McNamara questions the Celtic transfer policy; has the club become a career hospital?

By Euan Davidson

November 24, 2020

Speaking on 67 Hail Hail’s YouTube channel, Jackie McNamara made a particularly insightful comment about Celtic’s recruitment policy in recent years.

The former captain said: “If you’re going to change the manager, I’d want somebody that’s on the way up, same as the players.

“The likes of Duffy, Ajeti at West Ham, Elyounoussi at Southampton, that’s three players who have been deemed not good enough for their three teams in England, so how are they good enough for Celtic at the moment?”

It’s a compelling point. Celtic have had mixed fortunes as somewhat of a career hospital for Premier League players and while rehabilitating the careers of players who’ve had a difficult time of it England has been a shrewd move in some cases, what does it say about our stature in European football?

On face value, there’s value to be had from the gargantuan squads being amassed in the Premier League. There are international players buried away, some who don’t even make the match-day line-ups for even bottom half teams in England.

When we took a punt on Fraser Forster at Newcastle United on loan and then on a permanent basis, we found our most reliable keeper since Artur Boruc, and a legitimate star when he’s confident and getting regular game-time.

Scott Sinclair was one of our best players of recent years, after a torrid time at Aston Villa, slotting into Brendan Rodger’s high-intensity, aggressively pressing team.

Just now, the aforementioned Albian Ajeti, Moi Elyounoussi and Shane Duffy have arrived from English clubs to differing effect.

There are two schools of thought here: of course, if a quality player becomes available who would suit our needs and be able to settle with relative ease, then we should be looking at them. It also fits the transfer model of buying low and selling high, if done well, with Forster being the most obvious example.

However, it doesn’t suggest an awful lot about our ambition and stature as an aspirational top European side, and feeds the nauseating narratives about our league in comparison to the monied hierarchy down South.

Attitude is just as important as ability and tactical adaptability. Scouts aren’t mind readers, there’s no way of truly knowing how a Premier League player might treat a “step down” to play for Celtic.

In this bizarre year, where fans aren’t allowed into stadiums, complacency isn’t punished to nearly the same degree as when Celtic Park is full and the supporters are in full voice.

However, you get a sense that it takes what we might consider a surprising amount of time to adjust to the Scottish game. You probably would’ve expected Shane Duffy, a self-proclaimed Celtic Man, to be able to seamlessly transition into a Celtic back-line. To say he’s done little to bolster his chances of regular football back in Brighton would be somewhat of an understatement at this point.

Celtic defender Shane Duffy / (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Elyounoussi, despite his obvious quality, hasn’t won over Ralph Hasenhüttl on the other end of the South coast, and Albian Ajeti, who we signed permanently, has been played in a system that doesn’t accommodate his attributes. But the wider point to be made here is that we’re taking on players with damaged reputations largely to the benefit of Premier League clubs, in the long run. What does that say about us?

Perhaps part of our current set of problems is motivation. When we sign these kinds of players, are Celtic being sold as a place to stay long-term, a cause worth playing for? Are the stakes lower for loan players who consider their time at Celtic to be fleeting?

Obviously, finances are a factor here. We’re not going to be able to sign top talent on the wages that big prospects command from the top 5 leagues, and nobody is suggesting otherwise.

The level of scouting on Premier League players coming in needs to be looked at; are we looking to sign players with the right attitude? If they have something to prove, why is that? Most pertinently, are they any better than what we have already?

Celtic manager Neil Lennon and Mohamed Elyounoussi / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Not all of our best players are going to be plucked from obscurity, there isn’t an Odsonne Edouard in every youth squad that we can offer game time to.

At the very least, when we make moves for Premier League squad players, there’s an element of known quantity and there’s ostensibly a reduced element of risk there.

However, Jackie Mac’s point remains: if they’re not good enough for their clubs in England, why are they good enough for us?