempt at ten in a row wasn’t solely down to not having a good goalkeeper that season but it was definitely a factor. We bounced from Barkas to Bain to Hazard and back again as Neil Lennon failed to find anyone who could do the job.

IMAGO / ANP ROTTERDAM – Celtic coach Brendan Rodgers and Joe Hart look at a photo of Wim Jansen. Jansen has also been Celtic s coach. During a press conference, PK, Pressekonferenz in De Kuip, Scottish Celtic FC looks ahead to the first match in the group stage of the Champions League against Feyenoord. ANP OLAF KRAAK – VI ANP Sport

Once Ange Postecoglou took charge getting a top goalkeeper was one of his priorities and he went for Joe Hart. A lot of us weren’t sure about the signing, Joe had been floating around clubs over the previous few seasons without ever really making an impression anywhere.

Was he past it? Absolutely not. He came in and from day one we could see he was exactly what we had prayed for the previous season. A leader in the Celtic goals once again. He has went on to become a fan favourite at Celtic and has certainly played a huge part in our recent success.

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Joe Hart gestures as he reacts at the end the UEFA Champions League Group F football match between Celtic and Real Madrid, at the Celtic Park on September 6, 2022. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Joe Hart announced recently that he will retire at the end of the season. He has given Celtic ample time to set the wheels in motion to find a suitable replacement. We need to get this one spot on. To me, over the past 30+ years of watching Celtic it’s clear to see that having a top goalkeeper is a necessity if you want success.

This honestly should be Brendan Rodgers and the club’s number one priority as far as transfers go. As the signing of Barkas showed in 2020, it’s a decision we must get right.

For any of the older readers I’m sure you have plenty of examples of goalkeepers in Scotland who were hugely important figures within successful teams in the past, feel free to comment below if you think any deserve a mention or if you agree or disagree with my own personal assessments of the Celtic goalkeepers over the last three decades.

Conall McGinty

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About Author

Hailing from Cushendall in the North of Ireland my formative years were spent watching Celtic during our barren spell through the 90's which meant I have appreciated our recent trophy-laden spell even more. Favourite matches home and away I've attended has to be beating Man Utd 1-0 at Celtic Park and being with my 2 brothers watching us beat Lazio 2-1 in Rome. Best away day experience? Has to be Munich with friends from Coatbridge...what a few days!

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