There are two elements to building a good team, and one is often undervalued in relation to the other. The first element is obvious; to improve it steadily, bit by bit, year by year, player by player, and to always reach for the next rung on the ladder. The second element, the undervalued bit, is to retain the best players in order that you have a stable foundation.
Celtic is dreadful at both of these things, and has been for years. The picture has not changed in the decades I’ve been supporting the club. Celtic never builds on strength. Celtic is always selling its best players and replacing them with footballers they hope can grow into the role. They so rarely opt for the finished article or the player who can take us that extra step.
I have rarely seen a squad I like as much as this one, and every one of the top players would be on major long-term deals if Carter Vickers was to sign an extension, which is the story in the papers today. How great it would, what a foundation to grow on. If I thought for a minute that we would do I would be over the moon … we definitely can if we try.
There is not one member of the first team squad who has publicly made noises about leaving. There is a lot of speculation about some of them, but that’s all it is and we have a level headed group here that wants to be successful and knows this is a great environment to play and win things and in Europe test themselves against the best.
Rodgers should go round every single one of them and ask them to commit for next season. It should be his main objective, even above and beyond signing people. Because the chances are, if you don’t do it all you are doing is replacing people who have left and he knows well that Celtic won’t buy comparable quality. This is priority number one.
The board will never spend big to keep this guy, but Lawwell is on the record as saying that in a Champions League Group qualification year there is no need for us to sell either, and that’s the message we’ve been sending out all winter whenever a player has been linked away. We do not need to sell. We are financially strong.
But the summer looks to be the usual; a decent bid will arrive for a top player and before you know what has happened, he’ll be gone. The stunning sale of Jota in the summer came out of left field, but there would have been a major sale otherwise; the board pretty much admitted that recently, and we know better than to doubt it.
It is frustrating. All the top footballers at this club have signed new deals since Rodgers came in, all but big Carter Vickers and he’s next in line. That’s a clean sweep for the manager and proof of his ability to sell players on the club. He will have needed to articulate a vision, and there is no doubt that his will be robust. But will the club itself rise to meet the moment? That’s the problem. Unless he knows what he’s building on, how can he lay out the blueprint?
All this team needs is a handful of quality players to take it to the next level. A left back. A goalkeeper. One hard as nails midfielder and a striker. Two of those should be delivered in this window in order that the club can keep its word to the boss … if the other two arrive in the summer and we don’t lose a key footballer we’ll be in a very good place for Europe.
For once, just once, Celtic has to think about the bigger picture and not just another year when the balance sheet takes precedence. Rodgers needs to sit down with every member of the squad and find out whether they are committed to the club, and he should do it as soon as possible, and their commitment should be telegraphed to the media and the fans … and to other clubs who might believe they can come in and poach our best.
One more year of Champions League football and some of these players will prove themselves capable of playing for elite clubs. But that is only possible if the team as a whole succeeds, and that will be best achieved by everyone giving it their all for another campaign.