The Alexandro Bernabei situation and Celtic's options

By John McGinley

May 13, 2023

It’s important that there is no overreaction to today’s Celtic defeat at Ibrox. It wasn’t a fun afternoon, that cannot be denied. But ultimately Ange Postecoglou set out what it meant to our season well in advance of the game – absolutely nothing. The club’s fans will always want to win a derby and put on a good performance but there are no tangible consequences coming out of today’s defeat apart from a bit of bruised pride.

However, it’s also crucial that we don’t shy away from issues we’re seeing in the team. As much as what’s going right must be celebrated, potential weaknesses moving forward have to be addressed. That brings me to Alexandro Bernabei, who is being discussed a lot by Celtic fans in the wake of the 3-0 result.

It should be stressed that there is no single scapegoat for today’s loss. The entire team were poor. That stretches from those with something to prove such as Yuki Kobayashi and Hyeongyu Oh to those who have done it all with the Bhoys, like Callum McGregor.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Clearly, though, Bernabei’s performance was not a good one. Arguably, he should be showing a bit more than we’re getting at this stage of his Celtic career. The Argentinian didn’t arrive in January like Oh and Kobayashi, who will continue to get the benefit of the doubt and plenty of more chances to prove themselves. He’s now made 18 appearances for the Bhoys, having signed last June, and so far hasn’t quite made the impact that signifies he will be a quality competitor for Greg Taylor’s position.

Undoubtedly it’s been a big transition for him to make the move from Argentina to an entirely new culture and setting in Glasgow. Still just 22, that’s not an easy thing to do. But there’s a concern he might not make a significant improvement from where he’s at right now – and we need a player there who can.

Ange Postecoglou has built a ruthless culture at Celtic since arriving in Scotland. If you’re not good enough and aren’t making progress, you will be moved on. Fan favourites have been moved on with 18 months and those not quite cutting it have said goodbye after just six. It all leads to question marks about what the future holds for Bernabei this summer.

What’s next for Alexandro Bernabei at Celtic

It’s not as simple as just getting rid of him, even if that’s the knee-jerk conclusion some are coming to today. For starters, Postecoglou may well think that the left-back can take a jump with another summer under his belt and more time with his Celtic squad. He has consistently talked positively about Bernabei in the media. The manager and staff see enough of him in training to make that determination. If that’s the case, then fans showing increasing disquiet will have to remain patient with the Argentinian and put days like today to the back of their mind.

The other option is an acceptance that it’s not quite working out for him and setting in motion a plan to upgrade with a new signing while recouping as much of the money invested in his future as possible. He reportedly cost £3.75m last summer, which is not insignificant. It can’t be totally written off without careful consideration. Celtic aren’t going to get rid of Bernabei simply because he performed poorly at Ibrox, this is more about the direction of his progress over the last 10 months.

It’s at least clear that Bernabei does have raw talent. If Postecoglou and the club are listening, other teams would surely be keeping an eye on his situation. He’s ambitious in attack, possessing pace, dribbling ability and potential to make an impact in the final third – but he’s just not quite fitting into Celtic’s system at the moment as seamlessly as Taylor or Alistair Johnston are. We need a player who performs harmoniously with his teammates and can drop in when the pressure is on, at a high level. Can we really say that about Bernabei as it stands?

If the club are minded to sell and there’s a buyer, this is an area that definitely could be targeted when the transfer window opens. Celtic are in a great financial position and it can flex to tool up Postecoglou’s squad for another tilt at the UEFA Champions League if there are players out there who can functionally suit this team better. We have the luxury and the clout not to be forced into doubling down on a fairly expensive signing, even if an overall loss is made on the transfer. Having this power will at least tell us if Bernabei does stay, the manager genuinely believes in his future.

For some, all of this chatter around the Argentinian will come across as harsh. It’s not particularly pleasant to think this way about what was an exciting arrival, that caught the imagination of the support, last summer. But we can’t afford to be led by sentiment or hope when considering how to improve year-on-year, we can’t hang our hat on potential if there has been little sign it is emerging in this environment.

In other news, Ange Postecoglou delivers honest reaction to 3-0 Celtic defeat against Rangers.