Up in the air…

The transfer window is now shut thankfully! And with it, any player speculation for the remainder of the current season.

Nothing major or unexpected has occurred in January. With Eboue Kouassi the only player drafted in by Celtic, I was more pleased to see some players heading out.

Eoghan O’Connell (Walsall), Jamie McCart (Inverness), Theo Archibald (Albion Rovers), Joe Thomson (Queen of the South), Ryan Christie (Aberdeen), Aidan McIlduf (Queens Park), Kristofer Ajer (Kilmarnock) and Leonardo Fasan (Port Vale) have all gone out on loan until the end of the season. Aidan Nesbitt (Morton) has extended his loan spell, whilst Saidy Janko (Barnsley), Paul McMullan (Dunfermline) Colin McCabe (Stenhousemuir) and Jamie Lindsay (Morton) continue their season long loans.

Moving on is Irish youngster, Michael Duffy who has returned to Ireland to play for Dundalk. For those with Celtic contracts ending in the summer, it is almost certainly the end of their careers at the club as well.

Not going out on loan spells are Kris Commons, Nadir Ciftci or Efe Ambrose…or is he? Commons will leave in the summer when his contract expires and Ciftci still has two-and-a-half years left to run on his deal but he is almost certain to have that cancelled if he fails to find a suitor.

For Efe it looked as though the transfer window had slammed shut on his fingers. Apparently the deal is not yet dead though so we may be bidding farewell to him before the summer.

Even then, I’m sure the club will be sweeping up Efe’s debris long after he’s gone. He’ll be haunting people in the corridors of Celtic Park for years to come!

Slowly, but surely the squad size will be coming down because. This needed to happen, but in turn the quality needs to remain high.

With Moussa Dembele and Craig Gordon linked with Chelsea in the window, it was reassuring to hear they were both staying put. There’s nothing to say that, that might change in the summer, but for now they are both still Celtic players.

The lure of London, the Premier League, Antonio Conte’s aftershave and a lot of Sky Sports money must be hard to ignore. On planet Celtic though there is a treble at stake and dare I say it a chance to go the whole season unbeaten?

Something special is happening at Celtic right now. We’ve seen that in almost every game this season so far.

You’d be a fool not to want to be part of it if you are being given the chance. There are some who don’t feature in the long-term plans though.

For many of the squad, the season is just beginning as they earn their first minutes on the park under Rodgers. The pack will become tighter as the squad downsizes.

We’re not losing quality, just quantity. Some guys will come back and have another crack, some will remain gone forever.

The key thing here is that Rodgers has run the rule over this squad. He’s been patient, given many a chance and remained even-handed with his fitness policy.

He made it clear that Leigh Griffiths, although a talented player, isn’t doing it right in other areas to be considered his first choice striker. I get Brendan’s stance on this and we saw something similar with Ronny Deila, though it failed to obtain respect and support from some of the dressing room and supporters.

Deila imposed a similar regime of health, fitness and lifestyle but his tactics and squad selection would be his undoing. Most of the current squad endured that but it ironically has paved the way for Brendan Rodgers.

Griffiths was one of those players, Commons was another. Only one of them still has a shot at a Celtic career.

I feel for both guys having both served the club so well. It is obvious though that under modern management at a club like Celtic it is becoming a club standard to shape up or be shipped out.

Leigh has a chance and he did seem to take Deila’s advice, eventually earning his place after being out of the picture. Under Rodgers the bar has gone up again though.

Whatever Leigh isn’t doing right he needs to change. He is a fine player who has already shown what he can do on a Tunnock’s diet.

I hope he continues to work hard and demonstrates his willingness to comply. If he does he’ll be unstoppable and Rodgers will have a pleasant headache.

Right now though it seems to be Dembele all the way. Until the summer at least.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A busy transfer window, not a miserly transfer window

I’m not going to beat about the bush. This Bhoy is satisfied with the transfer activity carried out by Celtic this summer.

Many of you will no doubt disagree with me on that,  judging by some of the reaction I’ve read elsewhere on the web. The lack of an apparent marquee signing or a creative midfielder appear to be the main reasons.

With a squad the size Brendan Rodgers has, there are still plenty of opportunities for existing players to prove themselves under his guidance. The manager has already made a huge difference upon his arrival.

Celtic have offloaded nine players with a further ten out on loan. At the same time, they have drafted in six players and renewed the contracts of two.

If that isn’t a busy window, then I don’t know what is. Come the January transfer window, I would expect to see further moves in and out of Celtic Park as well.

Celtic are already showing signs of great improvement on the field of play and that is without a fully fit squad. Now with the transfer window shut, we know who will be available to Brendan Rodgers until the end of the year at least.

The addition and impact of Scott Sinclair and Kolo Toure has been very influential and I would argue that they have marquee signings for Rodgers. New contracts for Tom Rogic and James Forrest has breathed new life into their careers at the club and on the field of play.

Moussa Dembele continues to settle in and has also made a steady impact. Cristian Gamboa’s was an unexpected purchase but with Saidy Janko now out on loan, it appears this was an area Brendan Rodgers was not happy with.

The departure of Stefan Johansen and the loaning of Scott Allan has helped the midfield in that there will be more opportunities for others. Ryan Christie, Liam Henderson and Kristoffer Ajer will be seeking to displace Scott Brown, Nir Bitton, Callum McGregor, and Tom Rogic.

There is also Stuart Armstrong and Kris Commons to consider as well. With the amount of games Celtic are set to play, I expect many will get an opportunity even if they have to be patient.

At the back, it would have been good to see the back of Efe Ambrose but he has stood firm and remains. I can’t see him getting in the team with Kolo Toure and Erik Sviatchenko as key players.

Also fighting for a place will be Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic. The jury is still out on Boyata for me but the failed transfer of Simunovic to Torino is a positive.

Having been hampered by injury, the Croatian defender has rarely had time to make a go of things and I was stunned Celtic were trying to move him on. I think this might be a twist of fate for Celtic as he will push Toure and Sviatchenko all the way.

Mikael Lustig has the benefit of being able to play right back or centre half so he is one of our more fortunate defenders. Kieran Tierney doesn’t look as comfortable in a back three as Lustig but will be a key player on the left side of defence regardless.

Sparring for that role will be Emilio Izaguirre though he is more like Gamboa as a wing back than a defender. The one player I was sad to see sign on elsewhere was Charlie Mulgrew.

Although he was still training at the club, he hasn’t been shy of injuries in recent times. Mulgrew’s versatility is one of his greatest assets which would have been great to have had in the squad.

However, if he did receive reduced terms as reported, I cannot fault the club. Given his absences in the past two seasons and his desire to secure one last big contract I can only wish him all the best at Blackburn.

On the wings we have Scott Sinclair, James Forrest, Patrick Roberts and Gary Mackay-Steven. Mackay-Steven will struggle to get into the team now, especially when Roberts returns.

Up front, Leigh Griffiths will duel with Dembele so it will be interesting to see how Nadir Ciftci handles being left in the dark. He will either emerge better or go under and eventually move on – it is up to him.

Last but not least is the number one slot. Craig Gordon has been first choice for two seasons but with the arrival of Dorus de Vries, his position is in jeopardy.

De Vries played under Brendan Rodgers previously and seems he will be given a chance to push Gordon all the way. Meantime, Logan Bailly and Leonardo Fasan have fallen further down the pecking order.

So it is an exciting time. The squad has seen arrivals and departures and judging by what I have seen under Brendan Rodgers will continue to get better.

Poor transfer window? I don’t think so.

Some further deals may have happened but for the business that has been done, I am happy. There is so much to look forward to right now and even more to look forward to in the future.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Brendan’s vision coming to fruition

When a club manager has a vision of how they want to see their team to play, the priority is to get the team playing that way. For Brendan Rodgers, he obviously has a vision and whilst trying to bring that to the field of play, he has had to do so whilst assessing the squad he inherited.

Many have moved on, and just last week the latest person to leave was Stefan Johansen. His departure was long rumoured and leaves the door open for other players currently at the club to step up or someone new.

For Rodgers to realise his vision though, he needs to see evidence from his current crop or seek the answer from a new player. The size of the squad still requires trimming down and it is being whittled down step by step.

The transfer window is open until the end of August. Today it has been reported that Cristian Gamboa is undergoing a medical with Celtic and his signature imminent.

A right back didn’t appear to be a priority in my eyes but it is obvious that it is for Brendan Rodgers. The manager ejected prospect Darnell Fisher leaving him with the returning Saidy Janko and Mikael Lustig for that position.

The sign is that he desires more experience in this position and someone with the ability to play as a wing back as well. Lustig may not be what he is looking for in that role and with Janko still finding his way in a Celtic jersey it appears Gamboa is the player for him.

Rodgers has also brought in 35 year old Dorus de Vries as another goalkeeping option. He will provided competition for 33 year old Craig Gordon if not shift him from the number one slot permanently.

That leaves question marks over Logan Bailly and Leonardo Fasan. Bailly was brought in as backup by Ronny Deila and has rarely featured so he could be moved on given that he too is in the 30+ category and vying for one position.

As for Fasan, well he may still have a chance and certainly has age on his side. Right now Rodgers has signalled his intent that the goalkeeping position in his view is not strong enough.

It is an exciting time for Celtic supoorters with all these changes. Rodgers and his management team have assessed the squad over the summer and things are progressing.

As I’ve said before, many have moved on and more will follow. If not in this transfer window, then certainly the next one.

Boerrigter, Kazim-Richards, Stokes, Cole, Fisher, Mulgrew, Findlay and Scepovic are all off the books now. Nine more are out on loan including Scott Allan.

With two days left in the transfer window and we are likely to see activity right up until the death. Ajer, Toure, Sinclair, Dembele and de Vries in so far. Gamboa and one more possibly as well as new deals for Tom Rogic and James Forrest.

On the shaky peg are Kris Commons, Efe Ambrose, Gary Mackay-Steven and at least one goalkeeper. All this, top of the Premiership with a game at hand and the Chanpions League to look forward to.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Momentum

Since arriving at Celtic, Brendan Rodgers has cut a very calm and patient figure. He hasn’t overreacted to the press or the supporters despite any criticism received or expectations made known.

Instead the new Celtic manager has eased himself into the job whilst dealing with the instant pressures that come with the Celtic job. These pressures consist mainly of assessing a bloated squad, trying to qualify for the Champions League and of course satisfying needy supporters with new players and spectacular football.

None of these targets have been met just yet as it remains an ongoing process for the manager. Changes are taking place incrementally as the summer progresses though.

The squad still requires trimming and we are half way through qualification for the Champions League. There has been an admission from Brendan Rodgers though that the club require about four new players which suggests he has a better idea of his current squad’s capabilities.

There hasn’t been any further news on player exits at the club at senior level thought it emerged yesterday that Scott Allan was on his way to Rotherham. That hasn’t been confirmed yet, but he is one of many midfielders at the club barely seeing the light of day.

Speculation surrounds quite a few though and in order for growth something has to give sooner rather than later. You need space in your squad to allow youth to emerge and if you’re filling your squad with players that won’t play then it’s time for a clear out.

Injuries continue to blight the managers defensive issues but he remains focussed on the task at hand and isn’t showing signs of negativity. This is good because despite being a slow build, everyone at the club appears to be positive.

This evening Celtic host FC Astana in the second leg of the Champions League Third Qualifying Round. Returning to Glasgow with a respectable 1-1 away draw last week has set Brendan Rodgers up nicely for Celtic Park tonight.

Celtic showed great character in that first leg despite receiving some ‘treatment’ from Astana’s players throughout the match. All of which went largely unnoticed by the Italian referee.

To come back from a goal down was a positive response, particularly at this stage in the season and whilst your squad is unsettled. In previous seasons Celtic have benefited from keeping their squad together but this squad will start look very different as the team moves forward.

It all seems relatively quiet right now, but I’m fairly certain that should Celtic progress in Europe the transition will begin to gather momentum. Patience, not at the core of most supporters, appears to be forefront of Brendan Rodgers’ approach.

Celtic will have to invest to progress though. It’s a no brainer.

The club have stumbled in qualifying for the last two years. It was three years ago that the club last made the group phase and by the skin of their teeth.

That team were vastly lacking quality signings. This was reflected in our final standing as we finished rock bottom of our group.

So if Celtic make it past Astana tonight, the signings need to be brought in for the knockout phase, not just the group phase. Moves and changes are immeinent.

Tonight’s lineup should be interesting though as will FC Astana’s attitude. Both teams are up for this but with a noisy Celtic Park there is an opportunity to finish this team off.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A tale of two Johansen’s 

One-and-a-half good seasons and one awful season. That’s how to sum up Stefan Johansen’s Celtic career to date.

The Norwegian internationalist joined Celtic from Stromsgodset in the January transfer window of 2014. He made an encouraging impact and collected a league title medal with virtual ease.

Although signed by Neil Lennon, Johansen wouldn’t blossom until his first full season. By this time it was under new manager Ronny Deila, who had followed his student to Celtic within a matter of months.

Having been crowned SPFA Player of the Year and Celtic Player of the Year by the fans and he became a mainstain the midfield. However, Johansen’s second full season couldn’t have been more different. 

He failed to emulate the kind of performances that made him a key player for Deila. There wasn’t a shard of the previous season in his play.

Eventually he would blame it on a back problem but I’ve never bought into that. If his back was so bad he should never have been playing as many games as he did so that doesn’t hold any water with me. 

Celtic had injuries, yes. However, adequate and fit players in a midfield role, the club had in abundance.

The squad was looking fragmented but Deila stuck with Johansen even though he wasn’t playing well. It annoyed many supporters that the manager remained so loyal to Johansen when he was clearly not at his best.

Having put a miserable season behind him, I was of the opinion he may rediscover his form under Brendan Rodgers. I mean, you don’t suddenly turn into a poor performer overnight without good reason.

With the latest rumour suggestion an exit is on the cards, perhaps Stefan has lost his desire for Celtc. It’s a strange one though.

Should he go, fine, I’ve got no problem if players aren’t interested any more. The squad is overflowing with midfielders as it is.

Another space free, another opportunity for another Celtic player to step up. I don’t think Rodgers would rush out to replace him when you have guys like Tom Rogic, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie, Scott Allan and Liam Henderson all vying for regular football this coming season. 

Even Scott Brown, Kris Commons and Nir Bitton have a place to fight for. I’d also like to see more of Stuart Armstrong in a central position.

Still, this remains a rumour. Time will tell whether there is any truth to it or if it’s another just another ‘Efe’ story.

As it is there’s further rumours about our midfield personnel in the shape of Nir Bitton. His form hasn’t been as affected as badly as team mate Johansen’s, but like many Celtic players season wasn’t at his best.

Again, if it is his desire to move on, which at this stage is still specualation, why stand in his way? If the money is right, there are plenty more fish in the sea.

There is a requirement to allow youth to flourish but if you’re accommodating a plethora of senior players at the same time then something has to give. We’ll how things pan out but my feeling on this is that I would be happy either way.

As for today, Celtic face Olimpija Ljubljana in their third preseason fixture. It’s another chance for Brendan Rodgers to tinker with team selection whilst casting his eye over his players.

One of those players is likely to be new signing Moussa Dembélé. He’s scheduled to make his debut and even though it’s a friendly, all eyes will be on him.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to be cut-throat with our over-inflated squad

No sooner than he is announced as Celtic’s new manager, Brendan Rodgers is said to be planning a clear out of players. This isn’t much of a surprise but it does seem to be prompt action.

Celtic have a massive team and in the hours following Rodgers signature, I’ve been discussing the current squad in my circle. Downsizing is a must particularly if fresh players are to be introduced but there are some question marks over key players.

Rumours are suggesting that Stefan Šćepović and Carlton Cole have already gone. Emilio Izaguirre was also set to leave but the word on the street is he will be back for pre-season training.

Perhaps the arrival of Rodgers has some players reconsidering their Celtic careers. This is not just limited to Izzy though, there are several players who will be evaluating their positions.

The latest rumour is linking Efe Ambrose with a move to Europa League opponents Fenerbahçe. I mean, if the Turkish club didn’t get a good enough look at his calamitous efforts when playing against him then I would say this is a cruel joke.

However, he does need to go and won’t get any argument from me. Tyler Blackett can also return to Manchester United after a poor loan spell.

In terms of do-they-or-don’t-they get new deals are Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest and Darnell Fisher. All three are out of contract, though Forrest’s is said to run until mid-season, but whether they have futures at the club will be the first piece of business.

Mulgrew is a valuable utility man and any deal he offered is most likely to be small given his recent absence from the team. Forrest has also been a player absent from the first team but how much of that has been injury based is unclear.

He has had his fair share of them and has hindered his career at the club. Despite that, he has had some fantastic games for the club, we just haven’t seen it for so long and he might become surplus to requirement.s

Fisher, has been on loan at St Johnstone this season but played less than a dozen games. He looked like a decent prospect, despite playing in an oversubscribed playing position.

With Mikael Lustig currently first choice, Saidy Janko second, Fisher is likely to be cut. That would only change if either of the first two were to leave which is doubtful.

In the final year of their contracts are Kris Commons, Stefan Johansen, Tom Rogic, Leonardo Fasan and Eoghan O’Connell. Also on that list are Emilio Izaguirre and Efe Ambrose.

There is opportunity for Celtic to cash in on all or some of these guys. However, one player the club should make a priority to keep is Tom Rogic.

Put simply, he is one of our best players and given the season he has just had, deserves a new contract. Commons’ value will be low given his age but his ability suggests he still has a role to play at the club.

Johansen had a great start to his Celtic career but this season has been poor. There is nothing to suggest he won’t get back to his best and a new contract would depend on that and his desire to stay.

Fasan and O’Connell are squad players who have never made an impact and could will either go out on loan, let their contracts wind down or be sold off. The only other player with a year left to go is Cole but if rumours are accurate, we can confine him to the scrap-heap.

Then there is the matter of Celtic’s players out on loan. Fisher we’ve covered, the Šćepović rumour has yet to be clarified so that leaves some key players to discuss.

After 4 goals in 22 appearances for Celtic, Nadir Çiftçi was shipped out on loan to Eskişehirspor during the January transfer window. He lasted just 34 minutes in his first game before being substituted and was sent of in his second after receiving two yellow cards in the space of a minute.

In 10 appearances he managed 3 goals and now Eskişehirspor have been relegated. Given that their fans set fire to their own stadium following that, I’d say Çiftçi and Eskişehirspor are a good fit for each other.

Before going to Hibs, Liam Henderson was looking like a very decent midfield prospect. However, it is a busy area in terms of personnel and Celtic farmed him out for some first team experience.

He played the end of last season at Rosenborg where he scored 4 goals in 13 games. After returning to Celtic he was then off on a season long loan to Championship club, Hibs.

He’s played a massive 48 games and scored 6 goals. Will he be returning to Celtic this summer and making an impact in the first team?

Well he certainly has the talent but like I say, there is a lot of competition in the team right now. His future may depend on the future of others with expired/expiring contracts.

Another Hibs player with a question mark over his future is Anthony Stokes. I’ve been fairly convinced the club have been trying to move him on but as you might have seen from his performance in the Scottish Cup Final, he still has a lot of worth.

He is still only 27 and you know what, Brendan Rodgers might just fancy him for the left flank. At the moment, it isn’t our strongest position but it is a place Stokes knows inside out.

Is it time for the prodigal son to return? Watch this space.

Other loanees are Stuart Findlay, Calum Waters, and Aidan Nesbitt. These guys could very well be part of the next generation but right now there immediate futures are not a burning issue.

So what about our other team members? Will we see any more movement within the squad?

Well in the goalkeeper department we are reasonably secure for the coming season with Craig Gordon as number one and Logan Bailly as backup. The defence isn’t looking too bad either though that will all depend on who is available.

Erik Sviatchenko looks good and steady at the back. He needs a permanent partner though and my first choice would be Jozo Šimunović.

However, Jozo has had his injuries and the central defensive pairing will depend on his recovery and long-term fitness. If that doesn’t work out then you are looking at Dedryck Boyata.

In all honesty, I haven’t been convinced by the Belgian who was a permanent buy from Manchester City once Jason Denayer returned to them from his loan spell. Boyata hasn’t even come close to looking as good as Denayer so this season is make or break for him.

Our midfield is flooding with personnel right now and to accommodate all of them is a tall order. Captain Scott Brown has had a dodgy season but there is no danger of losing his services though I do think Rodgers should not be afraid to drop him.

Nir Bitton is a fine player when he wants to be, despite his languid demeanour at times. I’d be happy for him to stay on though with a return to form we may find it difficult to prevent a future move.

Gary Mackay-Steven has had some decent games for Celtic but he lacks any sort of consistency. Even at his best, he hasn’t looked as good as James Forrest and with Patrick Roberts currently blowing away almost every other Celtic player right now, Mackay-Steven is on the fringes right now.

One player growing in importance and demonstrating is adaptability is Callum McGregor. Ronny Deila gave him his first outing in the first team and has been a very loyal servant to the now departed Celtic Head Coach.

He can play wide, central or deep and has an eye for goal. His place in this squad is not in jeopardy.

Stuart Armstrong is wasted out in the wide areas. He might have a left foot but he is not a let winger.

For me, he needs to play more of a central role. He isn’t fast but he is strong, has great technique and can pick out a pass.

The two players who will be knocking on the door of the new manager will be Ryan Christie and Scott Allan. Both came in last summer and have played a small amount of matches, though Christie was loaned back to his previous club for half of this season as well has suffering and injury.

They are both highly rated players and could well be the part of the new season under Rodgers. Celtic need to push forward and these guys can be part of it but as I have said before, we have a lot of players in the midfield position and something or someone will have to give.

In the youth front, Anthony Ralston and Joe Thomson are still on the periphery. With so many players ahead of them their time is likely to be a bit further down the line.

Up front is an area where Celtic are lightweight. Leigh Griffiths is our star player right now but he has not backup. Colin Kazim-Richards is a more physical player but he doesn’t’ provide anywhere near the same kind of ability so this is an area where Celtic will have to strengthen, particularly if we are to make inroads in Europe once more.

Jack Aitchison came off the bench to score with his first touch in his first senior appearance for the club in the 7-0 mauling of Motherwell. He also became the youngest ever player to score for Celtic, breaking an age-old record.

You can’t judge the boy on one goal. If he can offer something long-term in attack we will soon find out though.

Rodgers might have to be cut-throat to bring down the squad size in order to make some space for new players. We already have a new player in Kristoffer Ajer joining the ranks as part of a pre-planned deal but there will be further moves and changes in the coming weeks.

Exciting times to be a Celtic supporter.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Life begins at 40

Last night was Leigh Griffiths’ final chance to hit a milestone. He required one more goal to hit the 40 goal mark and become only the eight Celtic player ever to do so.

The PFA and SFWA Player of the Year summed up his season with some fine individual footwork before popping home goal number 40 of the season in the 53rd minute. It broke the deadlock in the game and was a moment to cherish for the Celtic striker.

However, the shine would be taken off it by two of Celtic’s worst performers this season. In the minutes that followed, Stefan Johansen was caught on the ball in his own box and Steven MacLean equalised for St Johnstone.

That wasn’t the end of it though. Our old friend Efe Ambrose decided that he doesn’t need to impress whoever may take over at Celtic.

Instead he just wheeled out more of the same magic we’ve grown accustomed to the past few years. Logan Bailly, not having the best game himself, appeared to get in a mix up with Ambrose and Graham Cummins sent home the winner.

I have to say, at this stage in the season I wasn’t bothered by the result that much. With the management team departing, the title secured the only thing left to be done was for Griffiths to hit the 40 goal mark.

For those wishing to see more of Ryan Christie and Scott Allan, they got their wish. It wasn’t all that entertaining but I will not judge either player at this stage in the season particularly with their lack of first team chances matches.

The new manager can assess our squad and take it from there. Everyone gets a second chance but Ambrose needs to go.

Well done to Leigh Griffiths though on joining the elite. 50 goals next season yeah?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac