This window is shaping up to be much busier, and much more productive, than any of us thought. As well as a few more incoming than we had originally believed – I now believe we’ll see perhaps six players signing – the traffic the other way is going to be a lot more intense than even the most fevered speculation had guessed.
Brendan has made decisions about who is wanted and who is not. He’s made decisions about who has a future at the club and who doesn’t. And for the record, he has offered some clarity on the positions of a number of players, clarity which is most welcome.
Two stand out in particular; Ryan Christie and Kouassi Eboue.
All the regular readers know exactly how I feel about Ryan. I was excited when we signed him, and I am no less excited about him now than I was then. Ryan Christie is one of the best young footballing talents in the country, and I always believed that he would return to Celtic Park and light the place up. I still do. It was heartening to read Brendan on that subject, discussing how allowing the player to go out on loan was in his best interests … but also ours.
Furthermore, he invoked Kristofer Ajer as the proof of the strategy. Ajer was seen by many as one of the forgotten men of Celtic Park but nothing could have been further from the truth. The same applies to Ryan Christie; he, like Ajer, has been kept here in Scotland where the manager could continue to monitor his progress.
Far from being forgotten, he seems to be a key part of Brendan’s long term plan. So too is the young midfielder we signed from Ipswich, Kendai Benyu. The signs are that Brendan will let him go out on loan too; he was signed very much as a “project” player but he’s already done enough to convince the manager that he’ll be a first team player sooner rather than later. In the meantime, it’s probably for the best that he is out and playing games.
More than anything else, it was Brendan’s comments on Kouassi Eboue which impressed me most; he is, as I’ve thought for a while, the guy people inside the club see as the natural replacement for Scott Brown. They are similar players, playing in the same role. And although I also believe the club is seriously considering John McGinn – I expect that deal in this window – he can play in a few midfield roles. It’s clear that Eboue is the guy who Celtic see as our defensive player.
This is a highly specialised position; not everyone realises that. Before Brown it was held by Neil Lennon; it’s not an easy one to fill and those who can do it are highly sought after players. It requires great discipline and awareness of what’s going on around you on the pitch. Brown has excelled in the slot, which ironically is why we’ve not seen Kouassi that much.
Brendan was quick to point that out.
“Eboue was brought in and he plays a specific role – the Scott Brown role. It just so happens he’s the captain who has been excellent. It’s been difficult … there’s really no doubt that he hasn’t played enough games. But it’s not because of him, it’s because of the form of our captain. Eboue’s brilliant in training, he does everything and, longer term, he will certainly fulfil that role.”
Celtic fans have been rightly asking questions about our £3 million signing from the last window, but we’re not the sort of club who takes big risks like that when there’s not a good reason for them. I said at the time it was a punt, it was a flexing of serious financial muscle, but I never doubted that the people in our scouting department had done their homework.
He was never going to be a flop. He was never going to drift out of the running entirely. He was bought as a long-term prospect, not as a quick fix.
There are no “forgotten men” at Celtic Park. Everyone who’s still on the books when this window closes will have a role to play. Whether they are at the club or out on loan, Celtic will be entirely aware of them and what they have to offer us.
This season has proved that where squad size is concerned that bigger is better. Those who have accused us of “ruining” young players like Christie are apparently ignorant of the fact we’re not leaving these guys to stagnate on the bench.