THE CELTIC loan stars from last season have all returned to their respective clubs. Two have then found new places to play their football next season while the other two hope to make an impact having had around £28million spent on them in transfer fees.
All four all made a contribution at different times last season for Celtic. Filip Benkovic arrived from Leicester City after the former Premier League Champions paid around £13million to bring him to the East Midlands from Dinamo Zagreb in August 2018.
Anyone think that the decision to loan him to Celtic for the season, given the events that transpired in February, and later when Lee Congerton left to join Leicester as well, are peculiar? Makes you wonder exactly when the conversations started between Rodgers and the Leicester City owners.
Benkovic made an immediate impact and was a top performer in the first half of the season. By the end of December he was however carrying an injury but risked playing in the final match before the winter shut-down, only to aggravate the problem. He came back after the winter break and started but then was ruled out for a few months. In that time Rodgers bolted in the dead of night in late February and with Neil Lennon favouring Celtic players rather than those in on loan, his time at Celtic ended mostly watch from the bench.
Earlier this week Benkovic posted a thank you message to the Celtic players and support – note that there was no mention of the new Celtic manager.
“It was a huge honour and privilege to wear the Hoops for a season,” the Croatian defender posted on Instagram. “This club will always be very special to me. Thank you to my teammates and to the fans for everything. Good luck for the future and historic 10 in a row.”
The chances of any return to Celtic for Benkovic now seem remote to say the least. Rodgers previously hinted that he may look at another loan but that was probably designed to make him look like the good guy he isn’t.
Still all Celtic Supporters will wish Filip Benkovic all the best going forward. If he struggles to establish himself in their side, maybe a cheeky £7million bid – well we proved we can do that with Christopher Jullien – could work further down the line?
After that defeat at Ibrox, Celtic had won the League Cup and rather fortuitously made it through the Europa League Group stages, thanks to a massive favour from our old friends Rosenborg who stunned RB Leipzig to collect their solitary point of the campaign.
Celtic looked to be on their knees at Ibrox, the heavy schedule of games, including eight previous games in December, had finally caught up with the players. The Rangers got the only goal of the game and drew level on points.
It was time for action and after a failed £8million bid for Timothy Castagne, three loan players were secured in quick succession and this certainly did the trick for Celtic.
The first one to emerge was Paris Saint Germain’s young American star Timothy Weah who had made some appearances at the start of the campaign for the French Champions, mostly as a result of their star players being at the World Cup, and was looking to go out on loan to get some game-time.
The story of Weah’s move to Celtic was an exclusive on The Celtic Star on the morning of Christmas Eve and it proved to be spot on and a nice little present for the our readers.
Journalist Robin Bairner this morning on Tim Weah on his spell with Celtic: “It’s a very physical league. I got some confidence, I became more mature. It was good for me to play there. I scored some goals and that’s prepared me well for coming here.”
Tim Weah on his spell with Celtic in Scotland: "It's a very physical league. I got some confidence, I became more mature. It was good for me to play there. I scored some goals and that's prepared me well for coming here."
— Robin Bairner (@RBairner) July 12, 2019
Weah was joined by West Brom’s out of favour Scottish forward Oli Burke and Borussia Dormund’s right back Jerry Toljan and the arrival of these three players gave Celtic a boost as the action got underway in late January.
Rodgers was prepared to start all three, preferring Toljan to Mikael Lustig and believing he could transform Burke’s game by turning him into a centre forward. Weah seemed to be more effective as an impact player coming off the bench.
Toljan stupidly got sent off in Valencia, effectively needing any hope of a Celtic come-back and annoyingly because we were the better side up until his dodgy positioning resulted in two quick fire yellow cards just before the interval.
But by the end of February, when Rodgers left us in the dead of night for his drive down to the East Midlands, the Celtic loan stars had a new manager to work with. Burke and Toljan both started in Lenny’s first game in charge – a vital win away to Hearts – but John Kennedy picked the team that night. By the weekend, this time against Hibs at Easter Road, the influence on the sidelines from the new manager was becoming apparent as he shouted instructions to Burke during a frustrating first half.
Lustig came back into the side and while Burke and Weah continued to be given chances, these mostly came from the bench. Burke had a chance of personal glory when he could have grabbed a vital late winner against Livingston to effectively seal the title, but he missed with the goal gaping. He did get a start at Ibrox after the league was won but put in a dreadful performance, and Lenny wasn’t slow to give his thoughts on that afterwards in the away dressing room.
Weah opted not to agree to a compromise arrangement that had been brokered between the USA Under 20s coaches and the Celtic manager, that would have allowed the American to play at Ibrox, go away with the USA for the next week thus missing Trophy Day, then return to Celtic for the Scottish Cup Final.
The player said no, Lenny told him to pack his bags and he was sent back to Paris early. He has subsequently been sold to Lille in a transfer worth around £9million and with PSG having a considerable sell-on percentage from any subsequent transfers.
Many of the younger Celtic supporters took to Weah in a big way and were sorry to see him go. The player himself still has an liking for the Wearing of the Green, as he displayed while out and about in Paris last week.
Timothy Weah posted this on insta. The comments include ‘neck on froze’ ‘wavey’ and ‘man can dress’.. No he cannot dress! Man be half dressed ffs. ???? I am officially too old. pic.twitter.com/NY7fLA627u
— Rachael H (@RachT1982) July 6, 2019
Oliver Burke left Celtic at the end of the season, posted an emotional farewell and then became involved in a strange spat – not of the player’s making – when the West Brom’s Direct of Football had a go at Neil Lennon for his supposed poor treatment of the £15million star. Celtic responded to this bizarre outburst by issuing a club statement in defence of the manager.
Burke is just getting in with things though and is looking to impress new head coach Slaven Bilić. Speaking the the official West Brom website, the Scotland star stated that it was time to ‘give back’ to West Brom after their huge transfer fee paid to RB Leipzig – who had previous done a number in Celtic by selling us their veteran defender Marvin Compper for £1million.
“I think it’s a great appointment and obviously he’s a fantastic manager, I think everyone knows that,” Burke said of Bilić.
“I think the training sessions have been great. The quality and the standard has really risen and everybody’s really looking to impress and perform under him.
“I think everyone knows they can learn a lot as he’s a good coach. For the young players coming through it’s important, even for me, to take everything in like a sponge.
“Each day is really important as a player and I think that’s really important for me so I’m happy with the appointment and I think it’s perfect for me to learn as much as I can to really progress and give back to West Brom now.
“With everything that’s happened throughout my career there’s always that weight on your shoulders. I just want to enjoy my football and give my very best.
“I know what I can do and I’m sure the coaches know what I’m capable of now. It’s just down to me to go out and prove it and give my all for the club.”
Burke at one stage was keen on a summer move to Celtic, but that seems a distant possibility at the moment. There is a decent player in there somewhere so perhaps Slaven Bilić is the man to help Burke find his way in the game.
That leaves us with Jerry Toljan the right back who took a considerable pay-cut to come to Scotland and increasingly looked like a bored schoolboy looking at the clock waiting for the bell to ring. He too got some time at Ibrox in the Dead Rubber match but was as apathetic as just about any player who has ever worn the Celtic jersey.
Off he went back to Dortmund and this week they shipped him out on loan again, this time to Italian club Sassuolo who are apparently paying Dortmund a £2million loan fee. Toljan has been told he has no future at Dortmund who paid around £6.5million for him when he arrived from Hoffenheim.
Sassuolo also have an option to buy at £5million – a deal that would have been within Celtic’s price range had the German shown a better appetite for the game.
Sandman produced an outstanding Review of the Season over on Celtic Noise, although he seems to have missed out Filip Benkovic – probably an oversight as the Croatian always received glowing praise in Sandman’s Player ratings that appear on The Celtic Star.
Sandman’s appraisal of Weah Burke and Toljan are below and if you didn’t catch Sandman’s Season Review first time around you can catch up over on Celtic Noise HERE.