3 upcoming Celtic free agent targets to strengthen the midfield

By Euan Davidson

February 6, 2021

Welcome to Part 2 of our Celtic free agent series.

As we explored yesterday, the January transfer window wasn’t much to get excited about. For Celtic supporters, there’s so much uncertainty surrounding the team.

We don’t know who’ll be here when Champions League qualifiers roll around. Beyond that, there are several first-team stars out of contract in 2022.

We’ll likely see Scott Brown, Olivier Ntcham and Ryan Christie moved on by the time the 21-22 season comes. While there are several youthful options in our midfield ranks, some big-game experience would surely help. Especially in European competition, where Celtic were comprehensively embarrassed in 20-21.

So, with that in mind, here are three upcoming free agent signings that would immediately deal with problem areas in the middle of the park.

Nabil Bentaleb, Algerian international / (Photo by Leon Kuegeler – Pool/Getty Images)

Nabil Bentaleb, Schalke 04

Would it surprise you to learn that Nabil Bentaleb is 26? The Algerian midfielder feels like he’s been around forever, yet he’s still to truly hit his peak.

The ex-Tottenham engine has been playing for a turgid Schalke 04 side, which was much stronger when he joined back in 2016. Although it’s not gone right for Die Knappen over recent months, that can’t be blamed on Bentaleb.

For one thing, he spent much of last season on loan at Newcastle United [Transfermarkt], while he’s only made 7 Bundesliga appearances this term.

A tough tackler with excellent defensive anticipation, Bentaleb offers top-level experience for roughly the same cost as James McCarthy. Simply put, though, the Algerian is a better player. Comfortable sitting deep, he can create play through counter-attacks, and is a rangy passer.

He can spray long passes, averaging 2.4 a game [WhoScored?], or play a short passing game, with career averages of 83.5% success with 43 passes per 90. He’d easily secure a work permit, and he’s better than what we have. At 26, Bentaleb is a potential bargain.

Scotsman Ryan Gauld in action for S.C. Farense / (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

Ryan Gauld, Farense

For Farense in the Portuguese top-flight, former Dundee United prospect Ryan Gauld has been absolutely phenomenal.

Arguably the Primeira Liga’s top talent outside the traditional “Big 3” of Benfica, Porto and Sporting CP, Gauld has lit up an otherwise mediocre side. His 5 goals and 4 assists in 16 outings is an excellent return [WhoScored?].

Brought into the Dundee United side by our friend and yours Jackie McNamara, Celtic know all about Gauld’s abilities. He’s an outside bet to get into Scotland’s Euro 2020 team, which will undoubtedly put him in the shop window.

Gauld may wish to continue life in Portugal. If not, though, the Aberdonian would surely pick Celtic as an option. With Ryan Christie likely to depart in the summer, Gauld is a ready-made replacement. Averaging 2.1 shots and key passes per game this season, the former Terriers man represents incredible value, on a free transfer.

Domingo Blanco, a midfield magician / (Photo by Luciano Bisbal/Getty Images)

Domingo Blanco, Independiente

“Work permit!” I hear you cry. Ok, yes; I understand your concerns. But creative midfielder Domingo Blanco holds one cap for the Argentine national team, and he’s made 55 top-flight appearances, as well as in continental competition.

So, leave it out, alright? Don’t be so rude.

Domingo Blanco brings one very, very appealing attribute, and that’s versatility. As comfortable on the right wing as he is in central midfield, the 25 year old is signed to the same agent as Sergio Aguero.

His main talents are ball carrying and playing short, forward passes to unlock opposition defences. An absolute nuisance in possession, Blanco is capable of winning fouls in dangerous areas for the likes of Turnbull and Edouard to finish. Smarter Scout rates his dribbling at a 99, which is ridiculous.

Fine, it’s a bit of a flyer, and signing him might be complicated. At the very least though, here’s a talented Argentinian international, aged 25 and available on a free. With pace, trickery and still a good number of years left in his career, he’s a good shout.