A huge examination of just how far Celtic have moved forward in the last 12 months is about to be tested over the course of this summer.
After a summer transfer window that saw an influx of players rushed through the door which were a mix of Ange Postecoglou signings – such as Kyogo Furuhashi and Josip Juranovic – the remnants of former Director of Football Operations Nick Hammond’s English cross border targets – such as Liam Shaw and Osaze Urhoghide – those who may have been liked by others with influential positions at the club – such as James McCarthy and Liam Scales – alongside trusted agent recommendations – such as Liel Abada – the January transfer window appeared to have the mark of the manager alone.
In came Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi, who were signed early on in the transfer window. Meanwhile Matt O’Reilly was a player earmarked though scouting and analysis, and recommended to the manager after Middlesboro nabbed Riley McGree.
The summer window recruitment mirrored the club, it was a mixed bag of rushed opinions on targets from various parts of the club, and although the manager no doubt had final say on the deals, the need for bodies, and quickly, probably impacted on proper due diligence being carried out.
By January that appeared to have changed. Ange Postecoglou’s emerging autonomy, and a settling down behind the scenes, probably aided a smoother and more targeted set of options rather than the rush job just six months prior.
Now Celtic enter into terrain where we’ve been ill-prepared on too many occasions. Yet without Champions League qualifiers to contend with, you hope the lack of preparedness we saw last summer – and for too many sojourns into European qualifiers to bear thinking about – has become a thing of the past.
Mark Lawwell has arrived as Head of Scouting and Recruitment, and he already knows the manager’s wants, having helped Postecoglou when he was with Yokohama Marinos. That relationship already being bedded in should mean the right fits for the positions the manager wished to strengthen can be targeted.
Meanwhile a new CEO in Michael Nicholson has until now appeared sharper in completing deals – and far less interfering from the outside looking in than his predecessor. Meaning the targets identified by Jay Lefevre’s scouting team, alongside those of Lawwell and Postecoglou, can completed early, therefore, in theory, allowing new signings, wherever possible, to be signed and sealed in time for Celtic starting pre-season – and being ready not simply to defend the Scottish Premiership but also being prepared for the return of Champions League football.
Of course, the worry behind all of that is that it’s all well in theory, but every Celtic manager prior to the arrival of Ange Postecoglou has seen recruitment stall in the summer transfer window. Often players are sold during European qualifiers – such as Kieran Tierney – or on late in the window – such as Kris Ajer, Ryan Christie and Odsonne Edouard. Indeed, deals for new players, even the manager admits, were held up last year as sales were required before purchases were made.
It’s easy to think everything in the Celtic garden is rosy now that we have a modern thinking manager in place, yet the gnawing concerns of summers past will always bubble in the background. After all, as much as we are more than satisfied with the way the footballing side of things have developed under Postecoglou, so to we were in the early days of Brendan Rodgers time at Celtic, and the summer windows were rarely smooth sailing even when he was in charge.
And that means trust in those in the Celtic boardroom will now come under scrutiny.
Can those who control those purse string keep-up with the speed of travel demanded by the manager? Can we sell those the manager has deemed surplus to requirements, or will delayed exits impact on the timescale for new arrivals?
Even this manager saw such an impact on his plans last summer, and the last thing anyone needs to see is a repeat. There are a great deal of players who are a residual effect of piecemeal recruitment strategies of Celtic’s past. Those players will have to be moved on, be it through loan deals or permanent transfers, but it cannot be done to the detriment of Postecoglou’s no doubt well laid plans for this summer.
A lack of suitably talented footballers or those with questionable attitudes is the elephant in the room for Celtic this summer, and moving them on is not the job of Ange Postecoglou. Yet not moving them on could have a detrimental impact on his plans – that cannot happen.
So, the big test for Celtic this season, is whether those is charge at Celtic have modernised their thinking to keep up with the new manager, as his plans should not be impacted by the ghosts of past mis-management at a recruitment and boardroom level.
Celtic have come a long way under Ange Postecoglou, we’re about to find out if those holding the purse strings have kept pace, and if progression in European football is an ambition, or if the money banked is to them a case of the job already being done.
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