From Pearson to Griffiths; Celtic's best January transfer window signings since 2000

By Euan Davidson

December 15, 2020

It’s fair to say, you usually don’t know quite what you’re getting from Celtic in the transfer market.

Players with big reputations have arrived and failed, while nobodies have become legends. It’s not a lottery, but it’s not an exact science either.

With the January transfer window shortly approaching, Peter Lawwell, Nick Hammond and Neil Lennon have work to do. Having watched Celtic slide perilously into awful form, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

We’ve no doubt the recruitment team at Celtic will have been busy. The club has been linked with everyone from the obvious – Fraser Forster – to the surreal – Phil Jones.

Celtic supporters have seen some bona fide Celtic legends arrive in the harsh Glasgow winter. Let’s rewind the clock and have a look at some inspired bits of January transfer business. Honourable mentions go to our current boss, Neil Lennon, who signed in December of 2000. He just misses out on account of the Gregorian Calendar.

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This isn’t an exhaustive list of the best necessarily, it’s just a selection of our favourites. Robbie Keane and Barry Robson didn’t make the cut – that’s how competitive this was.

Pearson buries Benfica at Celtic Park / (Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Stephen Pearson

I always felt Stephen Pearson was underrated at Celtic. Signed for just £350,000 in January 2004 (Independent), the boyhood Celtic fan lived out his dreams in the Green and White.

An important player during the rest of the 03-04 season, Pearson contributed to Celtic’s league and cup double. He was in the team for Celtic’s Nou Camp triumph over Barcelona, as Celtic got to the latter stages of the UEFA Cup.

A sturdy, creative midfielder, Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan benefitted from his work-rate, eye for a pass and emphatic finishing. He was part of a competitive midfield throughout his spell at Celtic, competing with Petrov, Lambert and Lennon initially.

Unfortunately, injuries slowed him down the season after. He was never quite the same player, but he did immortalise himself in 2006, with a winner against Benfica in the Champions League (BBC).

His tidy finish ensured Last-16 qualification for the Bhoys.

Pearson went on to spend most of his career in England, with Derby County, Stoke City and Bristol City. He retired quietly at Motherwell in 2017, where it all began.

It’s hard not to wonder what could’ve been for Pearson at Celtic. If injuries hadn’t hampered him at crucial moments, his stay in the East End of Glasgow could’ve been a lot longer.

Pearson was key to successful Celtic teams in the mid-00s, and his contributions shouldn’t be forgotten.

Bellamy, Thompson and Hartson celebrate winning the 2005 Scottish Cup / (Photo by Jeff Holmes/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Craig Bellamy

Put down the golf clubs; it’s Welsh trickster Craig Bellamy!

Signed on loan, Bellamy’s shock arrival at the end of January 2005’s transfer window was a pivotal moment for Celtic that year. He’d fallen out with Graeme Souness (Chronicle Live) rather spectacularly in the 04-05 season and the two had to part ways inevitably.

“He substituted me against Charlton and I reacted by calling him a p***k”, Bellamy has since said.

Quite right mate. Quite right.

His inter-personal skills maybe needed work, but his confidence didn’t. Bellamy immediately took to the passion at Celtic Park, scoring an impressive 7 goals in 12 league outings (Celtic Wiki).

Although that scoring rate alone couldn’t stop Rangers winning the title that season, Celtic were fired to the Scottish Cup by Bellamy’s 2 goals in 3 games.

A fiery yet intelligent striker, Bellamy would go on to achieve varying degrees of success at Liverpool and Manchester City, before retiring at Cardiff City in 2014. Having scored a fantastic 82 goals in 294 Premier League games, with 31 assists, Bellamy is a modern Welsh great.

If only we’d had him for longer.

What’s the German for “nonsense”? Hinkel didn’t know it. / (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Andreas Hinkel

For a good three years, there, Celtic had a German international at right-back.

About as sturdy as they come, Andy Hinkel joined Celtic from Sevilla for a staggering £1.9m (BBC). Considering the experience and composure he brought to the role, that’s still an absolute steal.

Hinkel, who’d played for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga, was the calm, sensible type of defender. By no means flashy, the German was just what Strachan needed.

He was a no-nonsense defender, who replaced a “some-nonsense” defender, and had his place taken by an “all-nonsense” defender. Cha Du-Ri and injuries led to Hinkel leaving in 2011 after making 95 competitive appearances for the Bhoys.

After tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during his final season at Celtic Park, Hinkel would go on to retire at 30 years old. It was not the end befitting to a player who brought incredible serenity to the Bhoys’ back-line and had won 21 caps over 6 years for Germany.

An underrated 00s Celtic player, Hinkel was just what Strachan and Celtic needed in 2008.

 

Simply majestic hair. / (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Georgios Samaras

Glorious hair, glorious player. Greek international Georgios Samaras was the butt of constant jokes in England, but at Celtic, he established a reputation as a big-game player.

Signed in January 2008 on the same day as wing wizard Koki Mizuno (…) (Glasgow Times), Samaras consistently won trophies at Celtic Park, and showed composure and leadership.

Winning 4 league titles, 2 Scottish Cups and a League Cup while wearing the Hoops, Samaras could either be incredibly frustrating or dominant. There was no in-between. The Greek striker wasn’t so much a Rolls-Royce player as he was a Mustang with no Neutral (I think that makes sense. I take the bus).

A lanky yet skilled forward, Samaras was predominantly played up front but could also play on the left of a front three. His heading ability and powerful shot dug Celtic out of many holes, and helped to win silverware.

He didn’t just score big goals, though. He brought out the best of those around him, particularly Jan Venegoor of Hesselink. In the 08-09 season, the big Dutchman had been struggling, but the two had a partnership that would terrify any defence, with their sheer physicality alone.

The season he joined was a particularly meaningful one, with Celtic coming out of nowhere to win the title, a triumph that was dedicated to the great Tommy Burns.

All in, he scored 71 and created 49 in 243 appearances for the Bhoys (Transfermarkt). Having been written off in England, Samaras became a legend at Celtic.

Celtic forward Leigh Griffiths against St. Mirren / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Leigh Griffiths

We’ll finish off with a man who’s still at Celtic, the controversial Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths.

Signed on the very last seconds of 2014’s January transfer window (Scotsman), Sparky came with a combustible reputation and his suitability for Celtic was immediately under question.

Indeed, there are still some in the Celtic support who wonder if we should’ve signed him.

What’s inarguable, however, is his goalscoring rate. Having put away 38 in 78 for Hibs and 33 in 62 for Livingston, it was clear that Griffiths was an asset at the Scottish level (Transfermarkt).

At the time of writing, he’s scored 118 goals in 242 games for Celtic. That’s an incredible return for a striker who only set the Bhoys back just over £1m. We’ve signed less prolific strikers for far more than that.

Having struggled with injuries and mental health problems, Griffiths isn’t the key man that he once was. However, for sheer value and commitment, there’s nobody like him at Celtic. He winds up opposition and comes up with the goods when he’s available.

As January window signings go, he’s up there with the best.