3 upcoming free agent targets who would immediately improve Celtic defence

By Euan Davidson

February 5, 2021

For Celtic, the January transfer window wasn’t much to shout about.

In fact, the squad is arguably weaker than it was at the end of December. Jeremie Frimpong has been replaced by Everton loanee Jonjoe Kenny. In the middle of defence, Ben Davies slipped the net, along with Mark McKenzie. Admittedly, the former was under incredible circumstances.

Just because the window’s closed, though, it doesn’t mean that Celtic can’t add to their squad for the future. With clubs tightening their purse strings due to Covid-19, several enticing free agents enter the market this summer. While personal terms, sign-on fees and all the rest can nibble at a transfer budget, there are still some exciting options.

Undoubtedly, Celtic need to strengthen. Diego Laxalt will leave in the summer, along with Jonjoe Kenny, unless the Bhoys spend big to bring them in permanently. Kristoffer Ajer will probably move on for decent money. If Shane Duffy re-signs permanently, well… who knows?

So let’s have a look at who’s in the market, and might fancy a move.

Jetro Willems, on loan at Newcastle United last year / (Photo by Rich Linley – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Jetro Willems, Eintracht Frankfurt

Cool name? Check. Versatility? Check. Jetro Willems, a 22-cap Netherlands international is a ready-made Laxalt replacement. The Dutchman, who spent last season on loan at Newcastle United, can play anywhere along the left, as well as defensive midfield.

With career averages of 1.9 tackles a game and 1.4 interceptions [WhoScored?], it’s not just his defensive game that’s impressive. Celtic have never been able to replace Kieran Tierney’s mix of attacking dynamism and successful tackling, but Willems could come close to fitting the bill.

In a career that saw him rise through the youth ranks at PSV Eindhoven, Willems has impressed with his cavalier attacking spirit, and at 26, he still has plenty of energy left.

His contract at Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt runs out in the summer. He likes to dribble, play through balls and can deliver set-pieces. A very useful player indeed.

Barcelona defender Oscar Mingueza / (Photo by Stanislav Vedmid/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Óscar Mingueza, Barcelona

There haven’t been many bright spots for Barcelona fans this season. The club are in financial and democratic turmoil, while their main man Lionel Messi is yet to agree a new deal.

While Barca will have to dig deep into their pockets to renew the Argentinian’s contract, one spark from this year’s La Liga campaign may fly below the radar. Óscar Mingueza is a La Masia graduate who has made 17 first-team appearances for Barca, and has absolutely flourished.

Only 21, Mingueza’s defensive instincts as a centre-back are outstanding. He’s averaged an eye-watering 3.3 interceptions a game in the Champions League [WhoScored?], with 2.1 tackles per 90 in La Liga.

Valued at €5m by Transfermarkt, Mingueza would certainly be an ambitious target. However, like Christian Tello, Eric Garcia, Gerard Pique, Marc Muniesa and others before him, he may seek first-team opportunities elsewhere. Of course, Pique is the outlier, but it’s worth remembering that he wasn’t always at Barcelona.

Felix Passlack of BVB / (Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)

Felix Passlack, Borussia Dortmund

If you’re a fan of Smarter Scout, then these numbers will absolutely astound you. If you’re not familiar, Smarter Scout rates players’ attributes out of 100, just like FIFA. Based on statistical analysis and projections, a rating shows just how good a player is at a particular part of the game.

For “Defending Quality”, BVB youngster Felix Passlack is rated a 91. For “Ball Retention”, 88. But for “Recovering  a Moving Ball”, i.e. interceptions? 99.

Yep.

Those of you who aren’t convinced of stats, here’s a quick guide to Dortmund youngster Felix Passlack. The German 22-year-old has played for every international youth level for his country. You may remember him from such loan spells as Norwich City.

The mobile full-back has found opportunities to be at a premium at BVB, and his contract runs out in the summer. A player who primarily plays as a right-back, Passlack is capable on either flank, or further up the pitch.

While he’s never been a regular at Borussia Dortmund, Passlack can thrive with regular game time. At Fortuna Sittard, he averaged 1.2 tackles per game and 1 dribble per game, with a style reminiscent of Mikael Lustig [WhoScored?].

Admittedly, he hasn’t pushed on as he would’ve wanted to so far. It’s a gamble from Celtic’s perspective, and he might not be a plug-and-play signing who can acclimatise from the off. However, he’d be available on a free transfer.

Celtic desperately need cover at right back. Passlack is an inexpensive option with Bundesliga experience. Seems like a reasonable bet to me.

In other news; it gets worse for Olivier Ntcham.