Welcome back to Brexit Means Brexit with your host: Roy Walker!
… Ok, not really, but it caught your attention, didn’t it?
Last time, we looked at the second half of the season, and finished off just after Celtic had competed the treble by beating Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final. A lot has happened since then – a lot. So let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?
It was award season in Scotland – starting with Scottish Manager of the Year. We won the treble, but I didn’t win manager of the year. What else do I need to do exactly?!
Aside from the biggest Awards Season miscarriage of justice since Arnold Schwarzenegger was overlooked by the Oscars for his performance as Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin, the club had plenty to cheer about. Leigh Griffiths – playing second-fiddle to Moussa Dembélé for most of the season – picked up the Scottish Players’ Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards, while Dembélé took home the Scottish Players’ Young Player of the Year award. Baily Cargill – my personal player of the season, as we discussed last time – won the Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year award to complete the individual honours. There were 6 players named in the team of the Year – Craig Gordon, Baily Cargill, Cristian Gamboa, Patrick Roberts, Scott Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths made the XI, with Dembélé the notable absentee.
As the players prepared to go on holiday for some R&R, FIFA announced that the 2022 World Cup would be moved from Qatar to China, in a move that everybody in the entire world saw coming.
With the players on holiday, there were no distractions to deal with as the transfer window opened, and we were able to make some immediate moves. With only 2 players in the squad to play up front – Dembélé and Griffiths – we needed to make a decision on what to do about a striker. On one hand, I wanted to keep Moussa around for another season to increase his profile – and price – but on the other hand, it would be difficult to find game time for a 3rd striker, whom would slot in not only behind the Frenchman, but also Griffiths.
I opted to look at the loan market, and picked up Adam Armstrong from recently-promoted Newcastle for the season. He looks like quite a player, so if he performs, I’ll probably look at adding him on a more permanent basis, but for now he’s a good option to have as backup to the main two frontmen. With an obvious weakness at right back – and a desire to cash in on Gamboa while his price was at an all-time high – I brought in Chelsea fullback Todd Kane on loan, as well as Arsenal midfielder Ben Sheaf, also for the season.
We also picked up Manchester United starlet Joe Riley on a Bosman deal, along with versatile midfielder Jay Spearing and on July 1st, 2017, they joined the club along with Ben Reeves (MC, MK Dons), Cameron Dawson (GK, Brighton), James Henry (AMR, Wolves) and Conor McAleny (AML, Everton). That gave us cover in every area we were looking at before the window opened. By this time, we had managed to move on Saidy Janko (Dordecht), Logan Bailly (Kasimpasa), James Forrest (Bristol City), Gary Mackay-Steven (Brentford), Nacir Ciftci (Brondby) and Derdyck Boyata (Rapid Wien) for a total of £5.4m, so our business for the summer looked complete before a ball had been kicked.
At this point, I had been reading the excellent piece by AlexTHFC about pressing, which I used to tweak my existing setup in an attempt to score more goals. So we entered our first Champions League qualifying tie in good shape…
Celtic 5 – 0 Tallinna FC Levadia
The Estonian club never stood a chance. We had 34 shots – 16 on target – compared to their one effort. Moussa Dembélé scored a hat-trick and we looked unstoppable. Of course, there would be tougher tests ahead, but it was an excellent start after a slight change in tactic. Scott Sinclair and the debuting Kristoffer Ajer picked up the other two goals in this resounding win.
After the game, we were notified that AS Monaco has signed Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton for £35.5m, potentially rising to £48m. From this, we received £3.5m, although we only received 40% of it towards the transfer budget, thanks to an earlier restriction by the board. That took our budget up to somewhere in the £2m region, so we dived back into the market to pick up promising keeper Jordan Archer from Millwall for £1.4m up front, with an additional £1m spread over 4 years, as well as 16 year old Welsh keeper Nathan Pickford from MK Dons for £250k.
Cristian Gamboa also left the club, albeit temporarily. SC Braga agreed to pay £48k per month, on top of paying his wages, for the season. As he was surplus to requirements, yet still of value, we let him go – at the end of the season, I plan to sell him on permanently, before his contract winds down.
Just before the trip to Estonia for the second leg, Sevilla offered £3.5m for Moussa Dembélé. We rejected the bid, but Moussa was not a happy boy, and after refusing to back down in a private conversation, the Frenchman turned to the press to declare himself unhappy. I didn’t want to sell him, but his disruption was affecting the squad, so I put him on the market. I was looking for £15m over 48 months, as well as a 50% future fee, but nobody came in for him.
Tallinna FC Levadia 0 – 5 Celtic
Needless to say, he was immediately dropped. Adam Armstrong came in up front for the return leg, along with Conor McAleny for his debut, in place of the rested Scott Sinclair. 153 travelling fans saw McAleny score a hat-trick, while Armstrong also scored on his debut. Dan Gosling scored the other goal, and we were through to the 3rd Qualifying Round; 10-0 on aggregate.
We were rewarded with a tie against Slovakian side Slovan Bratislava in the next round, but before the first leg, we agreed to let the promising Liam Henderson move to recently-relegated Swansea on loan. With Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Gauld and Dan Gosling already edging ahead of him in the pecking order, Henderson was struggling for game time towards the end of last season and the return of Kristoffer Ajer and Ryan Christie from their loan clubs meant that he would be fighting for a spot on the bench, let alone the first team. We decided to let him move to a comparable league to continue his deveopment, and I’m confident he will come back a better player.
Celtic 5 – 2 Slovan Bratislava
With no bids forthcoming, Dembélé was brought back into the side for the first leg. His two first half goals were the catalyst for another impressive win. Two goals from the returning Sinclair and one from substitute Leigh Griffiths meant that, since altering our attacking philosophy a little, we had scored 15 goals and conceded 2 in just three games.
Before the second leg, we began our league campaign with a 3-1 win at home to Kilmarnock. Leigh Griffiths started for the first time this season and scored after 71 minutes to cancel out a goal from Donyell Malen, before James Henry scored two late goals to secure victory.
Slovan Bratislava 0 – 2 Celtic
Henry took his form into Europe with another goal to help secure a 7-2 aggregate win and put us in the draw for the Playoff round. We were comfortable throughout and could have scored 2 or 3 more, but we did the job we needed to do.
After the match, Liverpool made an offer for Kristoffer Ajer. After negotiations, we agreed on a favourable deal – £2m up front, £75k per appearance for 10 games, £375k after 10 games, a further £375k after 5 internationals, and 50% of the next transfer fee.
While we waited for the deal to be completed, we drew Legia Warsawa in the Playoff round for the Champions League. It was a winnable tie, so we were happy. We also went to Tynecastle, where Leigh Griffiths scored two goals either side of a Dan Gosling strike in a 3-1 victory against Hearts. The following day, Ajer was sold to Liverpool, and we quickly pounced in the transfer market. On the day that we beat Dundee 3-1 in the League Cup 2nd Round, we completed a £925k deal for Everton fullback Luke Garbutt, before signing Southampton striker Sam Gallagher for £1.2m a day later.
By the end of the month, we had loaned Gallagher to Leeds for the season, but not before Lazio bid £12.5m for Moussa Dembélé. I was not happy with the deal, but the board intervened to accept the offer, and our superstar striker was sold for less money than we probably could have got for him.
After a crazy few weeks, the window eventually closed with Celtic bringing in 13 players and selling or releasing 38! We spent £4m and received £21.5m as we improved our squad, so it wasn’t a bad window, all things considered. Meanwhile, there were still some games to play – not least, the two games against the Polish side standing in our way of Champions League Proper…
Celtic 7 – 0 Legia Warsawa
They didn’t stand in the way for long. In fact, they stood aside and held the door open for us. Todd Kane, Ryan Christie and Leigh Griffiths made it 3 inside the first 25 minutes, before Dan gosling and a 2nd for Griffiths made it 5-0 at the break. Two goals from Scott Armstrong in the second half put the game so far out of sight, I could have played my Under 20’s for the 2nd leg…
Legia Warsawa 2 – 2 Celtic
… I didn’t, though. We played the same eleven in a game that didn’t come alive until the 76th minute, when Warsawa took the lead. Conor McAleny levelled three minutes later, before Warsawa took the lead again on 83 minutes. Leigh Griffiths secured the draw on 87 minutes, putting us through 9-2 on aggregate.
As a 4th seed side, we weren’t holding out much hope for the Group Stage draw, and we were suitably punished for competing in such a poor league – Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Dinamo Kiyv will be the challenge this season… At least 3rd place is a little bit more likely this year…
In the league, we ended August in 2nd place. Four wins and 1 draw from the opening 5 games leaves us two points behind form side Partick Thistle, whom have won every game so far. Across all competitions, Scott Sinclair is the form player so far this season, with 8 goals and 3 assists from his 8 appearances. Todd Kane’s 9 assists and 1 goal in 10 games have also been vital, as well as Leigh Griffiths’ 10 goals in 11 appearances. James Henry has also scored 3 and created 4 in his 6 appearances, but injury has him sidelined until Christmas – a fate also shared by club captain Scott Brown, whom has not played since damaging his achilles tendon during pre-season.
Overall, it’s a positive start to the season. Brexit-watch remains quiet, but in terms of completing the first part of the challenge – having an All-British Squad by the time Brexit happens – we are on course to succeed. The only foreign player remaining at the club is Cristian Gamboa, whom will be moved on at the end of the season, once he has returned from his loan spell. After that, it will be time to start concentrating on improving our squad and bringing through some high quality youth players.
To help with that, we drafted in Mark Peters from Mansfield to take over from Bill Hendry as Head of Youth Development. His personality is better suited to bringing through players with a determined personality similar to his own, which will benefit the club in the long-run. Peters was the last of 4 staff members brought in during the off season – Bobby Mimms joined as a coach; returning to the game almost 1 year after leaving Hull City, before Grant Murray joined from Hibernian and Charlie Oatway returned to the British isles, having spent two years abroad; first at A.E.K. in Greece, before a short spell at Real Betis and twelve months at Shanghai Greenland Shenhua.
The additions to the squad gives us better coverage across all training areas, although we could do with one or two more bodies. The board aren’t interested in letting me sign anybody else at the moment, though, so we’ll make do.
Looking ahead, I think we are ready to start building a squad around two or three key players, which will help us improve our results in Europe. Jordan Archer will transition into first-choice ‘keeper this season, and with Cargill and Hendry still developing ahead of him, we have the basis of a solid defence. Going forward, Stuart Armstrong, Leigh Griffiths and Scott Sinclair will share the burden for the time being, but having Liam Henderson and Sam Gallagher out on loan and playing regular football will help us in the long run. We’re not going to win the Champions League any time soon, but I’m hopeful that we can beat Dinamo Kiyv and claim 3rd place in the group; extending out stay in Europe a while longer.
Until then… Yo stay classy, higher tempo…