Celtic have failed Barkas, not the other way round

By Euan Davidson

February 23, 2021

When Celtic signed Vasilis Barkas from AEK Athens, it looked like good business.

After all, the Greek goalie had a decent record before moving to Glasgow. In the 19-20 league season, Barkas averaged a clean sheet every other game [Transfermarkt]. In fact, the international ‘keeper had achieved shut-outs in well over half of his games for AEK Athens.

At international level, he’d kept 4 clean sheets in 13 for a side ranked 53rd in the FIFA rankings [FIFA]. Not bad at all, considering the stature of his national team.

For a bit of context, Fraser Forster kept 14 clean sheets in 28 league appearances for Celtic last season. That’s the same level as Barkas in 19-20, and it’d be hard to argue the Greek top-flight isn’t at least the Scottish Premiership’s equivalent.

So by numbers and reputation alone, Barkas looked like a good signing. Yet, not even a season on, and the goalie is utterly bereft of confidence and will likely move on. He’ll be looked upon as a Celtic flop, and it was all so avoidable.

Vasilis Barkas in action for Celtic vs Dundee United / (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Celtic keeper Barkas: the “mitigating factors”

While our manager speaks of “mitigating factors” without revealing them, Barkas can at least make a few points in his defence. Or, rather, we can on his behalf.

With Jullien injured, Celtic weren’t able to enjoy a settled back 4. That makes all the difference. Greg Taylor and Diego Laxalt regularly switched on the left. Duffy, Bitton, Ajer and Welsh have all been in centre-back pairings which have achieved varying degrees of success. There have been back 3s, back 4s, rotating defensive midfielders to anchor those defences, and so on.

So, the level of protection Barkas has had, as our last line of defence, has been incredibly shaky. Forster had the benefit of Ajer and Jullien’s partnership in front of him. Ajer can speak English, which is hugely beneficial, while Jullien can now, too. These things matter. The common language in the Celtic defence this season will have been noises of utter confusion.

So, with that unsettled defence, set-pieces have been Celtic’s undoing all season. What’s Barkas meant to do if opposition players are being invited for free headers? Look at the marking at 3.35 here [SPFL], and tell me that this goal is Scott Bain’s fault, for example.

It hasn’t been good enough. Dino Zoff would struggle for form with this defence ahead of him.

Vasilis Barkas has been infrequently in Celtic’s starting XI / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

In and out of the team

Lennon has claimed that Barkas was his number 1, then dropped him. He’s thrown his weight behind his £4.5m signing, then put youth players and much-maligned back-ups in goals instead.

What are you meant to do with that? You can’t build a goalkeeper’s confidence by mixing and matching, that just doesn’t work. Has there been a winning season you can think of where we didn’t have an undisputed number 1 goalkeeper? I can’t remember it.

The reasons for dropping Barkas have been strange, too. Lennon has claimed that the Greek goalie needs to bulk up, but it’s not like he’s diminutive in stature. There are a few centimetres between him and Fraser Forster. Meanwhile, the beanpole Scott Bain isn’t exactly Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. It smacks of desperation, of excuses.

We’re in February, and we still haven’t really seen Barkas make a save of note. Now with Ajer and Welsh as the settled pairing at centre-back, Barkas needs back in the team, if it’s not too late for him. When Celtic become the kind of club who can waste £4.5m, let me know, but until then, he’s due another chance.

The way he’s been treated is appalling. Similar to Klimala and Ajeti, great sums (by our standards) have been spent incoherently. At either end of the pitch, we have wasted millions.

Celtic have failed Vasilis Barkas, not the other way round.

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