Can Celtic actually beat Valencia?

On Thursday night Celtic return to the European arena. Valencia are in Glasgow for the first leg of the last 32 Europa League encounter with the Scottish Champions.

There was jubilation among Celtic fans to make this stage in Europe for the second season running. Having exited the Champions League in qualification, the Europa League was a consolation for all Celtic fans.

Celtic beat Suduva in the final qualifier to reach the group phase of the Europa League. There they were paired with Salzburg, Leipzig and familiar foes, Rosenborg.

The group stage opened at home with a 1-0 win over the Norwegian champions, but that was followed up by two straight defeats away to Salzburg (3-1) and Leipzig (2-0). Having suffered back-to-back defeats there was a huge sense of disappointment, but with two home games and one away game remaining, there remained a slender chance that Celtic could still secure second spot.

Celtic beat Leipzig 2-1 in Glasgow and beat Rosenborg 0-1 in Trondheim. Going into the final group stage match, Celtic only had to avoid defeat against the Austrian Champions.

Salzburg had already won the group and there was a hope that they might not be as ruthless in Glasgow. As it turned out they were in command for most of the game and beat Celtic on what was beginning to look like a miserable end to an up and down campaign.

Meanwhile over in Germany, Leipzig were winning 1-0 and all was looking good for them. Then Tore Reginiussen nodded home an equaliser in the 86th minute for Rosenborg, throwing Celtic a lifeline.

Fans erupted in unison at Celtic Park and behind TV screens at home and in the pubs as the news filtered through. Both ties continued to the 96th (Leipzig) and 98th (Glasgow) minute as we held our breathes.

Even an Olivier Ntcham goal from a rebounded penalty in the dying moments did little to settle the nerves. A strange night of disappointment and joy it was.

A lot was made of Celtic’s progression at the last moment. When things like that happen so late on you can understand people teams being disappointed – we’ve been there.

This wasn’t about just one game though. The group stage is about six games and how well your team do over that period.

Celtic won three and lost three. Leipzig won two, drew one and lost three.

It doesn’t matter which end of the fixture list you got your results. Just who does better overall and that was Salzburg and Celtic.

So now Celtic face another tough opponent. Salzburg were by far the best side in our group and Valencia will be no less of a challenge.

The La Liga club finished third in their Champions League group behind Juventus and Manchester United and parachuted into this round as Celtic did last year. Our work is cut out for us.

If you face an opponent that spent over £100M last summer you know this will be no easy tie. Thankfully, Celtic have recruited in January, particularly in the attacking areas.

To say we were lightweight up front during our European campaign would be an understatement. The late exit by Moussa Dembele and rotating absences of Leigh Griffiths and Odsonne Edouard did little to help our chances.

Now Celtic have more options up front even though they had to leave one of their four new players out of the UEFA squad. The rules only permit three changes and with Vakoun Bayo behind the rest in terms of preparation it made sense to leave him out.

What Celtic must hope for is having as many players as possible fit and ready for these games against Valencia. The last time the Spaniards visited Celtic Park it was a home win.

The tie went to penalties as Valencia had won the first leg 1-0 in Spain. The La Liga club progressed as Celtic lost 5-4 on spot kicks in Glasgow.

There’s no doubt that since that match in December 2001 the gulf between both clubs has increased. It is the nature of the football climate, particularly where wealth is concerned.

The odds are stacked against Celtic. They have never progressed from the last 32 of this competition whilst Valencia have never been defeated.

For Celtic, it will be a case of third time lucky. As for Valencia, they will be looking to continue in the dance m same vein.

In realistic terms, European football is a battlefield that Celtic struggle on. The club have lost ground through a combination self-inflicted wounds and a rapidly growing financial gap between the elite and the rest of European football.

There is also a factor of blame on the whole of Scottish football. Poor investment, lack of competition and abysmal horizon scanning by the people who govern our game means that we have failed to keep up.

Scotland has been overtaken by nations who at one time were way behind us. We are now way behind those countries.

Brendan Rodgers’ hasn’t had the best of European campaigns with Celtic. He began his European journey in 2016 with Celtic by losing to Gibraltarian side Lincoln Red Imps 1-0 which would be overturned in the home leg.

Tough qualifiers against Astana and Hapoel Be’er Sheva followed, but Celtic made the Champions League. It was a tough group with Manchester City, Barcelona and Borussia Monchengladbach.

Brendan presided over Celtic’s biggest ever European defeat at the hands of Barcelona when they lost 7-0 in the Camp Nou. The same season he managed two very credible draws against Manchester City but Celtic fell flat on their face after failing to win a single match and only managing three draws over all.

His second attempt at Europe was much harder. After another three grueling rounds of qualifiers, Celtic were dropped into the group of death.

PSG, Bayern Munich and Anderlecht offered Celtic a tough challenge. Despite losing five of their six games Celtic qualified for the last 32 of the Europa League by winning one match.

It came down to a head-to-head with Anderlecht. Celtic won 0-3 in Belgium, Anderlecht won 0-1 in Scotland putting Celtic through despite losing the game on matchday six to the Belgian club.

It was progress in its leanest form as Celtic remained in Europe beyond Christmas. There they faced Zenit St Petersburg and got off to a good start with a 1-0 win in Glasgow.

However, it was a different story in Russia as Roberto Mancini’s side wiped the floor with Celtic. 0-3 in Russia was the end of Celtic’s European adventure.

Which brings us roundly to this season. What can Celtic do to change their fortunes this time?

Is it possible for Brendan to get a result against a team sitting 8th in La Liga? 8th in that league is better than first in many leagues including our own.

This is Brendan’s third season at Celtic. The club is still in Europe by whichever means.

Under Martin O’Neill in his third season at Celtic, the club went all the way to the UEFA Cup Final, the trophy’s former title. Is it at all likely that Brendan can overcome greater odds and do what Martin did in this third term?

I doubt many people would give us a chance and yet it often takes this amount of time to build something. Occasionally, such things can occur out of disappointment or misfortune.

Am I confident that Celtic can beat a team of Valencia’s stature? No, not unless we cut out mistakes and deploy the right team.

When I think back to 2003, I never thought Celtic would overcome Blackburn Rovers, Celta Vigo, Stuttgart, Liverpool and Boavista. None of those matches were foregone conclusions and yet Celtic had solid team.

What I do feel more confident about are our player options. Timo Weah, Oliver Burke and Jeremy Toljan have all come in and looked superb.

These positions are now looking stronger. We still have injuries to manage, but we have a better chance at these ties now than we did pre-recruitment.

What remains to be done are deploying the right tactics. Brendan has shot himself in the foot in Europe on several occasions, but he also knows how to change things.

This is a real test for the players and the coaching team. The challenge is huge and we must have realistic expectations but they have the full backing of the fans as ever.

All we can do is support them in the stands and behind the TV screens. The rest is up to Brendan and the Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Positive window for Celtic as they look toward more domestic success

So Celtic stored up all their good news until transfer deadline day. With many rumours over the last few weeks, the club followed up their early January activity with further deals announced on the final day of the transfer window.

Maryan Shved, Andrew Gutman and Manny Perez (I already like him for his name) have all signed permanent deals, but have gone back out on loan until the summer. Another incoming loan deal was secured as Jeremy Toljan was drafted in from Borussia Dortmund until the summer.

He hasn’t played first team football this season, having only appeared on the bench twice for the Bundesliga side. However, Celtic needed backup at left and right back and he can play both.

It would seem though that he is unlikely to be at Celtic beyond the summer so he is not a long term replacement. I don’t see him displacing Mikael Lustig either.

Brendan has stuck by the Swede even when he’s had awful performances. So much so, he hasn’t even replaced him with Cristian Gamboa or Anthony Ralston unless absolutely necessary.

It’ll be interesting to see how much game time Toljan actually gets and in which position. With Emilio Izaguirre the only fit left back, he may even play there.

Earlier in the week, Celtic had announced that youngster Ewan Henderson had penned a new deal. The younger brother of former Celt, Liam, will hope to force himself into a busy midfield.

Speaking of midfielders signing new deals, Scott Brown put an end to speculation in his future by signing on for another two years. It’s likely to be his final professional contract at Celtic.

By the time hia contract expires he’ll be a month from turning 36 years old. That could mean a player-coach/coaching role at Celtic or somewhere else.

Many felt it was time for Broony to move on, but he is such a huge character on the field, in the dressing room and among the support. The club will not find it easy to find a player with those qualities.

Celtic moved a couple of existing players out on loan until the summer as well. Lewis Morgan joined up with his former manager Jack Ross at League One side Sunderland.

The youngster needs game time badly and I thought he’d get a chance this season. Though he’s managed just one starting eleven place in thirteen appearances.

Competition is fierce in the midfield and Youssouf Mulumbu has also found himself out on loan. Having made two starts in three appearances he is back at former club Kilmarnock until the summer as Steve Clarke side aims to get the club’s highest league finish since the 1960’s.

Also down Ayrshire way is Calvin Miller. After spending the first half of the season on loan at Dundee, he will now be looking to add to his sixteen games and one goal achieved in Tayside by making an impact at Ayr United.

Not going anywhere is former Dundee defender, Jack Hendry. He looked all set for a loan spell having not imposed himself in the Celtic defence since he joined in January 2018.

With injuries to Filip Benkovic and Dedryck Boyata, Brendan is a bit short of options at centre half. Kris Ajer and Jozo Simunovic are his current best choice, but if one gets crocked he’ll need Hendry.

In a strange twist of fate, this could be a good opportunity for the 23 year old. Many fans don’t think he’s good enough so perhaps he’ll get the chance to prove them wrong.

Scott Allan will remain at the club until the summer as well. Despite having signed a pre-contract with Hibs, it was rumoured they tried to bring him in early, but for one reason or another a deal was not struck so he’ll do what he’s done for most of his Celtic career and watch from the sidelines.

I had hoped Celtic would offload Marvin Compper, but he’s still lurking around somewhere. I don’t even know if he still trains with the first team, but he may yet be of some assistance by helping hus fellow German settle in.

Toljan was a youth player at Hoffenheim when Compper was playing in the first team. Compper would later move to Fiorentina with Toljan moving into the first team six months later.

So perhaps there is a role for Compper after all. Just maybe not on the park.

All in all this has been a positive window for Celtic. The squad has been freshened up to keep the green flag flying high.

Next up is Celtic’s first away game of the year. St Johnstone entertain the Hoops at McDiarmid Park for the lunchtime league tie this Sunday.

Brendan Rodgers can expect another stubborn performance from Tommy Wright’s team. Some tweaking was required during Wednesday night’s encounter with the Saints to get the eventual 2-0 win at Celtic Park.

The Perthshire side will feel more comfortable at home, but Celtic will want to maintain their winning streak of 2019. With new faces to bed in and players coming back into contention it is a competitive time within the squad.

That can only be good news for Brendan. Role on Sunday.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic face St Johnstone with one eye on the transfer window

This evening Celtic entertain St Johnstone at Celtic Park in their final match of the month. It has been a perfect start to 2019 so far for Brendan Rodgers’ side having scored ten goals and conceded zero in the three games played.

On paper, it has also been a relatively straightforward list of home fixtures with Celtic playing two of the bottom three clubs in the Premiership and a mid-table League One side in the Scottish Cup. Tonight though they’ll get a more realistic challenge from St Johnstone.

Tommy Wright’s side are generally always up for it against Celtic whether it is Glasgow or Perth. The Saints lie in 6th place in the Premiership eleven points off top spot and they’ve managed to overtake early pace setters Hibernian and Livingston.

After Derek McInnes, Wright is the longest-serving manager in the Scottish Premiership. And even then, their tenures are separated by just a couple of months.

Surviving in the top flight under the same management shows a level of consistency. Battling the best teams in the league and getting a result shows something more.

In twenty-one meetings, Tommy Wright has lost fifteen times to Celtic since he took charge of St Johnstone. Four were draws and twice he has won, the last victory being recorded in May 2016 in the final days of Ronny Deila.

St Johnstone can boast an impressive away record in the league this season though. That said, they will be facing a Celtic side who are unbeaten at home in the league since May 13th 2018, Celtic’s last home game of the season.

That was to Aberdeen, but Brendan Rodgers remains undefeated to St Johnstone. Few Scottish clubs have put one over Brendan since he took charge nearly the years ago – five teams and eight defeats to be exact.

This evening, he will be looking to continue Celtic’s domestic winning run at home this season, and finish off the month without conceding a goal. There will be tougher games ahead and tonight will be a step up from the last three fixtures.

Celtic have added to the squad in January and there is still an opportunity to add more before the window closes. With a batch of players already out of contention, the last thing Brendan Rodgers needed was another injury, but that is just what he got.

We await confirmation on the Filip Benkovic injury, with his setback adding to the number of players already on the sidelines. The question is, will this spark the club into drafting in more players before the window closes?

With Benkovic joining Dedryck Boyata on the treatment table, Brendan will have to decide whether he is happy to proceed with Kris Ajer, Jozo Simunovic and Jack Hendry. Hendry was rumoured to be going out on loan, whilst Simunovic is notoriously injury prone, leaving Ajer as the only steady option we’ve seen of late.

Nir Bitton has recently returned to the midfield after a long-term layoff, but he himself has taken a step back under Brendan to play at centre half many a time. Is that the solution though?

Well, we’ll have to see. You certainly can’t imagine Marvin Compper is going to suddenly grace us with his presence.

So despite my initial feeling that Maryan Shved would be the only other player to arrive at Celtic in this window, with that not yet being confirmed either, it could get very busy in the next 48 hours. I’m sure Jim White and SSN will be right on top of things.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

January jigsaw almost complete.

Hindered by a cycling injury, I’ve struggled to type for the past few weeks. I did manage to fire off a piece on Celtic’s historical January transfer dealings which I’d been putting together before I ate the tarmac, but now we’re back in the throws of domestic football again and I’m on the mend.

So where to start? Well the transfer window is open for a few more days and it looks as though we’ll be adding one more player before it closes.

Brendan has stated that he is happy with his current squad despite this latest “target.” Maryan Shved is the expected final piece of transfer activity though not earmarked as an immediate squad member.

The manager’s comments to the media about not needing another winger had caused Celtic fans and the media to speculate further on Brendan Rodgers’ role. Whichever circumstances have brought the Ukrainian winger to Celtic’s attention, Brendan doesn’t appear to see the player as an immediate priority.

His comments could’ve been taken out of context, but it left many of us wondering about two things. How much control Brendan has over transfers and are there still relationship issues behind the scenes?

Shved doesn’t look like a bad player on paper, but as the manager said, he’s not short of wingers. So why bring a player for a position when it isn’t a priority?

He appears to have been offered to the club and the “club” appear interested. Brendan didn’t share the same enthusiasm whilst briefly admitting that come the summer the landscape may have changed.

So are deals being done without his approval? There have already been one or two deals that had us in that frame of mind previously.

We all hoped for a defender or two but it’s clear that will not be addressed until the summer. Andrew Gutman coming in on trial has been the only activity in that area.

Even then, no deal has been done as yet. This kind of delay added to this season’s speculation that Brendan might be for the off.

I do think they’re are issues behind the scenes because Brendan has been pretty vocal for the past 12 months. Personally, I don’t think he’s for walking away despite his frustrations.

Only a substantial offer elsewhere would tempt him. That would test the board’s resolve and how much they actually value their head coach.

However, we’re not there at the moment. It still raises the same unanswered questions over player transfers though.

Right now we’re back playing football again and with some fresh blood. Vakoun Bayo has just had his permit clearance verified though still to play and we’re all keen to see him in action.

Meantime, Oliver Burke and Timo Weah have been stealing the headlines. Both players have opened their accounts with two goals in their opening two games.

Another player making an impact lately is Scott Sinclair. He’s never repeated his first season form, regardless of what the stats say, but he’s been looking very much like his old self.

In the three games played in January so far, he has shown the kind of hunger not seen since his debut season. That negative body language appears to have been shrugged off and for good we hope.

Denied a legitimate hatrick against Airdrie, he was electric against St Mirren four days later and made it three goals in two games. He made it four goals in three games after the victory over Hamilton when he converted a penalty.

Celtic’s final match of January is at home to St Johnstone on Wednesday. A win would be a perfect start to the year for Brendan Rodgers.

It’s been a fairly easy going restart, but Tommy Wright’s side will provide a tougher test. The Saints tend to raise their game against Celtic and they’ll have not one, but two chances do so in the space of five days.

The first match is of course Celtic’s long awaited game at hand. Victory would put the Hoops six points clear at the top with all teams having played 23 matches.

This could be the chance for Celtic to pull away after a tough slog. The signs are positive despite a few current personnel setbacks.

Absences of varying kinds mean we are without Dedryck Boyata, Kieran Tierney, Leigh Griffiths, Tom Rogic, Odsonne Edouard and Tony Ralston. The team will battle on though and our additional attacking players will help Celtic on the front foot as we look for another treble.

Whilst we’ve all been harping on about our unsettled and soon-to-be out-of-contract defence, it’s easy to miss to that in attack we’ve been very lightweight this season. Lack of attacking options has put pressure on our defence, midfield and the players that have had to shoulder the responsibility.

We all question the effectiveness of our defence at times, but we’ve not exactly been doing it well enough in the final third either. Hopefully, with Weah, Burke and Bayo weighing in, the pressure will be off everyone.

Burke and Weah already look like good loans. If they keep up their form we may even see them beyond the summer.

Celtic now have the firepower they’ve lacked for some time now. It could make a significant difference as we march towards May.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The January Transfer Window – a history of Celtic’s winter acquisitions.

The transfer windows brought an end to football clubs strengthening whenever it suited. Despite some opposition to it, the windows have remained in place for over fifteen years.

When the market is open there is limited time to do business, but there also are some exceptions. Some rules, allow players without a club to join a club between windows or emergency situations such as when a club has a goalkeeping crisis.

With January being the half way point for many European leagues it can be a crucial time to bed in players for the following season or assist you in your final assault of the current campaign. Here we look at some of Celtic’s January acquisitions since the transfer window was implemented in season 2002/2003.

January 2003

Martin O’Neill was the first Celtic manager to utilise the transfer windows imposed by FIFA. In January 2003 he had a goalkeeping problem with the unreliable availability of Rab Douglas and Magnus Hedman.

With a UEFA Cup campaign in full swing he drafted in Javier Sanchez Broto on loan until the end of the season from Livingston. The Spaniard provided much needed and very able backup, starting nine matches, but he returned to his homeland after both parties failed to agree terms.

In the same window Stanislav Varga came in on a free transfer from Sunderland. O’Neill was fond of imposing, goal scoring centre halves.

In the Slovakian international Varga he got just that. We wouldn’t see the best of that until the following seasons.

January 2004

Stephen Pearson was an up-and-coming prospect at Motherwell and Martin O’Neill wanted him on board. £350K was shelled out for the midfielder and had decent potential, but his career was always blighted by injury and inconsistent form with very few moments to marvel at.

O’Neill also brought in goalkeeper Dejan Milosevic from Perth Glory. He never played for the club and soon found himself back in Australia within a year.

January 2005

With the departure of Henrik Larsson in the summer of 2004, Celtic were going to find it hard to fill the Swede’s boots sufficiently. Martin O’Neill brought in Henri Camara on loan from Wolves only to have his year long loan terminated in January 2005.

Back to square one, O’Neill now had to find another replacement. Fortunately, Craig Bellamy was having a torrid time at Newcastle and Celtic took the player on loan until the end of the season.

He was an instant hit and it looked as though we’d found a suitable long term replacement for Henrik. The romance would not continue beyond that season though despite both parties recognising how good they were for each other.

Stephane Henchoz also came in during that window as defensive cover. He was a relatively risk free, free transfer, but Celtic did not renew their interest in Henchoz either, particularly with O’Neill departing in the summer.

January 2006

In the summer of 2005 Gordon Strachan replaced Martin O’Neill and presided over one of the largest clear outs at Celtic Park. Around ten first team players left that summer followed by a further four in January 2006.

Strachan had recruited a similar amount though on less wages. In January of that first season in charge, he recruited Mark Wilson for £500K from Dundee United.

Despite an injury laced beginning, he would find more regular game time the seasons ahead. He was an able right back who wore the jersey with a lot of pride.

Wilson’s arrival was overshadowed by the arrival of Dion Dublin and Roy Keane who had both arrived on free transfers. Both players were in the advent of their careers, but Strachan needed dressing room individuals in his side with so many influential players from the Martin O’Neill era having left.

Personally, I didn’t really think Keane was a necessary move for Celtic. The league was looking good for us without his services, but it was all too tempting for Dermot Desmond to have him at Celtic.

Neither Dublin or Keane would remain at the club beyond the end of that season. It was a brief encounter which I’m sure Celtic benefited from financially, if nothing else.

January 2007

Toward the end of 2006, Hearts’ then owner, Vladimir Romanov, had a player revolt on his hands. A few players, dubbed the Riccarton Three, took a press conference and confirmed the unrest in the dressing room.

It was effectively the end of those players’ careers at Tynecastle with Celtic benefiting of from the services of two of them. Paul Hartley joined for just over £1M and Steven Pressley had his contract terminated as ring leader and came on free transfer.

Both players were a key part of the Tynecastle crew and would now bring that experience to Celtic. They would also be joined by Jean-Joel Perrier-Doumbe on loan and Mark Brown on a free transfer.

All of these signings were necessary for Strachan as he off loaded the remainder of Martin O’Neill’s highly paid stars. The Scotsman was creating a team of his own now.

January 2008

Andreas Hinkel, Barry Robson, Ben Hutchison, Georgios Samaras and Koki Mizuno joined the growing ranks at Celtic. We know the winners and losers from that bunch, but this was a busy January for Celtic.

January 2009

In season 2008/2009, there was a dip in Celtic’s transfer dealings and was beginning to show within the team performances as well. Having won three titles on the bounce, Strachan had spent the last of the big cash in the summer.

Come January he was only able to recruit Milan Misun, Willo Flood, Niall McGinn and Dominic Cervi. The quality of previous January windows wasn’t quite there and the writing was on the wall for Gordon Strachan.

January 2010

With a new manager the helm, another season of huge comings and goings was under way. New manager Tony Mowbray was offloading a lot of players from the Strachan era.

This took place in the summer and winter transfer windows. However, it was perhaps the winter window that was the most active.

There was a mass exodus of players on loan and permanent deals particulary south of the border to Middlesborough. Mowbray was losing credibility among the support and fresh blood was needed.

He brought in Ki Sung- yueng, Jos Hooiveld, Morten Rasmussen, Thomas Rogne, Diomansy Kamara, Edson Braafheid and Paul Slane. There was also the significant signature of Robbie Keane on loan who would be the second Keane of Republican fame to sell shirts and put bums on seats for Celtic in the space of four years.

It was a deeply troubling time for Celtic whose investment in Mowbray was not bearing fruit. This window was a last roll of the dice, but within two months of the window closing, Mowbray was sacked.

January 2011

With the departure of Mowbray in March 2010, Celtic coach Neil Lennon took over on a temporary basis. By the end of that season, he was the only permanent choice for the job.

He recruited heavily in that summer as well as selling off a number of players to fund those moves. By the time January arrived he would only add two players to his squad.

Kris Commons and Freddie Ljungberg joined the ranks as Lennon tried to mount a challenge on Rangers. Commons was an instant hit, but Ljungberg failed to make a significant impact.

Prior to that, Lennon had procured the services of Olivier Kapo between both windows as he was without a club and even played a couple of games. However, he was gone by the time the window opened in January due to a contact dispute.

January 2012

After a relatively busy summer window, Lennon added four more players to his ranks in January 2012. Andre Blackman arrivsd prior to the window opening as he was without a club.

When the window did open Lennon added striker Pawel Brozek on loan, Ibrahim Rabiu as a young prospect and Mikael Lustig as an experienced international defender. It was far from a memorable window, but there was a shift in power in Scottish football and Lennon’s team was beginning to take shape.

January 2013

The summer window of 2012 was not as frivolous as previous summer windows for Neil Lennon. The winter window would not be much different either.

Despite winning the league the previous season and now qualifying for the last sixteen of the Champions League, only three players came on board in January. Rami Gershon and Viktor Noring arrived on loan whilst an unknown Australian talent in the form of Tom Rogic joined for less than £500K.

January 2014

In the summer of 2013 Lennon had brought on board half a dozen new recruits. Come January he would bring in three more signings.

Leigh Griffiths and Stefan Johansen would both make an immediate impact whilst youngster Holmbert Fridjonsson would never feature in the first team. This would be Lennon’s final transfer window before leaving the club in the summer.

January 2015

After taking over in 2014, Ronny Deila began a new era for Celtic. Not just on the park, but in areas such as diet and training as well.

It was going against the grain at Celtic, but a necessary step to meet modern football standards. To help make that happen, seven players were brought in, mainly on loan, whilst almost double that amount went out on loan or permanently.

Come January, Deila drafted in Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven from Dundee United. Mackay-Steven had the better start, but eventually Armstrong would become a star for the club, albeit briefly under different management.

January 2016

It was a busy summer for Celtic in 2015 as many players came and went. That trend continued with the acquisition of Carlton Cole in October 2015 who was without a club.

Come January, the club fattened up the ranks further with Erik Sviatchenko, Colin Kazim-Richards and Patrick Roberts. Neither Cole nor Kazim-Richards were worthy of the Hoops jersey, but they did find the net at least once in the limited game time they had.

Sviatchenko and Roberts were instant hits in the team and with the fans. Sadly, neither player are part of the current side despite their popularity.

January 2017

In the summer of 2016, Ronny Deila parted company with the club. After losing a penalty shoot out to Championship club, Rangers, the writing was on the wall for the likeable Norwegian coach.

Celtic appointed Brendan Rodgers who set about assessing the rather large squad he had inherited from the Lennon and Deila eras. He continued with the fitness regime Deila had try to implement but without the resistance his predecessor had received from the dressing room.

Half a dozen players joines that summer with a similar number departing. By the the time January had come Rodgers still had a large squad that was doing well.

So he recruited just one player in the shape of Eboue Kouassi. The Ivorian has never seen a run in the team, but this window was probably more active with Celtic players going out on loan.

January 2018

After a record breaking debut season, Rodgers began offloading some of the squad who were surplus to requirements. In turn, he freshened up the ranks with a few new faces.

As January approached, the revolving door was in operation with more players going out on loan. Rodgers also recruited Charly Musonda on loan from Chelsea, Jack Hendry and Marvin Compper came in to bolster the defence, Lewis Morgan arrived as a prospect from St Mirren and Scott Bain arrived on loan to help out in the summer goalkeeping department.

Despite this being amount of business for Rodgers, the return was less than expected. Musonda, despite providing an assist in a crucial win over Zenit St Petersburg, would find himself with limited appearances and his loan cancelled by the summer.

To date, Hendry has yet to hit the ground running at the club, Compper has played one forgettable game, Morgan was loaned back to St Mirren for six months and yet to be given a proper chance this season and Bain plays second fiddle to Craig Gordon.

And that brings us to January 2019 and the current season. The once inflated ranks of the Lennon and Deila era had been reduced significantly by last summer.

Half a dozen players were acquired in the summer with around the same heading out, but it was a far from satisfactory window for Celtic. With injuries, form and other omissions on the horizon, January 2019 was always going to be one of the most important for Brendan Rodgers.

Defence has been on the minds of most if not all of us for a while now, but it seems to be the opposite for the manager. He stated to the press that he didn’t believe he would strengthen central defence until the summer by which time of course we’ll be without Deryck Boyata and Filip Benkovic.

He hasn’t said as much with regards to the full back position and with Mikael Lustig, Cristian Gamboa and Emilio Izaguirre also gone in the summer we have a similar problem in that area. Given how slowly Celtic move in the transfer market and how early our competitive season begins thess days, doesn’t fill fans with confidence.

Celtic have enforced attacking options which to be fair has been underhanded all season. Odsonne Edouard has shouldered the responsibility thanks to the eleventh hour departure of Moussa Dembele in the summer and subsequent injuries and short term absence of Leigh Griffiths.

Brendan has also stated that business has not ceased for the club in this window yet, but for which positions is anyone’s guess. We’ve all read the rumours though we are none the wiser.

There are just under two weeks left of this window and we welcome Timothy Weah and Oliver Burke on loan whilst Vakoun Bayo joins on a permanent deal. Let’s see what else the club can do before the end of the month.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Media favour our rivals, but Celtic have more muscle in the market

As the winter break descended upon the Scottish Premiership, we were surrounded by positive headlines about our friends over at Ibrox. It was clear that a few people had gotten a little bit moist with the victory over Celtic.

Not only were the SMSM revelling in this first ever victory over Celtic. They followed that up, gushing with excitement, at the imminent signings of 34 and 36 year old players.

I’m not going to judge a player by their age. Celtic signed arguably one of their most gifted players in history at the tender age of 33.

The press weren’t particularly complimentary about that transfer. We also have our own batch of thirtysomething players currently playing their part in the squad.

That said, the drivel unleashed about Jermaine Defoe and Steven Davis has been nauseating. I actually think both players will do well at Ibrox, but let’s just put things in perspective.

This flock of praise for Steven Gerrard and the Ibrox club is good for them. I can see why a club, almost 7 years after their reincarnation, would be so excited by the signatures of two international Premier League players.

In particular, it’s big deal for their fans to see an old favourite return to Ibrox. The irony being he turned his back on them in 2012 when the 1872 club went to the wall, like most of the rats did on that sinking ship.

So I’ve acknowledged it’s good for Rangers. However, are we seriously making comparisons with Celtic?

SMSM will stop at nothing to make every single move a pissing contest. I mean give me a break. To suggest that Rangers have won some kind of battle in the transfer market (or title race hopes for that matter) is totally absurd and irrelevant.

The imbalanced and conveniently timed stories is typical of media bias in Scotland. Defoe and Davis officially joined long after the stories were released, a sense that neither the club nor the media could contain themselves and just wanted to get the stories out pronto.

It’s one upsmanship. Even Chris Sutton bought into it stating that the Ibrox signings made them favourites for the title.

Now I know Sutton likes to exercise his gob and is even occasionally right. Equally, he can be completely outlandish.

He made some comment that if it’d been Defoe to Celtic we’d have been erecting statues outside Celtic Park. Don’t get me wrong, I think Defoe is talented and still capable of doing a job.

If he was on Celtic’s radar I would have taken him. As a short term fix he could have been a good move in the absence of Leigh Griffiths but he wasn’t on our radar.

To suggest Celtic would be erecting statues of the English international is verbal diahorrea by Sutton. It’s a flippant comment by a guy who should know better, having been idolised as a player himself a by the entire Celtic support.

Even he knows you have to prove yourself to be worthy in the eyes of the our fans. Defoe has yet to prove himself in Scotland, so don’t get ahead of yourself, Chris.

Sutton has also been critical of the players Celtic have signed so far this month. It’s clear he wanted marquee transfers, but three players bursting with potential aged between 18 and 22 isn’t enough for the pundit it seems.

And yet, it’s good business so far for Celtic. We are hoping for more arrivals in the other areas of concern and Brendan Rodgers has underlined that intent.

It seems that Sutton has gotten caught up in the media circus that got a little bit excited at the prospect a title race. The fact is Celtic have been every bit as proactive in this window as their rivals and we are still doing business.

We can most likely expect a couple more signatures. Defensive recruitment is currently open.

There will be some departures on loan or on a permanent basis too. There’s been a number of stories about Lewis Morgan and Jack Hendry (both signed 12 months ago) going out for much needed game time.

Apparently being added to that list is Youssouf Mulumbu. He looked like a decent backup option last summer, but hasn’t made an impact.

Could he end up at Kilmarnock? Not a bad move for all parties.

No word on whether Marvin Compper will head off. He’s clearly never going to play for Celtic again unless the plague hits our back line.

Even then, it’s more likely that the returning Nir Bitton would get a game at centre half before the German. That tells you all you need to know.

And it may well come to that if Dedryck Boyata left in this window. There hasn’t been anything new about a proposed move in January, but he will most definitely leave for free at the end of the season along with a few other defenders.

So it is crucial Celtic get those positions filled now. That appears to be in the process, but we’ll need to see what comes to fruition in the next couple of weeks.

If Celtic get some defensive deals done it will be a good window over all. Let’s see how that pans out.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic Surgery – Burke the first of many?

Having lost their final game of 2018 in such deplorable style, the January transfer window could not have arrived at a better time for Celtic. The challenge this season has been more realistic than any other in recent years because there has actually been one.

Many have dismissed the suggestion of a title race, some have said it is of Celtic’s own making. Both of those statements have their own degree of validity.

We’ve always been happy to use the phrase “title race” when you know you have two or more genuine challengers. Celtic and Rangers were always in the title race by default, but since the 1872 club’s demise, it has really just been about Celtic.

Even when Ronny Deila took charge, the title was pretty much always going to be Celtic’s. Aberdeen made some headway to interrupt that, but Celtic always came through.

This season has been a somewhat different story because Celtic had a shambolic summer transfer window, some want away rebels in the dressing room, a manager making statements to the press which had many of us wondering if he was still happy at the club and of course exiting the Champions League. What followed was a poor start to the domestic campaign which had only begun improve as we got nearer the end of the year.

Now you can agree with those that think this is of Celtic’s own making yet these are the kind of factors that can affect a title race. When Rangers 1872 were going for ten-in-a-row, their team was ageing and certain individuals were set to leave at the end of that season, including their manager.

Some of that, I would argue, helped Celtic win the title that season. Yes, we had drafted in some better talent and were looking good, but it went down to the wire.

I don’t agree with Archie Knox’s sentiments that Celtic are about to do the same as Rangers did in 1998. We have it within our means to ensure it doesn’t happen – they didnt’.

Rangers 2012, for all their faults, have put together a team who are playing as consistent as any other club in the top flight. We can pick holes in their stats just as we can in any other club in the Scottish Premiership, but the fact is they are where they are on merit just like Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Hearts etc.

It doesn’t matter how a title race happens, you simply have one based upon the circumstances that occur. Celtic have struggled this season and the signs were already apparent last season.

Yet despite all of that, the club weren’t proactive enough. This season we have a smaller squad hindered further by absentees and the poor form of key players.

Celtic still have a game at hand and currently sit in 1st place with the same points as Rangers, but with a slightly better goal difference. At the same stage last season, Celtic were nine points ahead of Aberdeen (2nd) and eleven points ahead of Rangers (3rd).

That was pretty much how last season ended too with Aberdeen finishing nine points behind in 2nd place and that gap on 3rd placed Rangers widening slightly to twelve points. So how can you not say it is a title race this season?

Isn’t that what we want anyway? Celtic may have dropped the ball, but it doesn’t change the fact teams are breathing down our neck.

And there is more than just Rangers to think about. Everything but the kitchen sink is being thrown at Celtic right now in order to halt their domination.

Be it any of the other top six teams, match officials or dirty tricks on and off the park, Celtic have to show why they are Champions. And by doing that Brendan will have to reassemble his troops, get some backing from the board and come out fighting after the winter break.

The threat is real and Celtic have not strengthened from a position of strength. Not for the first time in our history either.

It has been reassuring that many of our key players have signed new deals this year but the fact is Brendan Rodgers has recycled this team about as much as he can. We need new blood now.

Today, the club have drafted in Oliver Burke on loan from West Brom. Other attacking players have been targeted, but this one is curious.

Burke is only 21 years old, capped five times as a full Scottish international and now made his fifth professional club move, this being his second loan spell. Having started out at Nottingham Forrest and a brief loan period at Bradford, he caught the eye of up-and-coming RB Leipzig who paid a lot of money for him.

After a year in the Bundesliga, West Brom decided to pay even more money for his services. He hasn’t played a lot of football this season so this will be a chance for him to prove himself.

His preferred role is as a right-winger, but he can also play on the left and as a forward. I’m guessing that it is his physicality that is of interest to Brendan Rodgers.

At 6 ft 2 inches he is not small so I wouldn’t be surprised if the manager plans to use him as a forward. I’m sure he’ll be a welcome addition to the team for the remainder of the season.

There will be further signatures in this window in the attacking department by the sounds of it, but Celtic must sort out their defence. They currently have twelve first team defenders, five of which are out of contract in the summer.

Of the seven that remain, one will never be seen in the first team again (Marvin Compper), one is out on loan currently and not a defender in my opinion (Calvin Miller) and one has taken on the Gary Gillespie role (Jozo Simunovic). That leaves the Brat Pack of Anthony Ralston, Jack Hendry, Kris Ajer and Kieran Tierney.

Now the latter four could end up forging a long-term partnership in the Celtic defence, but we lack depth and experience in this area right now. It is a huge area of concern for us, particularly in Europe.

Our midfield is actually not doing too badly so long as it is set up correctly. We lost this battle at Ibrox with the best set up not being utilised.

I don’t expect any midfielders to come in during this window, but I do expect defensive improvement as well as in attack. Let’s hope Oliver Burke is the first of many faces in January.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac