Summer Recruitment

Yesterday Celtic announced that they’d brought Nick Hammond in board. He was previously Technical Director at West Brom and Director of Football at Reading as well as their Youth Academy Director.

His role at Celtic is said to assist with “recruitment across the forthcoming period.” “Initially across the summer period” sounds anything but permanent though.

One would assume if it goes well, his position may be extended. The club have also said to have known him for some time so perhaps he has done some other work for the club in the past.

His long term association with Reading of two decades earned him the Technical Director role at West Brom in 2016. He worked in that role whilst the managerial position was filled by Tony Pulis, Gary Megson and former mentor, Alan Pardew.

Following Pardew’s exit in April 2018, Hammond left West Brom soon after. Since then he has been in the wilderness or perhaps even doing some work for Celtic.

He’ll know Brendan Rodgers from his time at Reading as well as being a goalkeeper under Tommy Burns when he was mansger there. So there are some Celtic links there which have most likely been utilised by both parties.

Of course he has his work cut out for him as Celtic strive to sort out their summer recruitment. The transfer window has been open for about ten days and the only movement involves those players who have departed.

As was mentioned to the media, some clubs are still on holiday and unable to do business even though Celtic may be champing at the bit. There’s part of me trying to remain calm about that whilst another part is getting twitchy.

Obviously, the big story was about David Turnbull and a reminder of the John McGinn saga from last summer. Whilst one is not linked to the other, it is nonetheless a headline that has continued to paint the club in a negative light.

This whole transfer saga has been played out in the media to a capacity crowd. Aside from the player getting what he wants, I’m not so sure it does player or employer any good.

After a series of twists and turns in this on/off transfer, it emerged last night that a move to Celtic was back on. I’m not sure what to believe at this stage.

The player’s representatives turned down Celtic’s original offer. Celtic made their position public after Motherwell went public about the whole transfer.

The player’s agent came back to the table days later only for Celtic to walk away. That seemed to be the end of it and the player checked in with Norwich City.

A transfer south seemed all but confirmed as this week progressed . Then last night news started circulating that the player was more interested in a move to Celtic.

All I’m waiting for now is for Pam Ewing to wake up and Bobby to emerge from the shower. What a farce.

We don’t know all of the facts around this drama, but Celtic’s statements have been pretty clear. Peter Lawwell, Scott Brown and John Kennedy have all been fairly frank about the player’s choices.

I have no complaints about Celtic’s stance on this. However, its not entirely clear if they’ve changed their original offer to get nearer the players demands.

Brian McClair signed for Celtic 36 years ago yesterday for mere £100,000. The then 19 year old Motherwell player enjoyed four years at Celtic before earning a big move to Manchester United.

That deal was brokered quickly and McClair had an extra season under his belt. If Turnbull turns out to be anywhere near as good a player as Choccy, he’ll enjoy success at Celtic and elsewhere if he plays his cards right.

Right now, I’ll believe nothing until he’s signed on the line. Celtic have to focus on other targets as well and hopefully Nick Hammond will be able to assist with that.

The team does not require major surgery, but it does need defensive reinforcements. We can put out a back four or three but it lacks experience, long-term reliability and backup.

Pre-season is under way and the squad has lost several players through contract expiry and loan deals ending. However, there are still a number of players yet to kick off their Celtic careers properly.

I rhymed these off last week in another article when Turnbull’s original deal looked almost done. I felt that another midfielder wasn’t of the greatest importance, but that he might provide some new energy.

What a week this has been. When I see him training at Lennoxtown I’ll believe it.

I’m sure if it goes through, Turnbull will be in for a roasting off his new teammates. I look forward to hearing all about that.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Celtic’s early European journey is mapped out

Celtic’s European campaign will open at Celtic Park when they face the Premier League Champions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, FK Sarajevo. It is the first time the two clubs have met or indeed a team from that country.

Pre-season training got under way at Lennoxtown on Monday with three weeks until the European campaign begins in Glasgow. Some of Celtic’s first team have yet to return to training with some still on international duty or having more time off following international duty.

Still, it is an early start once again for the Celtic players. There really isn’t much in the way of rest these days.

Next week the squad will head out to their summer training camp in Austria and Switzerland. They’ll play SC Pinkafeld, Wiener SC and FC St Gallen as part of their pre-season schedule.

There might even be time to squeeze in one more warm-up game before they welcome FK Sarajevo to Celtic Park. By that time Neil Lennon should have most of his players fit and available.

Should Celtic make it past Sarajevo they will face either Nõmme Kalju of Estonia or KF Shkëndija of Macedonia. With the greatest of respect, neither of those team names immediately fill you with fear, but in Europe you can’t underestimate any team these days.

FK Sarajevo are a well backed club in terms of finance. Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan has an substantial investment, both clubs share an affiliation and further investment came from a Vietnamese businessman earlier this year who is also the club’s owner.

Last season they beat Armenian side Banants in the first qualifying round if the Europa League 5-1 on aggregate. In the second round earned a 2-2 draw in Italy against Atalanta only to lose the home leg 0-8.

As for KF Shkëndija, they went a little further in Europe last season. They beat The New Saints and Sheriff Tiraspol in the first and second qualifying rounds of the Champions League only to lose to Red Bull Salzburg in the third qualifying round.

That meant they parachuted into the Play Off Round of Europa League at the same time as Celtic. There they faced Rosenborg, but lost out to the Norwegians.

The two teams that conquered them would go on to face Celtic in the Europa League group stages. Celtic had disposed of Rosenborg in the second round of the Champions League that earlier in the summer.

Nõmme Kalju have never made it past the third qualifying round of the Champions or Europa Leagues. Last season they went out in the first round of the Europa League to Stjarnan from Iceland, another team Celtic have faced in recent years.

This just the second venture into the Champions League for the Estonian side. The last coming in the 2013-2014 season.

It’s worth noting that they are midway through their footballing calendar right now. Whilst they may not be considered a major threat, their fitness is most likely at it’s peak.

So those are the teams that stand in Celtic’s way right now. However far Celtic go and whichever team(s) they face, there is some travel to the furthest reaches of the continent.

We’ve had to travel further and if we progress we may have to travel further once again. Right now the focus is purely on pre-season training, some warm up matches and preparing for the arrival of FK Sarajevo in Glasgow in three weeks time.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Rebel. Hero. Hustler. God.

I had the pleasure of attending a viewing of new documentary, Diego Maradona on Fathers Day at my local Picturehouse, the Duke of York’s. The two-plus hours of footage took me right back to my younger years of the mid-eighties.

The director, Asif Kapadia, whose other titles include Senna and Oscar winning, Amy, was present for a Q&A session after the main feature. It was a very nostalgic experience for me.

I was only a ten year old boy when Maradona first came to my attention. World Cup ’86 was the first one I ever recall and by chance, I had Argentina as my project team at primary school.

I knew nothing about international football. I was just getting to grips with Celtic Football Club through my school mates, most of whom had been given a proper grounding in football culture.

International football was a whole other game. I loved the World Cup that summer.

Of course, Argentina won it in ’86 and Maradona became my very first football hero. Yes, even above any Celtic player of the time!

I even had a huge poster of Diego on my bedroom wall and a number 10 Argentina top with Maradona emblazoned on the back. I didn’t even have a Celtic or Scotland jersey yet!

This documentary took me all the way back to those days and more. I knew nothing about Maradona’s background at the time, just what I saw that summer.

In the years ahead, we’d discover more with the assistance of the media. The downfall of a hero.

It is without a doubt a very tragic tale. From the 15 year old “black kid” right through to the superstar and controversial lifestyle.

The tagline sums it up. Rebel. Hero. Hustler. God.

Kapadia discussed the documentary afterwards and how he pieced it together from a variety of sources after the footage was discovered. The majority of which had never been seen before.

He spoke with the legend himself on only a couple of occasions. In fact, he recalled he was still owed at least one more audience with him, but he was not certain it would ever come about.

It’s a facainating story worth watching for yourself. Much of which I did not know a lot about then or now.

I do recall his brilliance and subsequent decline. There’s so much more though.

Should you get the chance to see it, you won’t regret it. Another brilliant documentary by Asif Kapadia.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Transfer in serious doubt

Not long after I posted yesterday’s blog, “Transfer imminent“, David Turnbull’s agents rejected Celtic’s contract offer. Motherwell had already accepted what was a club record transfer fee for themselves, but negotiations on the player’s salary have hit the skids.

Generally there is a second bite at the cherry when it comes to personal terms. However, Celtic’s official statement yesterday suggested that what was on the table was “magnificent” and that it was “up to the agent and player to decide if the player wants to join Celtic.”

Celtic don’t appear willing to be held to ransom. They completed that statement by saying, “If not we move on.”

The club have come under criticism for last year’s John McGinn saga and were under scrutiny not to mess about this summer. Whilst they may have learned from that when dealing with Motherwell, it looks like ProLegal Group are trying to play the angles here for their client.

I’ve read some comments that the player is within his rights to get the best deal possible and that it is his agent’s job to broker that. However, Celtic have a salary structure and ProLegal Group must be aware that Celtic aren’t going to break that policy for a 19 year old guy who has just one season under his belt.

They represent former Celtic player Stuart Armstrong and a current one in Ryan Christie. So both parties are familiar with one another.

Perhaps this agency’s ego is growing to fast. Their biggest client being Champions League winner, Andrew Robertson.

The club aren’t trying to buy the next Wayne Rooney though. They are buying a kid who still has to prove it at a bigger club, play in a European arena and yet step up to senior level for his national side.

It is all ahead for Turnbull and Celtic are offering him a good platform to develop his skill set. Should he produce the goods, he will almost certainly have got an improved deal before the current one has run its course.

That is how other success stories at Celtic have worked out. That is how it would work out for David Turnbull, but it appears he and his agents want it all now before he has even proved himself.

I don’t know what sort of wages he is currently getting at Motherwell, but I can’t imagine that it is fantastic. Similarly, I don’t know Celtic’s salary structure, but I’m pretty sure they’ll have doubled, trebled or quadrupled his Fir Park income.

If Celtic were to break their policy for a 19 year old player what sort of message would that send to our own up and coming players? For me, ProLegal Group are playing strong arm tactics.

They know Celtic had to make this deal work because of last summers fiasco with Hibs. Celtic’s statement though is a public declaration for the fans to know their position.

Unless there is something missing from all of this, then I back the club 100%,. Yes, I think Turnbull would have been a good bit of business, but I’m glad the club are sticking to their guns.

I don’t think there is anyway back for Turnbull now. Celtic have set out their stall and for a deal to be struck now would require either Celtic to go back on their statement or for ProLegal Group to come back with their tail between his legs.

For me, the damage is already done. I can’t see the matter being resolved now.

So it looks as though the club will need to look at one of their other targets. This deal looks dead.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Transfer imminent.

The transfer window opened on Tuesday 11th June, but we’ve been hearing plenty of rumours long before the season ended. This week it seems as though Celtic are poised to confirm their first signing.

Amongst all the chatter, David Turnbull of Motherwell looks set to be Neil Lennon’s first player in the door. Previous bids are said to have been submitted and not just by Celtic, but up until now none were enough to bring the Steelmen to the table.

That now seems to have been rectified with Celtic making a more significant and successful bid for the SFWA Young Player of the Year. Having lost out on John McGinn last summer, there may have been some lessons learned by Celtic.

The Treble Treblers need to get the right players in soon and whilst Turnbull will still have to prove himself in a Hoops jersey, this could be a shrewd piece of business for all parties. It’s not every day a club like Motherwell get this kind of money for a player and for Celtic this could be a swift move that could pay off long term.

Turnbull completed his first full season in the Motherwell senior team having made his debut at 18 years of age in February 2018. He would only make another two appearances that season, but that would all change in the season that has just closed as he made 31 appearances scoring 15 goals from midfield.

There’s no doubt that has had the attention of others including Celtic long before his step up tothe first team. However, Celtic may require more experienced players to take on the challenges of European football this summer, particularly in defence.

Turnbull is young and has had just one full season under his belt, but it was a very promising one for the now 19 year old. He could provide another gear in the Celtic engine room which currently consists of Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie, Tom Rogic, Olivier Ntcham, Nir Bitton and the lesser seen Youssouf Mulumbu and Eboue Kouassi.

Celtic also have Ewan Henderson vying for a place in the team and so far has looked very good. There have been rumours of Ntcham being unhappy/wanting to leave/French clubs interested* (*delete as appropriate) and if any player was to go this summer I’d say it would be him as he’d command a fee Celtic may find hard to refuse.

Many Celtic fans have passed judgement on Ntcham based on this season alone. A season in which he was largely absent through injury.

Similarly, Tom Rogic came back from an exhausting World Cup last summer and struggled to find form. He then got injured and came back into the fold when he wasn’t even match sharp.

I’ve heard some Celtic fans saying his time is up too. I’d pour cold water on that one to be honest.

Mulumbu could be a goner as he never really hit the ground running and was loaned back to Kilmarnock in January. Kouassi has been out injured recently and his Celtic career hasn’t really kicked off either, but he is still young so it isn’t over for him just yet.

There are also links with players south of the border such as Bolton’s Luca Connell and West Brom’s Karim Harper. Again, these guys are young so what kind of impact they could have now is unclear.

Connell has played no more than 12 first team games for Bolton who have now been relegated from the Championship. Harper has made a more significant impact with 23 appearances coming predominantly in the second half of the season.

He also scored one goal and one assist and could be considered a first team option. However, today it is being reported the club may have cooled their interest with impending arrival of Turnbull.

Whether that means the same for Connell remains to be seen. Celtic certainly won’t require too much in central midfield given the array of options they already have.

Even in the wider areas Celtic have Scott Sinclair, James Forrest, Marian Shved, Mikey Johnston, Daniel Arzani, Jonny Hayes and the soon to return Lewis Morgan. So the focus must return to our defence.

At this moment in time Celtic have a backline that consists of Anthony Ralston, Kieran Tierney, Kris Ajer, Jozo Simunovic, Jack Hendry, Marvin Compper and Calvin Miller. January signings Andrew Gutman and Manny Perez should join up for preseason training, but it is yet to be confirmed if Mikael Lustig will don the Hoops again.

He and his partner have both posted hearfelt messages on social media. Many feel it is time Lustig moves on whilst others were positively weeping at his social media video of his best moments.

Whether the Swede returns or not, defence will require serious strengthening. If Filip Benkovic were to do another loan spell it’d certainly help out, but experience dictates that you need at least four central defenders to cover injuries and suspensions.

If you include Hendry and Compper in that then we’re covered. However, it remains to be seen whether they are up to the job.

Hendry made just one appearance this year as a substitute in Brendan Rodgers’ final match as Celtic manager. He made the bench for Neil Lennon’s first three games in charge against Hearts, Hibs and Aberdeen but hasn’t been in matchday squads since then.

Compper of course has been seen even less. If he isn’t worthy of a first team place then I have no idea why he is still kicking about.

I’m satisfied with Ajer and Jozo at the heart of defence, but if one gets suspended or crocked, we’re crocked. Jozo already has a history of injuries as well as his inability to play on artificial surfaces or when there’s a full moon.

Tierney needs back up and I don’t think Miller is a left back. Hayes isn’t either, despite deputising when called upon and doing a job.

Gutman is a left back and Perez is a right back, but are these guys ready to be thrown into first team action? We haven’t seen either of them yet and I’d be cautious about allowing the right back berth to go to Ralston or Perez without an experienced right back to support and guide them.

So there’s still work to be done but the transfer window hasn’t even been open a week. The sooner we get the players in we need the better and today the first could be announced.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac