The Free Agent XI who could save Celtic millions

By Euan Davidson

May 8, 2021

So, Celtic need to rebuild, and it could cost millions.

After all, good players are expensive nowadays. The days of transfers like £650,000 for Henrik Larsson, or Didier Agathe for just £50,000, are gone [BBC]. In more recent years, the Bhoys have signed top talents like Christopher Jullien and Odsonne Edouard for north of £7m.

With so many positions needing reinforcement, you could imagine that a massive transfer budget might be needed. However, 67 Hail Hail is here to prove that there’s quality available without having to spend a penny on a transfer fee. Just because we’re polite yet dedicated Celtic supporters like that.

From between the sticks to banging in the goals, here’s a Free Agent XI that Celtic could pick up this summer.

Tomas Vaclik in action against Real Madrid / (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

Solving a major issue for Celtic: goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik

I’m genuinely confused as to why we’re not going for this guy. While all the rumours swirl in the direction of Ofir Marciano, Tomas Vaclik is a higher-pedigree goalkeeper whose contract runs out this summer.

Currently serving as Sevilla’s back-up, Vaclik has been capped 36 times by the Czech Republic, was named as 2018’s Czech Player of the Year [], and won a Europa League with Sevilla. A sturdy presence between the sticks with fantastic European experience, the shot-stopper is just 32 and has plenty of life in his career yet.

Jetro Willems, on loan at Newcastle United last year / (Photo by Rich Linley – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Defenders don’t come cheap these days… but these free agent ball-winners do

Left-back has been a problem position since Kieran Tierney left, and we’ve gambled on both established names and up-and-comers. Few of us really knew much about Boli Bolingoli when he arrived from Rapid Vienna. However, Greg Taylor and Diego Laxalt were known quantities.

Taylor aside, it’s hardly been a glorious era for full-backs. So, to be able to pick a Dutch international for nothing sounds pretty good, no? Ultra-versatile left-back Jetro Willems is available for free this summer. He has the energy, stamina and defensive nous to make the position his own. Formerly of Newcastle United, he’s an adaptable player who has played on these islands before.

In the middle, you can take your pick from a number of exciting options. So, we did, and found Aïssa Mandi of Real Betis. Capped 60 times by Algeria, Mandi has played 28 La Liga matches this season, averaging 1.1 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per 90 [WhoScored?]. An experienced campaigner for both Betis and Stade Reims, Mandi is a combative, smart defender with an African Cup of Nations title to his name.

Next to him? We like Sean Clifford’s pick of Kean Bryan, the Sheffield United centre-back. A strong tackler who’s capable in the air and in the tackle, Bryan came through Manchester City’s academy and represents a real bargain.

On the right, we like the look of Antwerp’s Aurelio Buta. A former Benfica youth product, Buta has featured 8 times in the Europa League, and provided assists in the Jupiler Pro [Transfermarkt]. Very much the modern full-back, Buta can play anywhere on the right, and provides an attacking threat as well as defensive solidity.

Nick Powell of Stoke City / (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

For the Celtic midfield, a very obvious inclusion

I don’t know how else to say this: Celtic should be after Ryan Gauld. We’ve covered this already but it bears repeating; one of Jackie McNamara’s former players is one of the Liga NOS’ best players this season. And he’s available for absolutely nada. A possible pick for Steve Clarke’s Euro 2020 squad, you remember Ryan Gauld, surely. A creative no.10 who can be adapted to play slightly deeper, he’s a goalscorer and sharp passer who can unlock defences domestic and continental.

Elsewhere, the Argentine midfielder Domingo Blanco is on his way out of Independiente [Transfermarkt]. A tricky midfield dynamo, Blanco’s main talents are ball carrying and playing short, forward passes to unlock opposition defences. An absolute nuisance in possession, Blanco is capable of winning fouls in dangerous areas for the likes of Turnbull and Edouard to finish. Smarter Scout rates his dribbling at a 99, which is just silly.

One more? Alright then: how about former Manchester United man Nick Powell? This would be an incredibly attacking midfield three, sure. However, the ex Wigan and Hull City midfielder has scored a fantastic 12 league goals this season. Part of a transitional period for Stoke City under Michael O’Neill, it’s unfathomable that Powell hasn’t signed a new contract with the Potters. Celtic would do well to step in.

Isaac Mbenza on the wing for Huddersfield Town / (Photo by William Early/Getty Images)

Attacking free agent options

Returning to the EFL Championship, Isaac Mbenza is a name attracting interest. Huddersfield Town seem set to let a few important names go this season. Sadly, that includes the French-Belgian winger, who has 13 league goal contributions to his name. Capable on either side or in the middle, the 25-year-old former Belgium youth international would be an absolute steal.

On the other flank (although it’s unclear which), Joshua King of Everton is facing free agency this summer. The former Bournemouth man comes Vidar Riseth-approved, and would be a fairly obvious free agent target for Eddie Howe, provided the i’s are dotted on him joining Celtic soon.

Finally, a bit of a flyer. Aleksander Buksa of Wisla Krakrow is attracting glances from top sides around Europe, and at just 18, has incredible potential. Interestingly [The Sportsman]:

“[Buksa’s] father made his fortune in the Polish city through the hot mulled wine known as Grzaniec Galicyjski.”

He’s still a very raw talent, for sure. But to be able to pick up a hotly-tipped Polish youngster, specifically one being called the “next Lewandowski” [HITC] seems a no-brainer, especially with the fee he could command in years to come.



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