Last year much of the fun in the pre-season – if you can use that word to describe it – was all the “will he or won’t he?” speculation about Patrick Roberts.
Most of us had a fair idea that he would; for us the speculation was over when it would happen instead. I had a feeling it would be towards the end of the window.
This week, the Roberts rumor wheel has started turning all over again. I think it could happen. It could definitely happen. There’s no doubt about that. But it won’t happen. I don’t think so anyway. If I had to assign a probability to it, it’d be about 20%. Someone asked me about Jason Denayer yesterday; I’d assign that 5%.
Roberts is the one we all wish we believed would come off. But realistically, it’s not going to come off. The will is there on both sides, I think. He would come back to Celtic and Celtic would love to have him, but this will come down to cold hard cash when everything is said and done, and City do not want to sell him to us for the kind of money we could pay.
Let me tell you; signing Patrick Roberts on a permanent deal would cover a multitude of sins from this window. We’ve done nothing of note except for making the Edouard deal permanent, but if we secured Roberts’ signature, as our own player, I think most of us would put the last month or so in the rearview mirror and stop complaining. As a PR move it would hit the ball out of the park. But is this the window where we break our transfer record, and then break it again? Because that’s exactly what it would take. That’s why it won’t happen.
Roberts is one of the most exciting footballers I’ve seen in a Celtic shirt in years. He is that good. That City can’t find a place for him says everything about the bloat in their squad. That he spent so long on the bench at Celtic Park last season is one of the reasons his value has depreciated where EPL clubs won’t pay big money for him … and prior to coming to our club he was all set to end up at a very big club indeed. That’s not our fault, it’s the arrogant English perspective on our national league. That is why this might happen after all.
The English clubs who are interested in Roberts cannot understand why he is not interested in them, but it’s really quite simple. He has played for a huge club and won trophies and been feted and hailed a hero by some of the best fans in the game and he has exactly zero interest in moving from Manchester City to a club like Leicester or another mid-table struggler. He sees Celtic for exactly what it is and will not take a step down from us to end up somewhere like that. He believes in our club. He is a footballer with a healthy self-regard and ambition; in other words, he believes in himself too and that’s important and it’s why we have a shot.
So what would it take? Cast aside all the speculation and ask the hard question; what would it cost us to take Patrick Roberts to Parkhead? At a conservative estimate, somewhere in the region of £8 million. Roberts still has two years of his deal to run, so even a loan might not be seen inside City as such a great piece of business.
Of course, if Roberts wanted to come to Celtic – if we were his first choice and his only choice short of staying and playing for City – he could let the board there know that in no uncertain terms. But it would be career suicide. They could literally chuck him in the reserves and forget about him. They have the finances to do that to a player who isn’t with the program … and he doesn’t owe us anything and we should never expect him to act that way.
City may deal at a reduced price if they believe Roberts has his heart set on a move “back home”, but does he? His tweet of the other day wasn’t exactly cryptic, but it wasn’t exactly a cast-iron “my future is at Celtic Park” message either, and no amount of spin will make it one. I argued a year ago that one of the things Roberts has to sort out in his own head is to accept that the Manchester City dream is over; I understand his reluctance to do that, but the time for denial is coming to an end. He will never be a first team player there.
Once Roberts concludes that he will then have to decide what he wants his future to be. Celtic Park can offer him everything he needs to get the recognition that he craves, and whilst playing at Leicester or somewhere just as inauspicious would allow him the stage of the EPL he has to consider that it will be a largely loveless existence and one without hope of honors. At Celtic Park he can have it all, and the English clubs will still take notice.
Patrick probably is coming to the realization that the hopes he harbored once of playing for Manchester City are over. That the manager hasn’t even bothered to talk to him to clarify his future plans is telling in itself. If it’s possible to feel sorry for a footballer earning big money, in this pampered era of them, I would feel for Roberts who moved to City and dared to dream only to come to understand that he was signed in part to sell later … City’s business plan is ruthlessly efficient, and it’s all too probable that they see their young Australian import the same way they saw Roberts; as a bankable asset rather than a footballing one.
Once he gets past that, he can choose his next move.
There are reasons why this could happen. Indeed, if Roberts is minded to come back to Celtic then there’s every reason to suspect that it will, and that City would do well to cut their losses, accept a fee that Celtic might well be willing to pay, and give us all the transfer market lift to end them all. The number 7 shirt is waiting for someone; Roberts could fill it as well as anyone, and there’s a suspicion that inside Celtic some see him as its inevitable heir.
There’s just one reason to think that all of this is speculative, and the worst kind of nonsense. It’s all going to come down to money, of course, but that’s not a minor obstacle. The one advantage we have on that score is that City will roll on whether Roberts is sold cheaply or not. They have money to burn, and if the kid wants to be at Parkhead they can certainly afford to take the hit. It’ll be a minor one, but even then it might be more than we’re willing to pay.