A Celtic State of Mind – Celtic loanees who came back brighter

Dwindling finances and the lack of a reserve league to bridge the gap between youth and first-team football has meant that the loan system has gradually become an integral player recruitment function of Scottish football in recent years.

The figures are startling, and with over 150 loanee deals exiting Lennoxtown in the last 12 years, the temporary transfer is one that Celtic have utilised more than any other club in the country – and by some distance.

Whilst many of the players loaned out from Celtic’s vast squad of first-team players are unlikely ever to wear the hoops again, some are exceptions to that rule.

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Our current line-up boasts a few prominent performers who have gained invaluable competitive game-time elsewhere, much to their improvement. But the success rate of the returning loanee is perilously slim, and it is testament to the drive of Ryan Christie and Kris Ajer, who have undoubtedly joined these other 5 Celtic loanees who came back brighter:

5.) Liam Miller

When former Celt, Mark Rieper, got the opportunity from his old club to take a couple of young Irishmen to Danish outfit, Aarhus, in 2001 he jumped at the chance.

Mickey Doyle and the late Liam Miller made such an impression in saving Aarhus from relegation from the Danish Premier League that manager, John Stampe, made serious efforts to tie the pair down to permanent deals.

That wasn’t to be, and Miller returned to Celtic Park to finally make an impression on Martin O’Neill’s side in emphatic fashion in 2003/04.

So scintillating were the young Irishman’s performances that Alex Ferguson signed him on a pre-contract in January 2004. The firm belief around Old Trafford at that time was that Ferguson had captured a natural successor to Roy Keane in the heart of Manchester United’s midfield.

Miller’s first-team appearances were fleeting at Celtic Park, but there is no doubt that his sojourn to the Danish league helped with his progression into Martin O’Neill’s team of European finalists.

4.) Pat McCluskey

Sean Fallon arranged to have Pat McCluskey sent over to Sligo Rovers in the early 1970s as part of his footballing education, and Pat was a huge success during a solitary season in Sean’s hometown.

Having played in two losing Irish finals, Pat returned to Celtic Park and was famously pitched into both legs of the 1972 European Cup semi-final against Inter Milan, performing admirably at left-back as Jock Stein’s old adversaries triumphed on Penalty kicks.

The Kilsyth native went on to appear in nearly 200 games for Celtic during the 1970s, winning every domestic honour in the process, but he described his season at the Showgrounds as, “Crucial to my career and a terrific experience”.

3.) Callum McGregor

One of the beneficiaries of Ronny Deila’s time in charge of Celtic, Callum McGregor’s career seemed destined for the English third tier after an outstanding season on loan at Notts County.

He finished the campaign as The Magpies’ top goalscorer, and Deila quickly identified him as an important part of the Celtic squad for his debut season in charge.

McGregor is all-too often the brunt of the fans’ frustrations, but he has now played a pivotal role for Celtic under the stewardship of two different managers.

Now a full Scottish internationalist, McGregor’s European goals this season have underlined his understated importance in Brendan Rodgers’ all-conquering side.

2.) Tom Rogic

As a shard of lightning split the Hampden skies, the classy Australian goal-scorer reeled away in ecstasy, clutching his drenched set of hoops as he made his way to the disbelieving throes in green-and-white. In producing the unthinkable climax to a momentous season, Tom Rogic had crafted his name into those fabled Celtic chronicles in the same way that he crafted seemingly impossible openings on the field of play. His Scottish Cup-winning goal of 2017 remains one of many iconic moments from an unforgettable season of highs.

Now five years a Celt, his dream move seemed to have gone awry following a promising introduction under Neil Lennon.

A temporary move to Melbourne Victory was designed to get Rogic on the plane to the 2014 World Cup Finals, but persistent injuries put paid to that.

His return to Celtic was low-key, and few observers would have been surprised if his permanent departure was soon to follow his two-years in the doledrums.

Rogic’s resurrection was more to do with a change of manager at Celtic Park than any development he had gleaned in Melbourne. Enter Ronny Deila, who rejuvenated Rogic’s career. There is no doubt that the creative midfielder blossomed under the Norwegian, and that his improvement has continued under current boss, Brendan Rodgers.

A legacy of the Deila years, Tom Rogic’s creativity and verve are sadly missed when he is (all too regularly) on the treatment table.

1.) Jimmy McGrory

Bobby Lennox on a free transfer pre-Stein… Jinky to Spurs in 1965… Kieran Tierney freed from Celtic as a youth…

Just three of the unthinkable departures from Celtic that nearly happened.

The wafer-thin margins between success and failure are terrifying when the history of Celtic is considered without those three players in it.

Another career that could well have been mapped out elsewhere was that of one James Edward McGrory.

McGrory made his Celtic debut as a 17-year-old against Third Lanark in 1923 before being loaned out to Clydebank for the 1923/24 season. He had the audacity to score the winner against Celtic during their league encounter in March 1924, and was recalled before the season’s conclusion by Willie Maley.

Not originally deployed as an out-and-out striker by Celtic, McGrory’s confidence was buoyed by his prolific 30-odd games at Clydebank, and he went on to become arguably the greatest Celt of all time.

Paul John Dykes

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