Pressure is mounting even further on Neil Lennon, especially after last night’s 4-1 drubbing at the hands of a distinctly average Sparta Prague side in the Europa League.
With a core of players who are seemingly undroppable to the boss, it’s been difficult for many of Celtic’s signings in 2020 to get much of a look-in.
Let’s take a look at our business from this year and how each player has fared thus far.
Former Israeli top-flight star Ismaila Soro joined from Bnei Yehuda for around £2m (Daily Record) in January of this year.
Sold to the supporters as an all-action defensive midfielder, Soro is represented by agent Dudu Dahan, who was chiefly responsible for Celtic’s acquisitions of Beram Kayal, Nir Bitton and, latterly, Hatem Adb Elhamed.
With our success in the Israeli player market, and an obvious need for a robust, tough-tackling midfield player to deputise for Scott Brown, you’d have thought we’d see a fair bit of Ismaila Soro.
Especially at the price we paid.
Alas, not so much.
Soro has only made 2 appearances in the league during his two half-seasons with Celtic, and one genuinely startling appearance in the Europa League. The 22-year-old made a 9 minute cameo against Lille, as the Celts played out a 2-2 draw.
With his tender years and the likelihood of Scott Brown continuing to slow down, Soro could well break into the first team before too long.
However, you get the sense that if Lennon really fancied his game, he’d have more than 2 appearances in the league.
Another 22-year-old, Jagiellonia’s Patryk Klimala seemed like a viable option to improve our front line.
‘Polish Paddy’, as we’d collectively agree to call him, was a tantalising prospect based on his antics in the Polish top-flight. At £3.5m (Scottish Sun), there was a potential long-term heir to Leigh Griffiths at a decent price.
However, it’s just not happened for him so far.
You could forgive Neil Lennon for slowly introducing him into the league, with Klimala seeing 15 minutes of game time in the shortened latter half of the 19-20 season.
Klimala impressed in a hastily arranged pre-season, making all the right noises in the press. He’s shown early promise in the 20-21 campaign, with a flag day goal against Hamilton Academical, and a winner against St. Johnstone in what was a difficult game for the Bhoys.
Personally, I think Klimala could come on leaps and bounds at Celtic. However, with the signing of Albian Ajeti, formational changes and our trusted centre forwards in Edouard and Griffiths getting in the team ahead of him, it’s been tricky for the Polish forward so far.
During an injury crisis, he was entrusted with a starting role in the Glasgow Derby. Needless to say, he didn’t see much of the ball.
There’s definitely a player there, now it’s up to Celtic to develop him.
Would you believe me if I told you that Albian Ajeti has average a goal every other game in the league for Celtic this season?
In a league campaign that feels off-kilter for a variety of reasons, it feels like Ajeti’s contributions have gone a little under the radar.
Signed for £4.5m (BBC) from West Ham United in the summer, Ajeti had come to Celtic Park off the back of a disappointing campaign in the Premier League, failing to net in 9 league appearances.
Ajeti has actually been decent in a crowded field for Celtic. Similar to Klimala, a wild set of circumstances have meant that regular game time has been in question for the Swiss forward.
He’s already saved us three points, in a game against Dundee United that we probably didn’t deserve to win.
Encouragingly, he doesn’t need an awful lot of time to make an impact, either. 2 of his 5 goals in the league for Celtic have come when Ajeti played under 20 minutes of the game.
It’s still unclear whether Neil Lennon would put Ajeti in his favoured XI, provided everyone was available to him.
For the price, he’s been decent value.
There was a time, after Norwegian winger Mohamed Elyounoussi tore Ronny Deila’s Celtic apart in the Europa League, that an international winger with bags of potential could have been ours for a mere £3m.
Inevitably, Celtic didn’t do that, and after 2 seasons with FC Basel in Switzerland, Elyounoussi was an €18m signing for Southampton.
If our model was to buy low and sell high, we could’ve already seen and waved goodbye to a player who might have recouped a sizeable fee for the club. Que sera, sera.
Regardless, we have him in our team now, signing on for a second loan spell in the East End of Glasgow.
It’s frightening to think where we’d be without him.
The winger has contributed heavily, scoring 4 goals in the league and 3 in the Europa League, laying on his share of assists too.
Taking into account European qualifiers, Elyounoussi has been involved in 15 goals for Celtic this season, in only 20 appearances.
Given that he’s only in on loan, that’s tremendous value. He’s a starter any day of the week for Celtic.
In an ideal world, David Turnbull probably starts for Celtic.
A known quantity, Turnbull was agonisingly close to joining the Bhoys for the 19-20 season, before a long-term injury found in a medical led to surgery and a long lay-off for the former Motherwell midfielder.
Comfortable on the ball with an eye for goal, Turnbull was a player Celtic had to sign, especially after missing out on John McGinn.
Signed for a potential £3.25m including add-ons (BBC), Turnbull’s signing represented a considerably hefty fee for a young Scottish talent. Yet, like others in this list, he’s found playing time hard to come by.
An unused sub in our first three Europa League fixtures, it’s incredible seeing how Turnbull’s minutes have decreased since he left the Steelmen. Having played the entirety of fixtures against Hibs, Hamilton Academical and Dundee United this season, Turnbull was key to Stephen Robinson’s side.
However, despite being a proven quantity domestically, Turnbull hasn’t managed more than 59 minutes in a game for Celtic, more often coming on as a late-game option to rest one of our more established midfield players.
Celtic fans are desperate to see the young Scot do well in our colours. With Scott Brown’s regression and the Callum McGregor looking off the pace, it’s surely time to see more of Turnbull after he’s recovered from COVID-19.
With his unique look and international pedigree, A.C. Milan’s Uruguayan wide man Diego Laxalt represented something of a coup for Neil Lennon.
At 27, Laxalt has had more clubs than Colin Montgomerie, commanding a combined €24m on transfer fees.
Laxalt, who can play anywhere on the left, has failed to settle in a lasting way at any club so far in his career, but he’s doing the business for Celtic so far this season on loan.
Fast, clever and with an eye for a pass, the Uruguayan has been a regular fixture since his arrival. It’s clear Lennon trusts him over the somewhat underrated Greg Taylor.
Still, he’s not costing us anything. Rumours involving a swap deal for Kristoffer Ajer, a long-term A.C. Milan target, are building momentum in the Italian press, but for now he’s a shrewd loan acquisition who sees plenty of action.
It’s a pretty strange set of circumstances, when you think about it. Finally, Celtic looked to have a permanent answer to our goalkeeping woes. Peter Lawwell got his chequebook out, with £4.5m plus add-ons being enough (Daily Record) to take the international goalkeeper from AEK Athens.
This was a goalkeeper with an excellent reputation and at 26, someone who could potentially wear the number 1 shirt for the next decade.
However, if you listened to the pundits, you’d think we signed the lovechild of Massimo Taibi and Mr Tickle.
Barkas has kept 5 clean sheets in 9 league games. Aside from the Rangers match, we didn’t lose a single one of those games.
Blamed unfairly for result against in the derby, the Grecian couldn’t really be blamed in the context of our inability to defend set-pieces, which undid us in that match.
The form of Scott Bain, who mystifyingly has kept his place in the side despite Barkas’ return from injury, has surely put paid to any arguments that the goalie was the problem.
We have conceded far, far more goals with Barkas out the side than in it. Considering the amount we spent on him, he should be our established No.1 by now.
I won’t pretend for a second I wasn’t excited about Shane Duffy’s loan arrival at Celtic. He’s what we were crying out for; an international no-nonsense centre back who can provide leadership and aerial defending next to Jullien and Ajer.
Unfortunately, despite how he was marketed, there has been some nonsense. He is a some-nonsense centre back, it turns out.
Despite an OK start, Duffy became a liability. Slow on the turn, lacking in concentration and positionally naive, the former Everton academy player has largely looked absolutely bereft of confidence in the colours of his boyhood club.
Duffy has been analysed to death so far, so we won’t expand much further, but this is important: he’s only here temporarily, and we didn’t pay a transfer fee.
All in, a lotta dough…
According to my calculations, we’ve reportedly paid £17.75m in transfer fees alone, during 2020.
In that time we’ve considerably regressed. Our two best signings are on loan, and not even taking into account wages, signing-on fees, agent fees and the rest of the garnish involved with signing top players. £17.75m is a lot of money for a club like ours.
Peter Lawwell, for all his faults, is a Celtic supporter who knows the effects of living outwith our means. He wouldn’t have sanctioned this much spending unless he had some idea it would all go to plan.
Watching us last night against Sparta Prague, we could have just as easily played youth prospects instead of multi-million-pound players. In fact, it might have been an improvement.
We managed to keep hold our best players, barring Fraser Forster, and spent nearly £20m on transfers. Last night was another in a catalogue of dismal results, and is especially stark in contrast to where we were only 12 months ago.
Real questions have to be asked not just of Neil Lennon, but the coaching staff who work with these players.
When we’re not playing well with the established players we have, why aren’t our signings getting more minutes? When our policy, broadly speaking, is to sign youthful talents, why aren’t we developing them?
Why is Barkas the biggest casualty when the defence in front of him has capitulated in his absence?
The money’s been spent, and yet we can’t compete on the European stage. Rangers, who have recruited brilliantly, are making us look average at best and amateurish at worst.
Something’s got to change.