The 7 players fighting for long-term Celtic futures this season

By David Walton

June 21, 2021

We know not every player currently in the squad will stay for the long-term at Celtic.

Whether some leave under freedom of contract or move on to bigger and better things, there will be plenty of departures.

For example, the likes of Odsonne Edouard, Kristoffer Ajer, and Ryan Christie will certainly depart. Not because they aren’t wanted, but because they have their eyes set on boosting their profiles in a bigger league.

But what about those who could leave in the near-future that will be fighting for their long-term futures this season. Those players who want to stay but still have some impressing to do? Whether it be down to their contracts expiring soon or the fact that it’s clear things won’t work out, we’ve counted seven Celtic senior squad players who fall into this bracket.

The players fighting for their long-term Celtic futures

Firstly, there are two in the goalkeeping department. Vasilis Barkas was bought for £4.5m last summer [Scottish Sun]. Even now there are major question marks over his future after a massively disappointing first campaign in which he lost his place in the team twice.

Ange Postecoglou is said to be assessing his goalkeeping options. This has led to speculation surrounding the potential signing of Mat Ryan [Sky Sports] or Freddie Woodman [The Chronicle]. Barkas’ stats suggest that he won’t be the first to depart. For me that has to be Scott Bain who has had more than enough opportunities and has shown quite clearly he isn’t good enough.

Barkas, however, has a huge season ahead of him. Failure to improve on last term and he’ll be out the door next summer.

The next is Conor Hazard. This is simply down to the fact his new contract at Celtic expires in the summer of 2023. For the last several years he’s been on the fringes. Last term he managed a run of games that saw him bag four clean sheets in six matches. In the end, however, there were big question marks regarding his lack of dominance in the air.

He lost vital goals to cross-balls in important matches against Hearts and Hibernian respectively. He did prove he was a solid shot-stopper in both of those matches. However, at 23, we need to see Hazard develop into first-team potential.

Another season sitting on the sidelines and you can expect Celtic to try and cash in next summer. It’s do or die for the Northern Ireland international.

Year-long options provide minimal security

Moving on, we come to the right-back who managed to see his one-year option on his contract triggered. The Scottish Sun has reported that Ralston’s deal expires in 2022 thanks to the extra year.

However, this is it for him. Last chance saloon. Even now supporters can’t understand why he’s been given that extra year. From the outside looking in it comes across as us keeping him on because he’s the only senior right-back at the club.

It’s going to take a miracle for Ralston to survive beyond next summer, but it’s what he’s signed up to fight for. He has the biggest task out of anyone with their contract expiring next year.

Celtic star Tom Rogic with Ange Postecoglou / (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Moving to the midfield, both Tom Rogic and Ewan Henderson have colossal campaigns ahead of them. Rogic was reportedly set to leave the club before the arrival of Postecoglou [The Athletic]. That suggests Tom has a huge part to play after a bit-part role last season.

Tom only bagged two goals and five assists in 30 appearances [Transfermarkt]. That’s hugely disappointing. Again, with a contract that runs out in 2023, it’s now or never. If he fails to reignite his career under his former Australia manager, it will certainly be time to part ways with him. Especially if we could manage to secure a fee.

With David Turnbull ahead of him in the pecking order, it’s going to be a huge ask for Rogic to be back in this team consistently. But he’ll get his opportunities this term, of that there’s no doubt.

Now or never for Euan

Henderson, meanwhile, has just come off an impressive loan spell with Dunfermline Athletic. The Celtic supporters have always been impressed with his creativity and footwork during his initial rise in 2019.

However, Euan’s deal is up in the summer of 2022. His time to impress is running out, and as of yet he’s given the club no reason to offer him an extension. If another loan deal is struck then you can pretty much say his Celtic career is over.

Pre-season is essential for him. We have a dearth of options in the final third at the moment. His best hope is to catch Postecoglou’s eye in pre-season and make an impact in the warm-up games.

Leigh Griffiths owes everyone at Celtic a big year / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Then there are the two strikers – Leigh Griffiths and Albian Ajeti. Let’s start with Leigh.

I fully expect him to have his year-long extension triggered. He’s already touched on the phone call he’s had with Postecoglou. Just the fact Ange took the time to spoke to him personally tells you he’s going to give Griffiths a chance. However, his extension would only see him get one extra year.

What that means is that he’s essentially playing for another longer-term contract next summer. He has the ability to get himself back to regular first-team level. But it’s all about how much Griff wants it.

Griffiths and Ajeti both look set to stay

If he can bag his first 20-goal season since 2016, his job will be complete. So long as he plays a key role in Postecoglou’s debut season, he’ll be kept around. But, like many, if he replicates what he produced this term, he’ll be dropped quickly.

Finally, there’s Ajeti. The £5m signing from West Ham United [Sky Sports] only managed six goals in all competitions last season [Transfermarkt]. Yet for the first couple of months after signing, he was impressing with his goal return. Even to the extent that some thought we made the right decision in bagging him over Ivan Toney.

His electric start fizzled out. He’s now in the Barkas category of needing to perform in order to justify his transfer fee. That investment alone will ensure he’s given another opportunity this season. However, two years of failure? That’s a different story and the club would likely be doing all it could to get him off the wage bill.

For now, however, he’s one of only two strikers likely to be here alongside Griffiths. It’s a clean slate for him just like the six players listed above. But if any of them are to be here for the 2022/23 campaign, they need a strong year.

In other news, it’s been reported that this Celtic player has agreed to leave the club.