Celtic and Patrick Roberts: the will-they-won't-they we needed in 2020

By Euan Davidson

December 30, 2020

I’d imagine that Celtic fans, like everyone else, are bored of drama this year.

We’re currently in a lockdown, after a few this year. There’ve been the vaccine announcements, followed by rises in cases. Big corporate names have collapsed. The economy is in ruins. Our politicians have told us to stay in, then go out to Nandos, then stay in again.

Football was on, still. Then, it was off. Then partially back on. Etc, etc.

So for many, the will-they-won’t-they Patrick Roberts to Celtic story is just a bit much. It pales in comparison to the rest of the year’s drama, perhaps. It’s a silly sub-plot in the story of 2020.

However, I’m a sucker. I thought ‘When Harry Met Sally’ was a good film. At one point this year, I even rewatched ‘Friends’  (Hot take: it’s a tepid, less funny ‘Seinfeld’). I like a romantic push-and-pull between two characters who can’t see themselves what the rest of us can view as clear as day.

And that’s exactly what the story of Patrick Roberts and Celtic is.

Patrick Roberts was loved at Celtic / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic and Patrick Roberts: the love begins

Be honest: when Patrick Roberts signed on loan from Manchester City in February 2016 (BBC), did you care? Or were you like me, and thought: “Oh! We’ve signed Colin Kazim-Richards. That’ll definitely go well!”?

Honestly, it was easy to lose Roberts in the context of that day. Kazim-Richards seemed like a great Celtic signing; someone who had unlimited potential as a youngster but just hadn’t settled at one club.

Ronny Deila had a mixed record in the transfer market but this time, we thought, he’s made an informed gamble. Additionally, here’s young English winger Patrick Roberts. Very cool.

“Oh look!”, some of us said: “He’s had a smashing wee debut for the U-20s!” (Daily Record).

Then he only went and made 11 league appearances for Celtic, scoring 6 goals and laying on an assist (Transfermarkt). He comprehensively topped that the next season, with 9 goals and 14 league assists in 32 league games, as well as contributions in cup competitions including the Champions League.

We were smitten. The name Colin Kazim-Richards was pretty much forgotten in a Celtic context.


M-m-m-my Girona / (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Injuries, heartache and La Liga

It’s maybe forgotten now, but Celtic tried to sign Paddy Roberts permanently in 2017 (Daily Record). Needless to say, we low-balled Manchester City into trying to to lose money on a player they’d bought for £12m only a few years prior.

You have to laugh, because if you don’t laugh, you end up working in accounts for Celtic Football Club.

Anyway, Roberts’ 17-18 season was ravaged by injury. Suddenly, the £8m we could’ve spent on the winger looked a bit nicer nestled in the bank. He only made 18 appearances in all competitions in 17-18, as Celtic swept all before them domestically once again.

Roberts left to join Manchester City “affiliate” Girona FC in La Liga, playing 19 times in La Liga. It was… it was fine. Finer than his subsequent loan spells at Norwich and Middlesbrough where he’s struggled to get anything like regular game time.


Patrick Roberts on European duty / (Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images)

Rumours gather apace

If you were writing a saccharine Hollywood rom-com, then this would be the denouement. Maybe Patrick Roberts is a surprise guest at a Hogmanay party hosted by, erm… UEFA? Pep Guardiola?

Celtic are there, trying to get over the Mark McKenzie rejection. They’re hurting but uncynical.

Anyway, look: we’re rumoured to be after him again and this time, the pieces are all looking likely to fall into place (Daily Record). He’s keen, Celtic are keen, let’s make it happen.

We need wingers. We especially need wingers who can operate in pockets of space near the byline, can set up goals and finish with confidence when needed. Yes, Roberts has had a tough time of it since leaving Celtic. But sometimes, situations are just made for players and clubs.

He’s still young at 23, and I have little doubt he’d come back to Celtic Park if it meant regular game-time and a fanbase who appreciates him. His contract at Manchester City expires at the end of next summer and between us, I don’t think his time signed to the Citizens will be extended beyond then.

Celtic need to end this will-they-won’t-they, swallow their pride, and ask Roberts to come back. It’d be the feel-good story that Bhoys supporters need.

Yes, Kieran Tierney won’t be there this time, and that’s a shame. But Roberts can make new best friends, right? Greg Taylor maybe! Or Ismaila Soro, he seems lovely.

Come on guys. Stop skirting around the issue and get it done. For all of us.