Ex Celtic target Mark McKenzie comments on Genk move; raises big questions

By Euan Davidson

January 12, 2021

Mark McKenzie has officially signed for Genk, so Celtic must return to the drawing board.

An added wrinkle to the now-closed transfer saga was what McKenzie has said upon joining KRC Genk. We shouldn’t feel too disappointed to lose out on players to the Belgian club, who are well-run and successful.

Still, the young American international’s comments made for sobering reading. In quotes attributed to the Daily Record, McKenzie said:

“There was interest elsewhere, but when I heard that Genk was interested, I was immediately enthusiastic.It’s a club that makes players better and then sells them to larger clubs. I looked at their history and they develop and sell players. They take them on to the next level.

“That was exciting for me. I have to be honest, there are still gaps in my game and at Genk they know what can be improved and where I can teach the team something.

“They have the resources and the ability to help me in my development. I’m really excited to get started soon.”

Celtic target Mark McKenzie has signed for Genk / (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Celtic miss out on McKenzie, but do comments mean we dodged bullet?

Couple of things to take from McKenzie’s comments here:

  1. He so obviously sees Genk as a stepping stone, and is so transparent about it that it verges on the disrespectful. If he’d signed for Celtic and said “they sign players and sell to larger clubs” here, fans would’ve been livid.
  2. By comparison, does this mean Celtic’s reputation as a club which develops talent isn’t what it was?

Let’s take point 1. Did Celtic dodge a bullet here? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with players having an eye on the future, but give it a minute before announcing you want to move somewhere “bigger”.

It’s a bit galling, and it softens the blow a little. Yes, we could’ve definitely used him, and it’ll be interesting to see his career develop. The whole “stepping-stone” treatment would’ve done him no favours at Celtic though.

Call me old-fashioned, but hearing players talk like this is annoying. It’s like when managers come to a new club and talk about a “project”. Maybe I’d rather be lied to by a badge-kissing mercenary, who’s to say?

At least pretend you’re excited about being there, mate. Maybe talk about the city’s proud coal mining history, or the Europlanetarium Genk. Or even the Motives Festival, an annual gathering of jazz musicians. There’s plenty of fun to be had in one of Belgium’s foremost cities, we’re sure.

Is Celtic’s heralded “strategy” crumbling?

Most importantly, though, number 2. Kieran Tierney is tearing up the Premier League, while Virgil van Dijk has received recognition from FIFA. Moussa Dembélé is a big-money player. Those are fantastic examples, no doubt.

You could arguably add Stuart Armstrong and Victor Wanyama to that list. That’s 3 bonafide stars and 2 very good players.

Is that enough evidence that Celtic have signed or developed promising young players and moved them on for significant fees? Arguably, yes. Clearly, though, it isn’t enough.

If Celtic lose out on Alfie Doughty, Bright Osayi-Samuel and others, like we’ve lost out on Mark McKenzie, what does that say? Does it mean that the club are no longer seen as a “stepping-stone” to something bigger? Or, is it the case that Celtic are no longer an appealing prospect to young players who see their developmental needs suit best at Lennoxtown?

Missing out on targets we hoped to develop, because they don’t see Celtic as the place to develop? It’s a new one, but it likely won’t be the last time we see this happen.