Taking Stock on the Final Day of the Transfer Window

With today being the last day of the transfer window, I don’t think many of us will be as glad to see the back of bi-annual international cattle exchange as this one. Not so much for the incoming deals, more so for the concern some of our top team stars could have attracted interest.

Early decisions to move certain players out on the back of the pandemic crisis made sense. Jozo Simunovic was perennially injured, Jonny Hayes ageing, Craig Gordon nowhere near the first team and with Fraser Forster all but signed up for another season on loan, we all felt fairly relaxed.

In total 18 players have left Celtic this window, not including Manny Perez and Andrew Gutman remaining Stateside with about as much chance of a work permit as ‘the’ Rangers underplaying a Euro qualifying celebration.

Eboue Kouassi made his loan deal permanent with Genk for £1.35m, Craig Gordon headed to first love Hearts. Jonny Hayes is back at Aberdeen, Robbie Deas headed for Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Jozo Simunovic was freed and is struggling to get a new club, while Calvin Miller has just signed on at Harrogate town.

Add to that Fraser Forster fancied his first team chances at Southampton and knocked Celtic back, Daniel Arzani, returned to Manchester City and Moritz Bauer to Stoke City.

And still we had more head out, Boli Bolingoli, has used up his air miles and flew to Istanbul Basaksehir, Marian Shved is hoping French rather than English language lessons are more palatable and has gone on loan to Mechelen while Vakoun Issouf Bayo, has headed to the French second tier with Toulouse.

Jack Hendry meanwhile joins Shved in the Jupiler league with Oostende, Ryan Mullen headed north when Paul Hartley called in a favour, joining Cove Rangers. Ross Doohan has gone to experience highland hospitality at Ross County, Lee O’Connor for some proper men’s football at Tranmere Rovers and Jonathan Afolabi has paid back the summer’s votes for loans deal when Peter Lawwell drove him up personally in a gift-wrapped package to championship side Dundee – one for the lurkers there. Liam Burt also left the club after returning via ‘the’ Rangers last season.

The timing of the deals coming in as ever made for painful viewing, but if you separate the now common lack of forward planning from the quality of the transfer deals done, you can see the Celtic board may have had an altogether more ambitious plan for this season than those gone by had it not been for a pandemic. And that’s why I have confidence we’ll keep hold of what we have now.

Much like last year a bloated squad has been addressed and much like last year a stealth like reduction of the wage deal and numbers employed has taken place. A trimming of both was required and has allowed us a bit of wiggle room this season.

By the time the window closed last season 18 players had moved on, Kieran Tierney, had headed for Arsenal, £25m, Dedryck Boyata – on a ridiculously poorly played transfer poker hand – headed to Hertha Berlin on a free, Mikeal Lustig, found a new club with Gent in Belgium, while Scott Allan, headed down the M8 to Hibernian.

We also saw Christian Gamboa, found a German suitor in Bochum while Marvin Compper sourced alternative employment and a pension pot top up with Duisburg. Dorus de Vries retired, Emilio Izaguirre was freed and the bizarre signing of Youssouf Mulumbu was concluded with the defensive midfielder now back at Rugby Park on a short-term deal.

There were also exits for those very much on the periphery of things with Dylan Forrest heading to Hamilton, Wallace Duffy to St Johnstone, PJ Crossan to Dumbarton, Regan Hendry to Raith Rovers and Reece Willison , poor kid, ending up at Airdrieonians.

While loan deals expired that saw Timothy Weah returned to Paris St-Germain and is now at Lille, Filip Benkovic went back down the M6 to Leicester City, Jeremy Toljan return to Borussia Dortmund, Oliver Burke, back to West Bromwich Albion and is now with Sheffield United.

It’s fair to say then that the club has shaved a considerable amount of money from the wage bill in the last year or so and it’s probably helped us as we try and negotiate a pandemic with no matchday income. It will be especially important now with European football secured but upwards of 10-12million lost without full to capacity crowds inside Celtic Park for the Europe league group stage games. AC Milan, Lille and Sparta Prague were bound to be crowd pullers.

Last summer Celtic were busy in the transfer market with ten players coming in. Boli Bolingoli signed from Rapid Vienna for £3m, Christopher Jullien from Toulouse for £7m, Hatem Abd Elhamed, from Hapoel Be’er Sheva, £1.3m and Greg Taylor arrived from Kilmarnock for around £2.5m.

The rest of the transfer incomings would have fallen into the ‘project’ category and bar Jeremie Frimpong’s £300k signing from Man City, all have worked out that way, they are still waiting for opportunities to shine. Luca Connell, came in from Bolton Wanderers for a minor fee, Tobi Oluwayemi Tottenham Hotspur followed the same cross border deal route, Leo Hjelde came in from Rosenborg, Lee O’Connor, from Manchester United and Jonathan Afolabi, from Southampton.

The expense on wages was also paid out mainly on loan deals, yet it soon came to light that Celtic were paying only 15K of Fraser Forster’s reported 70k plus a week wages from Southampton while similar deals were cut for Moritz Bauer from Stoke City and Mohamed Elyounoussi, also from Southampton.

It was a good transfer window. The majority of players, bar those signed as projects, impacted well at the club. All made themselves first team players and at the same time a hefty wage bill had been addressed. In January Celtic added Ismaila Soro and Patryck Klimala for around £5million.

It’s a theme that has continued this season. Those on big wages by Celtic’s standards such as Simunovic and Craig Gordon have been replaced by those further down the pay grade.

Albian Ajeti has signed on a permanent deal a year earlier than expected as West Ham United accepted £4.5m, Vasilis Barkas from AEK Athens came in for £4m and David Turnbull, Motherwell, in a deal around £3.2 million.

Celtic have once again taken advantage of top flight English clubs having to name a 25-man squad and that has allowed loan deals for Shane Duffy from Brighton & Hove Albion and Mohamed Elyounoussi – back again from Southampton – to be signed on subsidised wages from their parent club while Celtic in theory get English Premier level footballers within our budget.

The standout differences this season has been Celtic have targeted players they intend to impact the first team ahead of the ten-in-a-row challenge. There has been little moves so far to look at any further ‘project’ signings indeed as hoped for many of the fringe players are already out on loan and there may even be scope for a few more to follow before the window shuts. Strategically that makes perfect sense with little or no football on offer outside the first team this season.

It also points to encouragement that the focus this season is winning the record breaking tenth title and perhaps looking for some form of re-set thereafter. Celtic will be taking a financial hit this season, even with the incredible loyalty of season ticket holders shelling out massive amounts of cash for what looks like it will amount to little more than a Celtic TV log-in for most – if not all – of this season.

The easy thing to do then would have been to cash in on the likes of Kris Ajer or Olivier Ntcham with both indicating previously they saw their long-term futures in higher profile leagues. Or the big concerns would have been to sell Odsonne Edouard and give financial security to the club for a year, maybe two.

Those who have been offered contracts and had stalled on signing such as Ryan Christie may also have had offers considered. Some of that may well happen but the truth is the massive turnover in staff, streamlining of the squad and reduction in the wage bill and loyalty of season ticket holders means Celtic can at least ride out the financial hit far more comfortably than they otherwise would have been some 12 to 18 months ago.

Whether we agree on this or not ‘the’ Rangers look a side well organised for a title bid. Celtic have to keep our best players to meet any challenge – should it be sustained this time. A record breaking tenth title hinges on negotiating this summer window and January’s to come on our own terms.

There is plenty time for moving players on as and when a tenth title is won and a re-set of some description takes place in June. There has been enough wheeling and dealing, trimming and adding of quality been carried out to get us through to the Summer, though we all accept hard choices may have to be made then. Indeed, promises to some players may even have been made whereby they agree or are told they are staying with Celtic this summer but will meet little resistance if they chose to leave next season. With so many projects waiting in the wings this may make sense to both parties.

Neil Lennon has made it clear he wants no player to leave the club at this late stage of the window, with little chance of finding a suitable replacement. Indeed, he feels a left sided defender will conclude his incoming business, once again you assume Lennon is looking at a first team ready player rather than a project to allow cover for Greg Taylor.

The perfect end to this long drown out transfer window would be to see Lennon have his wish and Celtic tool up for the remainder of the season with as fine a squad as we could hope for ahead of the Ten-in-a-Row tilt.

Big decisions have already been taken on shaping this Celtic squad over the last three transfer windows to reach this very point. It’s vital Celtic hold out and resist any further moves for any of our top players in the last day of this transfer window. If that means some hard choices next summer so be it. It’s a trade-off we’d all accept if it means Celtic are equipped to bring home the Ten.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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