I see Rocco Vata did well for the Republic of Ireland Under 21’s the other day, and it has increased the tempo of the many discussions being had about this kid amongst our fans.
Is he a good player? Yes, he is, and he knows that he is and he wants to play football.
He has been offered a new deal and doesn’t want to sign it, whether that’s because he wants guaranteed playing time or because his head has been turned. The money he can certainly have somewhere else. But he’s ignoring the last two managers of this club if he thinks he’s going to go somewhere as big as Celtic and play every week.
No less a manager than Ange Postecoglou himself has spelled this out in no uncertain terms by reminding him that if he wants first team football guaranteed he can get it, but not at Celtic “or at any big club.” If he’s willing to step down, then good for him, but I cannot help but think that’s an enormous gamble, and one he’d be badly advised to take.
There is a lot of bad advice floating around out there, but perhaps the worst is that which says that Celtic should move heaven and earth to keep him at the club.
Why? He hasn’t achieved anything yet that would remotely justify that, and if his mind is made up to go then it won’t work anyway. In fact, it will hurt rather than help us. The idea that we should offer him that which no other player in the squad with the exception of the captain has – his name in the team every week – is faintly ridiculous.
You know what bothers me most about this? Two things.
First, the very people who are now virtually demanding that we start playing him in order to keep him would be amongst the first to leap on him when he has his first bad game.
It’ll be “you’re not Celtic class” rather than the more moderate, and sensible, “you aren’t ready for first team football yet.”
Moderate and sensible because that’s already been decided by people who know this far better than we do. Professionals – people who know their business – have watched him every day and made that call. The gulf between reserve football – or B team football, or whatever you want to call it – and first team football for a club Celtic’s size is vast.
People who don’t work in the sport have no conception of how vast it is. But if you want to think of it this way, there are players playing first team football in the SPFL who would fragment inside of a week if they were handed the responsibility of a Celtic shirt. The weight of it would crush them, and a section of our fan-base is shocking intolerant at times.
When the captain himself – who has given this club a decade at the very peak of his game – is getting stick from sections of the support for a bad first couple of matches this season, can you even imagine the stuff that would have been chucked Vata’s way had he been thrown into battle and come up short? Jesus wept; we’ve done that kid a favour this past month.
One bad game and the grumbling would start. Two and some of the same people banging their fists on the table saying we should give him games would want him dropped.
Three bad games? They’d write him off as a dud. We all know this is true.
When senior pros from far-flung corners of the world have come here and been castigated before their personal belongings are even packed in their lockers – I’m thinking of everyone who slagged Maeda for the first few months and continued to slag Starfelt, now playing in La Liga, long after that – a kid from the B team who doesn’t immediately cut it has no chance of getting a fair shake.
His Republic of Ireland Under 21 performance was, by all accounts, excellent but let’s not kid on that he was playing against the cream of football. It came against San Marino’s Under 21 team, if you can stop for a minute and picture that. If people want to get carried away, I think they’d be doing the player a disservice as well as setting themselves up for disappointment.
RB Leipzig are said to have scouted him, along with some Premier League teams; good luck to him if he makes a move to those sorts of clubs. If he thinks it’s difficult getting first team football at Celtic just wait until he sees what they have to offer him in the here and now. Every young player wants to be out on the pitch. Every young player wants to conquer the world and can’t wait to get started, but if he was ready then smarter people than me would know it.
But this brings me to the second concern I have; say we relented and gave him what he wants. Say the manager was sufficiently freaked to say to this kid, “Right, I’m going to start you at the weekend. Show us what you can do.” And then say he went out on the pitch and stunned us all with a storming performance and a couple of goals.
What then? What little influence we have, what little power we hold in this particular scenario, moves from Celtic to him immediately, and then all we’ve done is give him a platform to get himself a better deal somewhere else.
If you want to know why he’s not in the first team squad already, well that might give you some clue. Celtic is being ruthless. Celtic is protecting itself, and so we should.
We wouldn’t even let him go out on loan without signing a new contract, and for that very same reason. We’ve developed this kid. If he’s now ready for the next step we want it to be at Celtic Park, and we’ve offered him a contract on that basis. With his current deal running down, we’re not about to hand him the spotlight that makes it easier for him to get a better deal elsewhere.
It’s a tough old world, and Celtic has to look after Celtic first.
We were set up as a charity, but we don’t actually operate as one any longer, and so we’re getting tough. You might even say that we’re getting nasty, but that’s how we’ve got to be in an increasingly nasty business.
Of course, the obvious conclusion to draw from this is that when the club has made him an offer, he’s not signed it and we’re basically dumping him where scouts can’t make a proper assessment of his skill-set then the prospect of some sort of deal being struck which keeps him here recedes with every day that passes.
I think people inside Celtic have already concluded that there’s no chance of that and are now acting accordingly.
Celtic is run for the benefit of Celtic, not the benefit of Rocco Vata or any other player. He is happy to run down his deal and go somewhere else.
I very much doubt that we will allow him to use the wide-open spaces of Celtic Park as his own personal marketing stage. Better to be ruthless and take the hit than look like a fool and take it anyway.
The threat of last resort has always been thus; if we can no longer win, then both sides will lose. That’s not very nice. But it’s business, not personal.