Transfer Window – Lennon targets two experienced players – Niall J

Across various media outlets today it’s been claimed Neil Lennon has said he wants his next two signings to be ready-made starters who can handle the title pressure – Lenny said that his backroom Bhoys were still keen to strengthen and hoped to get two more players in. He hasn’t pinpointed publicly the particular positions, just that he wants players with experience in the bank.

I understand any manager going for titles wanting experienced men in his ranks but at Celtic where would they fit in?

You can only assume signing experienced footballers would mean they’d be first team picks, likely to be selected week in week out. This means they’re being bought to replace someone already in the first choice eleven.

The spine of this Celtic team is already strong. Fraser Forster is a very experienced goalkeeper at Celtic and Southampton, a title winner at Celtic and an England International goalkeeper.

Ahead of Forster, in central defence the partnership of Kris Ajer and Christopher Jullien is solid, it’s also unlikely it’s going to be broken up no matter who comes through the door. The pair are the first settled defensive partnership we’ve had since Van Dijk and Denayer. Not only two superb footballers they also complement each other well.

Into midfield and Scott Brown and Callum McGregor play a lot of games, too many you could easily argue, but needing some help isn’t the same as replacing. Ismaila Soro appears to be on his way – eventually – to allow those weary limbs to be rested. If both are fit and the big games are coming thick and fast neither Broony nor Calmac are likely to find themselves on the subs bench.

On the right side of midfield the shirt belongs to The Celtic Star’s player of the year James Forrest. His goals and assist returns are as good as ever. He’s a player Lennon plays through rain or shine, good form or bad. Any experienced player being purchased isn’t going to be taking the shirt from Forrest’s back that’s for certain. Forrest is an untouchable and rightly so.

In the number 10 role the currently injured and suspended Ryan Christie is- in my own opinion- Celtic’s best player this season. Had his injury been longer term then you could argue an experienced replacement could well come in. It is likely Christie will be back by the end of the month and in the meantime Olivier Ntcham and Tom Rogic are more than able deputies so again it seems unlikely that the experienced players Lennon is craving is likely to fill in at number 10.

Ahead of Ryan Christie Celtic have a multitude of attacking options in the striking positions. First pick is of course Odsonne Edouard, while three others are either fighting for a space on the bench or alongside French Eddy in attack, should Lennon continue his diamond midfield shape from the cup win last night at Firhill.

We have already signed one new striker in Patryk Klimala, and Leigh Griffiths appears to have forced himself into the manager’s plans after showing up well on the winter training camp in Dubai.

Griffiths came in last night, grabbed a goal and let the world know reports of his demise have been somewhat exaggerated. Time will tell of course but if he keeps hitting the back of the net he won’t be going anywhere.

Vakoun Bayo is probably the fourth choice for now at least. He’s been dreadfully unlucky with injuries since he arrived but even if he was the player earmarked for replacing it’s hard to see how Lenny could expect anyone coming in to be anything more than another ‘project’ player. You don’t sign that seasoned player to come in and be third or fourth choice striker.

That leaves three positions up for grabs and two of those three may well be where Lenny sees his experienced players being utilised.

At right back young Jeremie Frimpong looks every inch the attacking full back all the trend in world football now. He also has a somewhat injury prone Hatem Abd Elhamed behind him with Moritz Bauer further down the pecking order, a player himself who isn’t short of experience in the game.

You can see the experience argument being relevant at right back but young Frimpong has barely put a foot wrong since coming into the team and although taking him out the firing line on occasion, given his tender years would be good management, there is already the experience and quality behind him that Lennon needs.

So if Neil Lennon is after his two experienced players ‘oven ready’ are they wanted at left back and left sided midfield? It would appear those are the likely positions needing filled.

Boli Bolingoli has arrived with big shoes to fill and he’s certainly had moments where he’s impressed but can anyone say there isn’t lingering doubts about the signing from Rapid Vienna? Last night and long overdue came the turn of Greg Taylor at full back. It was important to see Taylor trusted with the shirt at last but has he convinced Lennon? Possibly not.

Taylor could well dispel doubts with a run in the team but if there is one area of the team where opponents could target weakness, it is hard not to argue that left back may well be the position. Has Neil Lennon has asked for his first experienced signing to play at left back? I think he possibly has.

Ahead of the left back position at Left sided midfield may well lie a vacancy for the other accomplished player that Lennon covets.

Mikey Johnston seemed to have the shirt until injury got in the way. Both stamina and physicality have hampered Celtic’s academy graduate. He’s a first choice left winger on the best of his form but it could well be that physically he’s not quite ready. He’ll need that married with his undoubted ability and technique and as such we could be looking at next season and another year of physical development before he can lay claim to that shirt week in week out. It’s coming that’s for sure but it’s not happening just yet.

The player you’d expect to be ahead of young Mikey Johnston would be Mohamed Elyounoussi. The Southampton loan player is already that experienced player, and what a player he is.

My Brother asked me what I wanted for Christmas as we watched Celtic win 4-0 at Pittodrie this season. My answer? Mohamed Elyounoussi on a permanent contract.

Moi is the stand out player, he’s not rigid in his positioning and he moves into all available space to get involved. He also appeared to be building up a good understanding with Odsonne Edouard. Odsonne often seems to come wide and try and face up opponents. I like the fact that Moi seemed to not only understand French Eddy’s intentions but was more than willing to fill the space Edouard vacated. He also takes a good set piece and has more than a decent goal threat to his play.

The problem with Moi isn’t ability it’s availability and that’s why I think Lenny sees the second of those experienced players operating on the left hand side of midfield.

A training ground foot injury whilst on International duty with Norway saw Moi unavailable for selection just as he was getting going. 13 games, seven goals and six assist reads well. But it’s 13 games since August and that’s not someone you can rely on to be at his work every day.

Moi has only started 6 league games this season and hasn’t featured since a gamble backfired when he was included in the league cup final starting eleven and did well to last the first 45 minutes before returning to his convalescence. He hasn’t been since.

Should he return he’s the experienced man that Lennon craves but for now he’s nowhere to be seen and when you consider he hasn’t finished a game since the 30th October and only ever completed the full 90 minute shift six times this season, you can see where that required experience Lennon asks for is likely to be needed.

You can make arguments for other squad additions, in particular the centre of defence with question marks over the fitness of both Nir Bitton and Jozo Simunovic. However when it comes to positions where there are doubts and where Lennon’s yearning for experienced first team ready performers could easily be argued for, then it seems those vacant slots are at left back and left wing.

Neil Lennon has asked for two seasoned performers to come in. It will be down to Nick Hammond and Peter Lawwell to back their man. Those two positions being filled by experienced, accomplished footballers may not come cheap. It could be the difference between 9 in a row and what might have been.

Celtic have eleven days to find two proficient, skilled and practised left sided performers. We have the money. Do we have the ambition?

Niall J


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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 finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parhead's gates.

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