Ranked: Celtic 2021 summer signings from instant heroes to works in progress

By Euan Davidson

December 25, 2021

Celtic gave us plenty to talk about in the summer, even before we get to the signings. It was a period of utter drama for fans, amidst calls for season ticket boycotts, protests against the board, mystery over who’d manage us and a new, gripping story every day.

Yet, the Bhoys had a lot of work to do. 12 new faces came through the door, replacing the likes of Odsonne Edouard, Ryan Christie, Kristoffer Ajer, Olivier Ntcham, Jonjoe Kenny, Mohamed Elyounoussi and more. It could’ve been a salvage job.

Instead, new boss Ange Postecoglou and new CEO Michael Nicholson brought in some real, sustainable talent. Guys who either oozed experience, or had immensely exciting futures. Guys who have become instant cult classics, maybe even future legends.

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Summer signings, and recruitment more widely, has been smart. Capital S Smart. We could’ve had no reasonable expectations for each and every player through the door to either contribute immediately, or show real promise for years to come.

Instead of letting everyone enjoy their Christmas though, let’s rank the ones that have played first-team minutes. Bosun Lawal and Joey Dawson, then, won’t be included here.

You ready? Let’s do this.

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Liam Shaw; a future Celtic midfielder and smart summer signing

Liam Shaw hasn’t exactly been spoilt for opportunities in a Celtic shirt yet. Every time we’ve seen him, though, he’s looked a real player.

In pre-season, Shaw played either centre-back, defensive midfield or further forward. And while that versatility is undoubtedly impressive, he’s considerably young and finding his optimal position will be the next step.

The former Sheffield Wednesday man arrived on a pre-contract deal and, in his debut against Real Betis, looked both tidy and combative. In his 65 minutes of action [Transfermarkt] in the Europa League, Shaw played extremely positively. 18 of his 20 accurate passes were forwards [Fotmob], and he won a considerable 8 duels.

In a club debut, let alone a European one, against guys like William Carvalho? That’s genuinely impressive.

There’s more to come of course, and it would be unfair to grade him given the lack of minutes he’s had. But he looks a player.

Grade: N/A

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As above, so below: Osaze Urhoghide yet to make real impression for Celtic, but signs are good

Another pre-contract deal from Sheffield Wednesday, Osaze Urhoghide has been a really fun signing. Off the pitch, he’s great value, and he seems genuinely delighted to be at Celtic.

Another who got his full debut against Real Betis, Urhoghide has been on the periphery of the squad, but made a suitably impressive impression in his only appearance. Capable at either centre-back or right-back, Urhoghide, like Shaw, is still very much a work-in-progress. But the raw materials are very good.

Determined, with great timing in the tackle, Urhoghide showed utter willingness to get into the positions Ange Postecoglou wants from a defender. Enterprising on the ball against Betis, and excellent in recovering from his understandable mistakes, Urhoghide put himself in Ange’s thoughts with a solid European display.

Again, unfair to grade at this point, but like Shaw, Urhoghide has a potentially exciting future. And, also like Shaw, fans will be hoping to see him in action again soon.

Grade: N/A

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James McCarthy: we’re yet to see his best but still a sensible Celtic summer signing

Glasgow-born Ireland international James McCarthy seemed destined to join Celtic eventually. Having played in the club’s Academy before making his name at Hamilton, the midfielder was constantly linked to a move home, even while starring in the Premier League.

Eventually, it happened. Largely, though, it’s been a difficult time for the likeable midfielder. Injuries have hampered his progression, delaying his debut, and it’s led to some inconsistent performances overall.

Ah, but; when he’s good, you can see what the fuss is about. Confident on the ball, he’s capable of finding a clever pass deep from midfield. That, and his ball-winning attributes from deep positions are of benefit to this Celtic side.

The former Everton and Crystal Palace man hasn’t had the run of games he needs yet. But you could argue he’s had some successes; very decent against Aberdeen in a 2-1 win, and in the Betis game Shaw and Urhoghide played, where he got 90 minutes.

McCarthy was written off very early, which to me was extremely unfair. He’ll have a role this season if he stays fit, and while he may not be a blockbuster signing, he has everything within him to be a useful player for Celtic.

Thus far, it’s a Grade of B-.

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Liam Scales: A mysterious Celtic signing who is now proving his worth

Even the most objective football writers will have players they take a particular shine to. Given that we are on a Celtic website, and I’m not objective about this, it’s even more likely that there’ll be players each of us like more than others.

Liam Scales – and I wasn’t 100% sure why – was a player I really wanted to do well at Celtic. Maybe it’s because of the conspiracies about him being some kind of book-balancing signing for Shamrock Rovers. Or, the fact that Irish players haven’t always had the best time after signing for Celtic in recent years.

Either way, I badly wanted him to do well. I just like the guy. And now we can say, objectively, that he’s brought real value.

Adept in a number of positions, Scales has had his opportunities at left-back. At this point, I’d say he’s clearly our second-best in the position, which isn’t bad considering the competition. Extremely happy to get forward with the ball, Scales’ best attribute – for me at least – is getting into a meaty 50/50, coming away with the ball and marauding forward.

It was the first thing he did against Raith Rovers, and we’ve since seen it against Ross County, Dundee United and Real Betis (that game, again!). Defensively, he seems sound, but going forward he’s a really intelligent player. The move to set up Liel Abada against Ross County was genuinely magnificent.

He’s not had a consistent run in the side yet, probably because with less experience, it was taking him longer to adapt to Ange Postecoglou and the tactical style. No shame in that, whatsoever.

So far, though, so good.

Grade: B.

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Giorgos Giakoumakis: Still plenty to come from another mysterious Celtic summer signing

What’s the worst thing that could feasibly happen for a new signing when a club has a radically different manager with a clear tactical ideology? Missing pre-season.

Like; all of pre-season. Giorgos Giakoumakis was an exciting signing, given his goal-scoring exploits in the Netherlands. Scoring as many as he did for a VVV-Venlo side that were relegated meant he had to have plenty to offer. For a team that dominates possession, it looked a good match.

But Giakoumakis arrived with a shoulder injury. Then, he picked up a calf injury, warming up to make his debut. Frustrating!

But when he did make his bow, against St Johnstone, the effects were excellent. Latching himself on to a fine cross from Jota, Giakoumakis made it 1 in 1 start, and if only he’d been able to stay fit after that.

The Livingston game, and his late penalty miss, have justifiably caused consternation. But he’d been at least solid in every other appearance he’d made. To judge him by that game alone would be unfair.

There’s probably just enough of a sample size to grade him, yet, anything overwhelmingly harsh or full of praise seem unjustified – yet. But I’ve a strong feeling he’s going to come good and score important goals for us this season.

So at the moment, his Grade is a C+, but that’ll shoot up over the season. The talent is there. His confidence and consistency, not quite.

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Carl Starfelt: Overall, the signs are good for Celtic summer signing

Oh, Carl Starfelt. The victim of public opinion, Starfelt was a lightning rod for criticism that wasn’t entirely justified.

Now, let’s not get this wrong; he started badly. Against Hearts and AZ Alkmaar, Starfelt was immensely worrying. But what’s being forgotten is that he’d barely arrived before playing either team, and that showed in some shaky early performances.

But when he grew in confidence, Starfelt became an impressive addition. Now, this is ever so slightly prejudiced by his nervy display against Hibernian in the Premier Sports Cup Final. Looking at the picture as a whole, though, Starfelt has been decent.

The first thing to get out of the way is that our defence in general has been the best in the Scottish top-flight. It’s not even that close, either. Starfelt has been a key part of that, so let’s bear that in mind.

Secondly, what do the numbers show us? Well, they’re good. Starfelt is average 1.4 tackles and the same number of interceptions a game. Perhaps even more importantly, he’s winning 4.1 aerial duels per 90, something Celtic absolutely needed from a new centre-back.

He can win the ball and spark counter-attacks with some smart passing, too. Overall, yes, he’s had shaky moments. But he came from a Rubin Kazan team with an entirely different identity. What’s being asked of any centre-back at Celtic this season takes getting used to.

Folk had their pitchforks out for Starfelt early on. But he’s been a smart pick-up.

Grade: B+.

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Liel Abada: An utter surprise package for Celtic this season

If it hadn’t been for Kyogo Furuhashi’s ridiculously good start, Abada would be the name most associated with the resurgence of Celtic in 21-22.

Abada was just 19 when he joined the Bhoys from Maccabi Petah Tikva. Within his first few matches, he’d set up and scored important goals. He gave us the byline runs that we’d lacked all of last season. Playing in any of the front three positions, here was a young guy none of us had heard of providing important moments.

He may have tailed off somewhat towards the end of 2021, but Abada was an absolutely inspired signing. Overall, he’s had 16 goal contributions in 30 (thirty!) Celtic games already, equally distributed between goals and assists.

This, for a guy who none of us had heard of.

Instantly, he became popular. He and Kyogo had their own song within weeks, and he’s formed a lethal front three with two guys we’ll get to in a moment.

He’s had quiet games, sure – who hasn’t? But Abada was a supremely smart pick-up for the Hoops and Ange Postecoglou.

Grade: A-.

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Cameron Carter-Vickers: Well worth the stress

Carter-Vickers’ will-he-won’t-he mini-saga with Celtic got quickly frustrating, and it wasn’t his fault at all.

Spurs wavered over where to send him, agreeing a contract extension so they could get a return on their investment. The USA international had seen more loans than the Bank of Scotland, generally being an effective and important presence wherever he went.

So when Celtic secured him on a loan-to-buy deal, there was no shortage of intrigue. And he’s been absolutely colossal, and a vital player for the Bhoys this season.

It’s hard to remember him putting a foot wrong thus far. The Tottenham loanee has been a reliably solid presence at the back for Postecoglou’s side, showing an impressive range of passing and buying into the system at Lennoxtown.

He’s even scored some important goals in games where the Hoops really needed it. There’s some finesse there sure, but also the defensive urgency and calm we’ve needed. He averages 5 clearances a game [WhoScored?] in the league for us, doing some of the dirty work but in a progressive manner, always looking for the clever pass.

It’s worth noting that Instat and CIES, who provide scouting tools used by the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez, have CCV as the second-best performer in the Scottish Premiership. That, and actually watching him go about his business, are more than enough evidence of a clever, clever signing.

Grade: A.

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Josip Juranovic: That Panenka alone is worth an A Grade

What do you do when you miss out on a bunch of right-back targets? You sign the Croatia right-back for a pittance and watch him go to work.

As value goes, Juranovic has been an absolutely excellent signing. Even though he’s most often played at right-back, he’s inspired Anthony Ralston to raise his game, while providing technique, confidence and finesse to a less fashionable position on the pitch.

A man keeping La Liga winner Šime Vrsaljko out the Croatia team, Juranovic could play up front and still do damage. His vision for a pass, consistent tackling and reading of the game mean he’s been a significant upgrade in either full-back slot, and you sense there’s even more to come.

Part of the reason the Celtic defence improved so drastically, Juranovic was a great bit of business. Signed for just £2.5m [Sun], he’s even got on the scoresheet with some considerable panache. His chipped penalty against Bayer Leverkusen was absolutely outstanding.

Once he gets a run of games in his natural right-back slot, we’ll see his true worth. But what he’s added to this Celtic side already has been considerable.

Grade: A

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Joe Hart: More than “deeceeeent” for Celtic since signing in the summer

One of the biggest question marks going into 21-22 was the goalkeeping situation. Would Scott Bain continue to be the best of a bad bunch? Would Vasilis Barkas get an opportunity? Conor Hazard?

No. Instead a multiple Premier League winner and 75 Cap England international would take the mantle. Joe Hart has been one of the best signings we’ve made in years, and there’s plenty of competition.

There were plenty of us, myself included, who doubted Hart. Here was a player who’d been publicly criticised at Torino [Eurosport], was battling for a place at Burnley, West Ham and Spurs, and whose stock had lowered significantly from his England and Manchester City salad days.

But both he and Celtic made a fantastic decision, and neither have looked back. He’s been absolutely phenomenal.

Providing immense leadership from between the sticks, Hart has seamlessly adapted his game to Postecoglou’s style, acting as both the catalyst for progressive movements, and acting as a sweeper keeper. Any doubts about his footwork have all but vanished.

Now vice-captain, Hart has been a huge improvement on what we had in goals. Along with Juranovic, the defence is full of leaders, guys with international pedigree.

Hart has character, outstanding reactions and the willingness to do whatever it takes. An inspired bit of business for just £1m.

Grade: A+.

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Jota: Sign this man immediately, Celtic

With his boyish looks and his 80s hair, Jota was always going to be popular. As a former Portugal youth sensation, Benfica really ought to have done more for Jota in recent seasons, with him being loaned out or only featuring sporadically for the storied Portuguese side.

What a mistake that was, let alone giving Celtic the option to snap him up permanently. Thus far, Jota has been absolutely brilliant.

We love a flair player, and Jota has plenty of pace and trickery to embarrass even the most reliable Scottish Premiership defenders. More than that, though, Jota is producing, and at a fantastic rate.

In 18 games, he’s scored 8 goals and set up 6 more. Some of those have been important goals, too; strikes against Ferencvaros, Aberdeen (twice), Motherwell et al have got Celtic through some tricky encounters. Not only that, he does it with an irresistible charm.

It’s impossible to be a Celtic supporter and not be anything less than delighted for him when he makes an impact. He, like so many others, has utterly embraced the manager and the club, and not securing him long-term would be an unthinkable folly.

His best moment? Against Ferencvaros at Celtic Park, he had the ball deep within our own half. He looks up for what seems like a micro-second, and finds Kyogo (who we’ll get to) with an inch perfect pass, while in transit. Kyogo duly puts away a wonder-goal.

Not loving Jota should be punishable by law. A fantastic player.

Grade: A+

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Kyogo Furuhashi: Unavoidably, the star of the show

This was a transfer some of us would’ve hoped for, but might not have seen coming.

One summer morning, news emerged that Celtic were on the cusp of signing Kyogo Furuhashi. With Odsonne Edouard likely away, and the same for Leigh Griffiths, we needed strikers, and fast.

What we got was incredible. It took a mere glance at the J League scoring charts to know what Kyogo could bring to Celtic, but there’s so much more to him than that.

He’s become iconic. Japanese flags are a common sight at Parkhead these days, and for good reason. Kyogo hasn’t just been the best summer signing from this year, but maybe one of the best we’ve made in the last decade.

When he made his first appearance against Jablonec, his impact was immediate. What stunned us, beyond his cool finish, was the unbelievable movement. He seemed to find space against the Czech side that didn’t exist. But could he do it against domestic opposition, or high quality European opponents?

Haha, c’mon now. Of course.

As I write this, we are still collectively buzzing from a Premier Sports Cup Final in which Kyogo wasn’t even 100% fit. He scored twice. In typical style, too, effortless beating an offside trap, appearing as if from nowhere, and putting the ball in the net.

It’s hard to know what more we can say about Kyogo, and he’s only been here for half a season. The work rate, the pressing, the movement, the finishing; all utterly sensational.

When he embraced Ange Postecoglou upon the full-time whistle at Hampden on the 19th, it said it all. Right there was the reason it feels so good to be a Celtic fan again.

Brilliant. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Grade: A+