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GEARING UP FOR NINE IN A ROW                            

3 August 2019


Celtic have made a good start in the this season in relation to new signings. Christoffer Julien has been signed from Toulouse in France at a cost of €7m, Boli Mbombo Bolinger signed from rapid Vienna at a cost of €3m, Luca Connell from Bolton Wanderers at a cost of in the region of half a million and Hatem Abd Elmahad for a sum in the region of just under €2m from Hapoel Be’er Sheva of Israel. Clearly, Celtic were in dire need of a centre-half, following the departure of Benvovic and Boyata and I am of the opinion that the club has signed a top quality player now. I believe that Celtic are making every effort to strengthen the team to ensure the nine in a row is delivered. Celtic have signed a great bargain in Boli Mbombo at a cost of €3m. It seems that Celtic had in mind the imminent departure of Kieran Tierney when they signed Boli. At the time it looked that KT was about to sign for Arsenal for €25m but it then seemed that this was not going to happen in that Arsenal were not willing to pay the appropriate fee. If KT remains with Celtic Boli will be the deputy left-back and it is great that a player of this standard can be selected any time that KT is unavailable and in the event that KT does move we have a ready-made successor. While Boli made a mistake which resulted in a goal being granted to Fc Sarajevo, and that it is not entirely clear yet to what extent he will contribute, he demonstrated some ability and I am looking forward to seeing him in the near future. Luca Connell is a young player and he probably won’t get a that many opportunities to play in the first team but he is clearly a player with huge potential and we are sure to see him in the Celtic shirt in the near future.

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In my opinion Celtic have a strong team now. Bain is the first choice keeper with Gordon as the deputy. Two impressive full backs have been signed as stated above and a strong central defensive partnership in the form of Ajer and Julien with Simunovic an able deputy. Midfield is particularly strong with Forrest and Sinclair on the flanks and a choice of Brown, Christie, Christie and Rogic in the centre. There are signs that N’Cham may be on his way out and I am not perturbed by this as it seems that he has lost some enthusiasm, although he is a good player. I am really looking forward with anticipation to seeing Maryan Shved on the wing now and again in place of Forrest. Clearly, he played very well in Ukraine when he was loaned out and I believe he will make a major impact when he takes to the field with Celtic. Up front, we have a choice between Edouarde and Griffiths (and isn’t is great to see LG well again) or maybe both and don’t forget that Bayo is also there. It’s a bit odd that Bayo hasn’t yet made more of an impact before now (allowing of course for absence through injury) but it appears that he scored a fantastic goal in a training session and I am looking forward to seeing him in the team. NL should give game time to players such as Shved and Bayo when Celtic are playing against some of the weaker teams so as to give them a chance to showcase their skills and ability.

As well as the above-mentioned players, there are on the fringes of the team players such as Michael Johnston, Anthony Ralston, Armstrong Okoflex, Karamoko Dembele, Lewis Morgan and Daniel Arzani. Clearly these are players of class and NL should give them plenty of game time when Celtic are facing some of the weaker teams.

It is a complete waste of resources to sign players and then not to utilise them. NL should use the afore-mentioned players from  time to time on appropriate occasions, that is to say when Celtic are playing the less successful teams. Clearly, the above-mentioned players, who are not able to get on to the first team, are players of class but their skills and ability can sometimes regress in the absence of first  team opportunities. It makes no sense whatsoever, to have players like that sidelined and not playing, drawing salaries but making no contribution to the first team.

I believe that Celtic have a strong squad now. I do not believe that there is any need to sign a further right-back. Clearly, there will be strong competition between Elhamed and Ralston for this position. In this context I was more than a bit surprised to learn recently that Celtic had offered a trial to Danny Simpson, who left Leicester City lately. I have now read that Celtic have ended this arrangement after informing Simpson that he would be the understudy to Elhamed. It seems that Simpson was not over the moon at this arrangement. It was reported that Simpson attacked a woman with whom he was in a relationship (he received a criminal conviction for this so the matter can be reported) and with this in mind I believe it is inappropriate for Celtic to sign someone with this history. There was a range of different opinions among the Celtic support on this matter, with some saying that he should be afforded a second chance. I do not concur with this viewpoint. I do not believe that there should be a place at Celtic Park for someone of  this nature. In addition, there is no need for him, no need for a further full-back at indicated above, in that Elhamed and Ralston are already there. It seems that NL is not fully convinced by Ralston’s capabilities, but I believe he is a capable full-back and I would have no hesitation picking him.

Where does all this leave us in relation to nine in a row? Whether we care to admit it or otherwise, Steven Gerrard has done an impressive job with the tax-dodgers and the gap between them and us has narrowed somewhat. This became apparent in the latter half of last season when Celtic were not playing particularly well, though winning most of their matches. Now, with the new season almost upon us, I believe that Celtic are in a stronger position as a result of the above-mentioned new signings, and not only that but because the fringe players as mentioned above are on the point of breaking into the first  team. I’ve made this sort of point in this column previously in the case of Ryan Christie. I was always pushing for him to be picked and eventually that was done and now NL has no hesitation picking him. Now is the time to do likewise with Shved, Ralston, Bayo, Johnston, Morgan and Arzani and occasionally, Okoflex and Dembele. Both the team itself and the individual players will benefit from this.

As regards NL himself, while he wasn’t at the top of my personal list of potential Celtic managers, at the same time he was fairly high up on that list. It can safely be said that certain advantages accrue to him that make him suitably qualified, for example that he has previous experience managing the team and that he is immersed in the culture of the club. As well as that, he has the ability to identify players who are available at reasonable costs and who would be suitable for Celtic. He understand the club and the culture that goes with it. He understands the importance of achieving nine and ten in a row. It is certain that he will do his level best to achieve these objectives and I have every confidence in his ability to do so.

Tim Molloy lives in Drogheda with his wife of 35 years and with (on occasions) his three grown up children. He is a life-long Celtic supporter and an Irish language enthusiast. He also speaks some Spanish and French and a few words of Polish and Czech. He also follows the fortunes of the Munster rugby team.
He is a law graduate of London University and is a High Court Registrar.
Other than an interest in all things Celtic, he is long time observer of the League of Ireland. His other hobbies include walking, cycling and he is a member of St. Peter’s Male Voice Choir in Drogheda.

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