The pursuit of Shane Duffy moved up a gear this weekend, when the club formally opened talks with Brighton to bring him to Parkhead on a season long loan. We are the player’s preferred option. Europe, trophies, the chance for a boyhood Celtic fan to play a starring role in ten in a row … it seems that he wants to come here, and that might be important.
But this is a key position in the Lennon plan. Neil has made it clear with the signing of Ajeti that he wants us to play the 3-5-2 which gives us two up front and lets him rotate his midfield a little. The two important positions are up top and at the back.
You need that second striker who can link up well with French Eddie and you need a third centre back, and one who commands the penalty area, a big no-nonsense player as opposed to what we have right now, which is two defenders who can play a bit.
That’s one of the interesting things about our defensive line-up in recent years; all of our central defenders have been able to put their foot on the ball and take it out for a walk in the middle of the park. That’s why Ajer has gotten such rave reviews early in his career.
It’s why we were able to put Bitton at centre back … our system encourages defenders to come out with the ball, and it helps that both of those guys started out as midfielders.
That was a Brendan Rodgers affection, copying an idea that first found real prominence at Barcelona and the way they deployed Mascherano.
Teams sat back against them, and so there was little need to overdo it at the back.
As a result, they created a role for Mascherano which let him get forward and support the midfield. It was a system Rodgers liked, and Deila experimented with a variation of it before him, so our defence has long been built around it.
We like defenders who can play football. That means, however, that they are sometimes caught out of position or, in the case of the converted midfielders, they often lack key qualities. It’s been a long time since we signed a bruiser at the back.
We haven’t had a big physical centre back, someone totally dominant, since Van Dijk left. The reason he went for the big money and has gone on to such high-flying success is that he could play a bit as well. He stood out in Scotland because he had everything.
He stands out anywhere.
We won’t find a Van Dijk but we can bring in the bruiser.
If Lennon didn’t know we needed one, the sight of Tishbola of Kilmarnock roughing up Ajer and Jullien – and I accept that rustiness and lack of match sharpness was part of it, as the manager has pointed out – well, that will have made it clear.
Duffy will really do a great job in a Celtic shirt. He will add that physical edge at the back and at set-pieces which could be worth a half dozen points … crucial if this is going to be a close race. It would be an exciting signing, a top drawer signing for us.
But I hope we’re not going to focus on his signature and put everything into it and neglect other options.
There have to be other targets on the list and we didn’t put all our eggs in one basket when we were going for a striker, so I’d hate to see us doing it here.
We all want to see a centre back brought in, and Duffy is a very, very good one to be going for.
But if this move looks like dragging on we should be willing to walk away. The £2 million loan fee is ridiculous and is only being imposed on us because we’re who the player wants to go to and his club would prefer to sell him to another bottom half battler.
There will be a Plan B and we should be willing to explore it.
In the meantime, I am encouraged by some of the noises from down south, about how keen Duffy is on the move.
That will help us, but the clock is ticking.
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