Celtic's expensive problem with foreign imports needs to be resolved

By Euan Davidson

February 5, 2021

This piece was guest-written by Celtic supporter Brian McVeigh. You can follow him on Twitter: @BrianMcVeigh7

The recruiting of foreign players at Celtic is commonplace nowadays.

However, the club’s success is becoming worryingly less frequent, especially in the last 2 years. Celtic have spent over £31 million in transfer fees [Daily Record] since Neil Lennon rejoined the club in February 2019.

The vast majority of that cash has gone either abroad or out of Scotland. Only Greg Taylor and David Turnbull have signed from Scottish clubs.

Vasilis Barkas is a case I would like to magnify. The Greek international is the most expensive goalkeeper ever to sign for a Scottish club. However, his career at the club has been a huge let down so far. Why, though? His form has been poor, but is he being given the support he needs by his manager?

Before the Glasgow Derby back on January 2nd, Neil Lennon told the media Barkas was “always his number 1” [Scotsman]. Only 3 games later, the Greek stopper was dropped and publicly criticised by the manager. 

Celtic goalkeeping situation needs sorted

Scott Bain is now the man in possession of the number 1 spot. That’s despite having performed the worst in terms of goals conceded – 19 in 10 games. Meanwhile, Barkas has the best record, having conceded 10 in 13.

The big worry here is that Bain was 3rd choice behind Barkas and Conor Hazard and has somehow been catapulted ahead of both of them without any genuine reason.

How can Barkas feel good when he is not only dropped, but his manager slams him in the press for not having settled at the club [Evening Express]?

With so many meaningless games between now and the end of this horrible season, surely it is a good time for him to prove himself and gain some consistency? Let’s be honest, he has been playing behind one of the worst centre halves in recent history in Shane Duffy. Equally, the defence has changed so many times that it must have been hard to get used to how the team plays. 

Frozen out: Celtic defender Boli Bolingoli / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic spend £10m on ostracised talent

Moving across the squad, let’s look at some more players who have come in and not settled, before being ostracised:

Boli Bolingoli, Marian Shved, Eboue Kouassi, Vakoun Bayo.

Approximately £10 million spent on these players, and not one has achieved anything at the club. 

We as fans all know that Bolingoli was stupid and did not hold himself in a good light, but why was that? Is it down to his character? Or, is there something deeper we can look at? What would have been the club’s response if it was Edouard? 

For Shved, his introduction to the club wasn’t ideal. Brendan Rodgers told the media that he had “a million wingers” at the time [Sky Sports].

However, this is another example of a player coming in from abroad and simply not being given the chance. At KV Mechelen in the Belgian Jupiler league, his form of late has been good. 3 goals and 1 assist in his last 8 games, with starts in each.

The standard of competition is arguably better than what he would face in the SPFL. So why has he not played for the club more?

Celtic’s poor signings never had a chance

Eboue Kouassi was a player signed apparently to help ease the ‘Scott Brown problem’. He wasn’t cheap at £3.5m. Injuries didn’t help but if you look at Ismaila Soro and compare him to Kouassi, there isn’t much difference. To me there is no real reason why this lad wasn’t given the chance to prove himself. Since his move to Genk he has played 16 times as the club have enjoyed a good season, currently sitting 3rd.

In terms of Bayo, he was a poor signing but he is another one you can add to the list. 

What I am getting at here is, the club seems to do the hard bit in identifying these players but what happens when things get a bit tough? They are dropped out of the side and eventually loaned and then sold.

Celtic midfielder Olivier Ntcham / (Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The curious case of Olivier Ntcham

 You can also look at Olivier Ntcham. Celtic rejected a bid of £13m from FC Porto in 2018 [Goal].

Now he is loaned to Marseille with an option to buy of £4-5 million. Surely his value should have gone up during this time?

Lennon spoke about how the Frenchman had been talking about wanting to leave the club for months. I am prepared to accept this given how hard life must be when you live away from home.

However, I look at this player and see a potential midfield general. He was superb under Rodgers wasn’t he? Under Lennon he was in and out of the side and looked unhappy. 

Consider also the likes of Patryck Klimala and Ismaila Soro. The Polish striker hasn’t settled in the team at all, and Soro has only recently broken into the side but that was due to absolute necessity rather than development.

In summary, the club spends massive resources on acquiring foreign talent but seems less than bothered or committed to enabling them to develop as people and as players. Is there a culture problem at the club?

Something has to change.

About the author: Season ticket holder in the 90’s and early 00’s (not saying noughties). Favourite player of all time is Paul McStay and best game was the 5-1 humping of the Oldco under Dr Jo, god rest his soul. Have done pieces for different fans sites and enjoy venting my opinions for fellow Tims.”