Is Celtic's rebuilding job as big as some claim?
Celtic have finished the 2018-19 season as domestic treble champions once again and yet if you are to believe elements of the Celtic support, the media and Rangers fans - next season the Parkhead side are ripe for the taking as they need to overhaul the squad.
But is the rebuild job at Celtic Park as big as some claim or is it being over-estimated?
So let’s take a look at those leaving the treble treble winners this summer, who are remaining, who could potentially be exiting stage left and where the club needs to strengthen ahead of next season….
Celtic are set to lose Dorus de Vries at the end of this season after signing for the club in August 2016, but after amounting a measly 15 appearances in all competitions for the club under Brendan Rodgers - thanks to the form of Craig Gordon and latterly Scott Bain - the 38-year-old Dutch keeper was always going to heading out of the club, and not a great loss either.
It is expected that Celtic will look to sign another keeper to provide competition for the current number one Scott Bain and that of the currently injured Craig Gordon. There has been talk of Celtic approaching Liam Kelly to sign the former Rangers and current Livi shot-stopper, after impressing between the sticks this season for the Almondvale club. And with Kelly being a Celtic supporter, it could prove to be a quality swoop - if the player believes he has what it takes to usurp Bain and Gordon.
Craig Gordon has one year remaining on his contract and I cannot see the keeper securing a new deal, given that Bain now looks to be the club’s number one keeper - although that could all change under the new permanent manager Neil Lennon, when Gordon comes back from injury.
However, Scott Bain remains the club’s number one and his performances in the second half of the season bar one or two wee hiccups proves that the former Dundee keeper is the right man for the job and will almost certainly be our regular keeper next season.
Celtic’s biggest mistakes last summer, other than their failure to sign a replacement for the departing Moussa Dembele and penny pinching over John McGinn was their failure to strengthen the defence.
Filip Benkovic was brought in on-loan at the end of August from Leicester City and went on to make 27 appearances in all competitions for Celtic, so his departure will be somewhat of a blow - even though under Neil Lennon Jozo Simunovic [when fit] and Kristoffer Ajer were the first choice central defensive pairing.
Celtic could see the return of Benkovic this summer, if Rodgers and Leicester City are looking for the defender to gain more experience, although they could quite easily loan the Croat out to an English Championship side to get more experience of the English game.
Last season, Dedryck Boyata’s missing-in-action impression was a major factor in Celtic’s defeat to AEK Athens and their failure to qualify for the Champions League. There was obviously behind-the-scenes goings on that we as fans were not privvy too - similar to what happened with Moussa Dembele - but with the Belgian defender now leaving the club for Hertha Berlin this summer and the departure of Benkovic, Celtic will almost certainly look to bring in a new central defender permanently and potentially another on loan - given that Simunovic is regularly missing from the squad when a game is being played on astroturf.
German Marvin Compper, is still at the club! And with one year left on his contract - Celtic MUST get rid of him this summer, even taking the hit and paying up part or all of his contract to terminate it early. My biggest issue with the whole cup final celebrations and the aftermath - was not that Lennon got the job, but that Compper was even allowed on the pitch at Hampden to celebrate with the team after doing hee haw at the club. He even picked up a league winners medal! He has played just 83 minutes for Celtic - that being in the 3-0 win over Morton in March last season - and yet he has more winners medals than Rangers have in their history? I don’t know who should be more embarrassed - Celtic or Rangers?
Two more departures from the Celtic defensive line is that of Emilio Izaguirre and Cristian Gamboa. Gamboa never really made an impact at Celtic, but took the club to his heart as did Izaguirre - who returned for a second stint with the club. Neither were mainstays or regulars and their departure will have more impact on the fringes of the Celtic squad than the first team proper.
Fan favourite and captain-in-waiting Kieran Tierney is set to have a double hernia operation after playing through the pain barrier and missing the end of the season. The left back will be wrapped up in cotton wool while he recovers and should not be rushed back, so Celtic will potentially rely on winger Jonny Hayes to deputise at left back unless Celtic invest in an able understudy to Tierney - which they should be doing following Izaguirre’s departure.
Out of favour and serial fan scapegoat Jack Hendry, signed a contract with the club until May 2022 and while it hasn’t worked out for the former Dundee defender so far at Celtic - a loan move to a Scottish Premiership side or English lower league club could prove invaluable as it did with the likes of Kristoffer Ajer and Callum McGregor to gain much needed first team football. It may be a controversial point, but I think Celtic should stand by the kid as Rodgers’ system didn’t really benefit Hendry or his style of play.
With Mikael Lustig at the end of his eight magnificent years at the club, the Swede broke down in tears following the cup final as it looked like he knew that it was the end and in all honesty, it should be. The full back has had a mixed bag of performances this season and at times is seen as the weakest link within Celtic’s defence. Giving him a new one year deal would only be for sentimental purposes and while there is love for Lustig from the fans and the club, as well as that love being reciprocated - his destination this summer should be back to his homeland with Malmo to see out his playing career.
Lustig’s understudy Anthony Ralston will almost certainly be given his chance to shine during pre-season, but Celtic are in need of a first team regular right back and this is a must. Jeremy Toljan’s loan move from Borussia Dortmund was an abject failure and thankfully he returns to the Bundesliga thinking he can break back into the Dortmund side off the back of his Celtic experience. Good luck to him!
Returning to the club after a loan spell at Kilmarnock, Youssouf Mulumbu has one year left on his deal - yet the transfer is still puzzling. Why did Celtic go for him in the first place? Whatever the strange reasons behind it, a deal could be made for the midfielder to leave the club this summer and potentially return to Kilmarnock - although the Rugby Park could be looking elsewhere once their new manager is appointed. It may sound harsh but his departure would not even register a shrug of the shoulder.
Once tipped for great things Scott Allan leaves the club this summer to return to Hibs after signing a pre-contract with then-Hibs manager Neil Lennon! Whether he was signed to noise up and stop Rangers from signing him, the move never worked out and loan spells away didn’t do much to instil any hope of the 27-year-old getting a chance at Celtic. A move back to Edinburgh could kick start his career again under Paul Heckingbottam at a club where he is fondly remembered.
Another puzzling buy was that of Kundai Benyu, the 21-year-old Zimbabwean international was signed by Brendan Rodgers from Ipswich in July 2017 and was initially linked with a move out on loan, before remaining at the club after some good pre-season performances. He was eventually loaned out to Oldham in January with chances few and far between as the English club struggled in the league. Benyu is currently out on loan at Swedish side Helsingborg until January 2020 - but I cannot see a future for the kid at Celtic and will almost certainly leave next season or be farmed out on loan again until his contract expires in May 2021.
Eboue Kouassi and Daniel Arzani looked as if they would finally get some first team football this season only for both to be cruelly struck down with season ending injuries. Both will remain on the periphery of the squad and will almost certainly end up playing in some of the earlier rounds of the cup competitions. Can Arzani have the same impact on loan from Manchester City as Patrick Roberts had? Maybe, but he has a lot to prove and will see out his 18 month loan deal next season at Celtic in the hope that it would help him push through the ranks at the Etihad or a move to a club where he is guaranteed first team football. Kouassi’s time at Celtic has been one of sitting on the wings and having some game time here and there. He hasn’t really had a chance given the injuries he has befallen and the form of Scott Brown, Callum McGregor and at times Olivier Ntcham. The emergence of the likes of Ewan Henderson could see Kouassi’s time at the club end sooner rather than later.
Scott Brown, a modern day Celtic legend as Neil Lennon titled him, has now picked up more winners medals than Celtic great Jimmy Johnstone! Signed by Gordon Strachan in May 2007 from Hibernian, the former Scotland international has matured like a fine red wine. Along with his battling qualities, he also loves to noise up the opposition much to the angst of the oppositions and bitter pundits. The former Scotland skipper was linked with a move to Australia in the January transfer window with his contract up at the end of this season - but Brown has signed up for one more year with the Celtic club as he looks to secure an historic nine league titles in a row for himself and the club. Celtic MUST start to look for a successor to the 33-year-old this summer in time for taking over the mantle next summer. It will be tough to replace Brown and it could prove very costly to do so.
Could Nir Bitton play a pivotal role in the Celtic midfield this coming season? He has had a torrid time of injuries since his move from MS Ashdod in August 2013, but with one year remaining on his contract he will be doing everything in his power to stay injury-free to break back into the first team regularly, whether that is to secure a move away next May or to earn an extension to his current contract. Of all the fringe players at Celtic, he is possibly the one with the most hope of extending his stay at the club and secure more game time this season.
One midfielder who could almost certainly be heading out this summer is Olivier Ntcham. Despite signing a new deal in November that will see the French youth international remain at the club until May 2022, he could end up leaving for Portugal with Porto still circling overhead. He hasn’t had a great season this year, but did score the winning goal during the first derby but was as culpable as anyone was during the New Year derby defeat. If Porto come back in for the midfielder and offer the right price - potentially around £4 or 5 million - then he could be bidding Celtic Park adieu. However, with Lennon looking to stamp his own authority on the team and their style of play - it could see Ntcham get a reprieve of sorts, but that could be wishful thinking on my part.
Celtic’s failure to replace Moussa Dembele last summer didn’t help their cause on the European stage and saw the board and player face the brunt of the fans anger. The player’s reputation was redeemed though when Brendan Rodgers slithered out of Celtic Park to sign for Leicester and the truth came out about Rodgers’ false promises and behaviour toward the French striker. With a potential transfer to Manchester United from Lyon for around £30 million on the cards - the Frenchman could net Celtic a cool £3 million as part of a sell-on clause. A fee that could be used to help buy in another striker - whether that would be a project or a ready made replacement for Dembele is easier said than done!
Signed on loan in the January transfer window, both Timothy Weah and Oliver Burke started well for Celtic but as the season progressed neither of them looked as if they would hold down regular first team positions and when Lennon came in both players were eventually shown that their time at the club was at an end. Weah chose country over club and was promptly told to back his bags before the end of the season and not to return, while Oliver Burke’s indifferent performances see the Scotland winger return to parent club West Brom - with many Celtic fans hoping we aren’t considering wasting any money on buying him.
A horrendous season ending injury curtailed any hope of Vakoun Issouf Bayo playing for the Celtic first team this season and once he is back to full fitness, he will be looking to break into the first team following his move from Slovakian side Dunajská Streda in January. He has vowed to win over Lennon, but he could be faced with the option of heading out on loan if Lennon believes that he isn’t up to first team football yet and the club need another striker to challenge Edouard and Griffiths.
After suffering personal issues, Leigh Griffiths has returned to the squad and has been training since April looking fresh and raring to go come pre-season. Celtic had suffered from Griffiths’ temporary departure and it put a lot of pressure onto the shoulders of 21-year-old Odsonne Edouard - with him being the only out and out striker at the club. But despite my own opinions of the player struggling back in December, the youngster has proven his worth and helped secure the domestic treble. He has still got a lot to learn, but he has a bright future not only at Celtic but also for his country. Another good season at Celtic, scoring goals in Europe and picking up more silverware could see Edouard following Dembele out of the exit door for a sizeable transfer fee.
Leigh Griffiths returns to the fold after spending the second half of the season sorting himself out. And it looks like it has done him a world of good. He is looking fighting fit and will be a major boost to Celtic’s attacking threat and pursuit of nine titles in a row next season. He will be itching to start banging in the goals again, he has a lot of posts to tie scarves too and the Ibrox post defender must be shitting a brick!
Jonny Hayes. Mr Versatile. When he initially signed from Aberdeen in June 2017 - a lot was being asked of him and he didn’t really muster up. But with Kieran Tierney picking up some bad knocks and injuries this season, Hayes has been given a new lease of life as a back up left back and challenger to Scott Sinclair’s left wing role. With both Hayes and Sinclair remaining at Celtic for another year, they face the challenge of another youth academy graduate Mikey Johnston - a kid who could use the coming season to finally break into the first team regularly. Johnston is almost certainly seen as Sinclair’s successor down the left wing and while Hayes and Sinclair will remain at the club - I cannot see their roles for next season being other than regular substitutes and fringe players.
Signed from St.Mirren last season, Lewis Morgan was farmed out on loan to Jack Ross’ Sunderland in January helping them to the League One play-off only to lose to Charlton in the final seconds of the game consigning the club to another year in League One. Morgan is almost certainly going to be farmed out on loan again next season to get valuable game time - could be seen as an eventual successor to Tom Rogic, but currently he needs to further develop his game. Here’s hoping he doesn’t end up being another Scott Allan.
Tom Rogic hasn’t been the same player this season as he was in previous seasons. He has looked fatigued, off the pace and since picking up an injury during the farcical Asian Cup tournament with Australia - he has played like a man down for the most part. He needs a much needed rest to re-charge his batteries like most of the Celtic players, but despite extending his contract with the club until May 2023, next season could very well be his last if his performances continue on a downward tangent.
Rogic will almost certainly be fighting for a place in the Celtic team with Ryan Christie. The former Inverness Caley Thistle playmaker has been a revelation since he broke into the first team, and only a horrific season ending challenge from thug Dominic Ball in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen cost Christie further appearances this season. He is recovering from the multiple facial fractures he sustained in that game and will be back in pre-season ready for next season. His return will be a major boost to Celtic’s attacking threat.
What can you say about James Forrest and Callum McGregor this season? Youth academy graduates. Important first team players and even though James Forrest picked up the individual player gongs this season, McGregor proved as important as Forrest did throughout the season. Forrest was once a marmite player at Celtic. Fans either loved or hated him, but under Rodgers he sorted his game out and has proved to be an invaluable first team player and major threat to opposition defences.
Next season will also see the continued emergence of talented youngsters Karamoko Dembele and Armstrong Oko-Flex, with Celtic’s future bright with them.
So where do Celtic strengthen?
As you look through each section of the Celtic team, the so-called rebuilding job is not a huge one. Things do need freshened up. Celtic do need several defensive signings - for the most part they will be backups, but a first team right back is a must!
A back-up keeper is needed following De Vries departure, while in midfield a combative midfielder is needed with Scott Brown’s Celtic career winding down.
Celtic still need to replace Moussa Dembele and while I can’t see them spending the amount of money they did with Edouard, there needs to be funds for Lennon to get the right players in.
All-in-all, Celtic need around seven new players - but only two or three of them at this stage should be looking to break into the first team immediately, with the others backups or project players.
What are your thoughts on Celtic’s transfer dealings this summer?