It could’ve all been so different for Celtic and Gary Hooper.
The English striker scored 82 goals and laid on a further 30 in just 138 games for the Bhoys [Transfermarkt]. Between 2010 and 2013, Hooper was an automatic pick for Celtic, scoring for fun under former boss Neil Lennon, during the Irishman’s first spell in charge at the club.
Hooper left Celtic for Norwich in the summer of 2013 [BBC], with the hopes that top-flight football would bolster his England chances. Ahead of the 2014 World Cup, Hooper’s prolific strike-rate had led to talk of an England cap, but by his rationale, moving to the Premier League would’ve helped his call-up chances to no end.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for the ex-Scunthorpe man, who only managed 20 goals in 70 games for the Canaries. Now 33, he’s since turned out for Sheffield Wednesday, Wellington Phoenix and now Kerala Blasters of the Indian Super League.
It could’ve all been so different, though. According to Hooper’s agent, William Glavin, interviewed by the Celtic FC Now and Forever podcast:
“Gary loved his time at Celtic.
“There have been a couple of occasions over the years when he could’ve been back but it just didn’t quite work out.
“Neil Lennon was always a big fan of him.
“[Lennon] tried to get him at Bolton, when he was there – just couldn’t do it at that time.”
They say “never go back”, but a second Celtic spell could’ve helped Gary Hooper
A natural, prolific goal-scorer, Gary Hooper was a fan-favourite who scored massive goals for Celtic. In derby games, cup wins and Champions League nights, Hooper seemed unfazed by the big occasions. He also wore the number 88, which along with 67 is an excellent choice for any new Celtic player hoping to immediately endear themselves to the club.
“I’ve played against a few of the best players in the world in the Champions League. It was an amazing experience as these players are on another level in terms of their skill and mentality. They are prepared and always turn up in the big games.
“We were unlucky to miss out on the league during my first season. But it was a very nice feeling to lift the trophy twice in a row later. And of course, it was extra special for me to win the Golden Boot after scoring five goals in the last game of the season [v. Hearts].
“So far, the most memorable goal of my career is against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League at Celtic Park, which helped us reach the round of 16 stage.”
Could have had more big nights under the lights for Celtic? Most definitely. It’s interesting to consider how a Hooper return might’ve affected Celtic’s transfer policy, though. For example, does a Hooper return mean no Moussa Dembélé? If so, do the Bhoys go after another PSG product in Odsonne Edouard without the success of Dembélé?
Would Anthony Stokes’ Celtic fortunes have improved towards the end of the spell? The two had an excellent partnership. There are so many possibilities here.
Of course, we’ll never know how a second spell at Celtic might’ve gone for Gary Hooper. At the very least though, it’s heartening to know the esteem that fan-favourites like the English marksman hold the club in.
You could suggest that Hooper’s legacy at the club is underrated. Maybe, we can re-open the case for the former Southend and Leyton Orient man’s time in the Green and White.