Too many transfer windows for far too long have reached midnight on that final day and left us feeling somewhat unfulfilled – often deflated. This window has been far from that kind of experience. Neil Lennon’s first transfer window and Brendan Rodgers first season possibly came close but this one edges it and there are a few reasons for it.
First of all is the retention of the main players, the big hitters, the players we now know were coveted by other clubs and we held firm. That was entirely unexpected.
If I had to say to you that Celtic were doing a deal with AC Milan 95% of those reading this would have assumed Kris Ajer was on his way to the Rossoneri. Instead we were negotiating a deal for a Uruguayan international, hitting his peak years, to come in the other direction.
If I’d said we’d be in discussions with a Premier league club for an International striker, we’d be checking our phones for the Edouard to Arsenal fee. Instead we’ve taken Albian Ajeti on a permanent deal when only a year ago he was West Ham’s marquee signing and an established international and European striker to boot.
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We’ve brought players in for key positions and we’ve refused to budge and sell our best players. This is where credit should go to many within the club and those normally in the stands.
It is clear Peter Lawwell has genuinely realised the importance and significance of this season. A man of few words over the last few months, he has shown in his actions by spending significant sums in a perilously unstable economic environment and refusing offers for players like Ntcham, Christie, Edouard and Ajer, that he is as aware as us all of the importance of this season in the club’s history and has facilitated it as best he could.
Lawwell appears to have been well supported by his Head of Football Operations in Nick Hammond. In little over a year Hammond has, it appears, turned around a Lee Congerton shaped midden of a recruitment team at Celtic and one, that to all intents and purposes was mothballed and left in a state that it was simply not fit for purpose.
Last season we did well to bring in some established players but the majority were project signings. This year Hammond has obviously taken Lennon’s influence and wishes on board and supplied his manager with what he wants, experienced first team footballers with international and/or European experience, players who do not require developing but are indeed ready to come in and take instruction ahead of a genuine title challenge this season.
Hammond has delivered that and though it must at times have been frustrating for Neil Lennon – the wait for a left sided wing back in particular – together they got that one over the line.
It is clear when the business is done there has been a team effort on this one. Lennon and Stevie Woods would have wanted Fraser Forster, he took the legs from under us all by refusing a Celtic return, yet while links to David Marshall and Joe Hart seemed genuine, it was Hammond’s own judgement on Vasilias Barkas that Lennon has supported.
That deal was very much a player that Hammond himself pushed for consideration, while Ajeti was Lennon’s top choice last season yet West ham beat us to him. New singing Diego Laxalt was as good as done on a one-year loan last season but Torino gazumped us at the last moment. Celtic and Hammond haven’t written these guys off, instead they’ve grasped the opportunity for a second bite at the cherry.
Shane Duffy simply doesn’t fit as a Celtic signing over the last few years, but he certainly fits the managers’ ‘type’. The fact the obstacles to that happening, be it loan fees or wages, were overcome was the board and Hammond backing Lennon with what he needed. And let’s not forget- thought it seems so far away now – that Lennon asked for the return of Forster and Moi Elyounoussi, both those deals would have been delivered for the manager, that it was only one that got over the line was down to a players change of mind, whilst Elyounoussi jumped at the chance of a second season in the Hoops. Once again teamwork at recruitment level and once more the manager is backed.
Then there is the David Turnbull signing. The only one you may consider comes close to a project signing has already show he is far from it. Turnbull will get a lot of first team experience over the course of the season, he’s also been a case of patience and diligence from the recruitment team at Celtic. The former Motherwell midfielder was clearly a player the manager wanted before fate intervened. It is clear the channels of communication between all parties were kept open and we now have one of Scottish football’s best prospects signed up on a long-term deal.
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In total we have brought in six players, yet those who have left the club have dwarfed that. Many of those moves have helped to ensure that the money spent was narrowed down onto what we’d hope will be genuine quality and players that can hit the ground running. It also helped – for a second season in a row – to streamline a squad too large for Lennon’s liking.
First of all, we had the players on loan return to their parent clubs – Fraser Forster returned to Southampton, Daniel Arzani to Manchester City and Moritz Bauer went back to Stoke City.
In no particular order we’ve had leave Celtic on a permanent basis; Jozo Simunovic, freed and still looking for a club, Eboue Kouassi to Genk, Craig Gordon, to Hearts and Jonny Hayes leave for Aberdeen.
I would like to thank @CelticFC for the last 13 years , thank you to all the coaching staff & the staff behind the scenes as it’s them that make it a great place to be , I have met some great people and made some amazing friends , I cannot thank you all enough. pic.twitter.com/KCp9wMAgRr
— Jack Aitchison (@JackAitchison7) October 5, 2020
We’ve also had Jack Aitchison move to Barnsley, Robbie Deas, Inverness, Calvin Miller, Harrogate Town, Liam Burt, freed and interesting Barnsley, while Kundai Benyu headed south to Wealdstone.
There were also a few youngsters moved on to other clubs with Luke Mahady moving to Raith Rovers, Mark Hill to Forfar Athletic and Dave McKay to Brechin City.
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Since the end of last season that’s a total of 15 players leaving the club on a permanent basis and many more have headed on loan. A further 13 players in fact have moved away on a temporary basis, although four of those may well see temporary moves become permanent arrangements soon enough.
Boli Bolingoli is with Istanbul Basaksehir and you’d assume extremely unlikely to return, Marian Shved has gone to Mechelen in Belgium and chances of a Celtic future appear slim and the same can be said for Vakoun Issouf Bayo, now with Toulouse and Jack Hendry with Oostende.
There are two further stateside projects back on loan in the MLS and for whom a Celtic future remains uncertain, with work permit issues the reason. Manny Perez is with North Carolina while Andrew Gutman, is playing with Cincinnati.
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) September 27, 2020
The players making up a 28-man exodus from the club are seven young prospects that should still have a Celtic future and they are another reason for the success of this transfer window.
With reserve or Colt football in no way likely, the club have put the player’s development front and centre and let them all head out on loan. It’s something I must admit I was calling for this summer and it’s another sign of the hard work that’s gone on at the recruitment level that these deals were facilitated amongst what possibly seemed far more pressing concerns.
Jonathan Afolabi, has joined Dundee, Kerr McInroy Dunfermline Athletic, Ryan Mullen, Cove Rangers, Brody Paterson, Queen’s Park, Lee O’Connor, Tranmere Rovers, Scott Robertson, Gillingham and Ross Doohan to Ross County.
It may have been tempting to keep some of those players around, but in truth their first team opportunities would have been limited. Instead with a season of regular football where results matter, these players could return to Celtic ready to stake a claim. It’s been a real success of the transfer window that Celtic have managed to get these players proper football and avoid the possibility of stagnation.
If there was one other success of the transfer window that may be overlooked it’s that the club has spent roughly £15million on transfer fees and loan fees. That doesn’t happen without the incredible loyalty shown by the fans. Season ticket holders not only took up their season tickets in their thousands, those who couldn’t found plenty willing from a waiting list to step up.
Without that level of loyalty from a support who had and still have no guarantees of entering a football stadium at all this season then the funds that Peter Lawwell was able to sign off on this summer simply doesn’t happen. This transfer window is a season ticket holder transfer window and that investment in the club played as much of a part as the team effort from the Board, Recruitment team and coaching staff.
As ever there are provisos. While the state of play by the end of the window is welcomed the club needs to address the strategy and timing of recruitment as we move forward. It is clear there are plans in place and options and contacts available to support Lennon and the players, yet missing out on Champions league football for a third consecutive season needs to be addressed.
Hopefully with Nick Hammond there is now a plan to address just that in the months ahead. It’s the final piece in the recruitment jigsaw to prepare a strategy whereby the manager has the vast majority of what he requires bedded in by the time the European qualifiers arrive.
Hopefully now however Celtic as a club can settle down and performances can improve. Players will be more settled and no longer have an eye on incoming messages from agents and representatives. Such a massive turnaround in squad numbers also impacts on training, relationships and harmony.
With all of that now done and dusted you can hope there are no disgruntled players, everyone can get their eyes on the prizes of upcoming European football and of course that push for Ten-in-a-Row. One thing is certain this is a squad with as good a depth of quality as most of us will be able to remember. The transfer window has been a success off the park, it’s now down to Neil Lennon and those players to utilise what they have to ensure that success is mirrored on it.
🤩 Just sitting there thinking… what a window!
Another warm welcome to all the new Bhoys! 👋🍀 pic.twitter.com/oAEjaHt7mD
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) October 6, 2020