Ultra-conservative Celtic’s risky game as they play the percentages.
After Celtic’s win over Hearts at the weekend, Celtic fans hoping for fresh blood were given a glimmer of hope as Neil Lennon spoke of strengthening the side.
He said: “We need players in two or three positions. Hopefully, we can get some quality bodies in on Monday or Tuesday.
“If we do, I’d like to take them to Sweden with us to integrate them with the group if they have an opportunity to play next weekend.”
No one who has endured yet another transfer window slog would have expected three new players on the flight to Stockholm.
Certainly not first-team ready players who would be in with a shout of starting at Ibrox on Sunday.
Moritz Bauer, signed yesterday on loan with an option to buy, looks a good acquisition and at the very least will provide cover for Hatem Abd Elhamed.
His belated signing emphasizes, however, the slow progress in getting signings in, something that can’t reasonably be laid at Lennon’s door.
The manager knows that players are needed. His utterances suggest he has tried to exert whatever leverage he has on Peter Lawwell in a bid to get new faces in.
If he is as frustrated as the fans, he’ll know from last year with Rodgers that there is only one winner by going public with any grievances.
Indeed, he will have remembered his frustrating clashes with the board in his first stint as boss and how it came to an end.
Almost six weeks ago, Lennon said: “The squad is a little bit thin at the minute anyway, a couple of injuries and we would lack a bit of strength in depth.”
Since that comment, we have lost Tierney and added Elhamed, plus Forster and Bauer on loan.
The club saw a large number of players leave in the summer, well into double figures, including loan players returning to their clubs.
Bauer now makes it five players in the door, along with Jullien, Bolingoli, Elhamed and Forster. Celtic have also signed Jonathan Afolabi and Luca Connell, who could be considered projects rather than imminent first-team starters.
Between them, they have started a total of 20 games for Celtic, with the club now having completed 11 competitive games this season already.
This highlights, if not a lack of forward planning, certainly a lack of ability or willingness to get the job done upstairs.
From a financial perspective, Celtic’s biggest games are over by the end of August.
Yet going by those appearances, most of our signings were not available, ready and able to play in many of those games.
If we match what we did in the Europa League last time out and get to both cup finals, we’ll play 63 games this season.
Sunday’s match will be our 13th competitive game of the season.
At that rate, this means we’ll have played over 20 per cent of the season with what’s best described as a makeshift back four, including our best centre half at right-back and midfielders in defence on various occasions.
If the unthinkable happens for a second time this season and we blow a promising first leg European result, we could be shaving 8 games off last year’s total.
Early exits in both cups could mean our potential fixtures going down to 49, if my calculations are correct.
By the close of the transfer window next week, that means we’d be already around 27 per cent of the way through our season.
Whether it’s 20 per cent or 27, this is far too risky, as we’ve seen against Cluj.
There’s a fair degree of discontent and resentment over our ultra-conservative signing ‘policy’, one that’s been a major factor in failing to even reach the Champions League play-off in the past two seasons.
Celtic took a huge risk, and lost, by being ultra-cautious and sitting on piles of money. The Champions League cash became a “here’s what you could have won” tease, for the fourth time in six seasons.
It’s to be hoped that lessons are learned for next year, (on the risky assumption that we do win another title).
We’ll probably have a fair idea by the end of this window, while another anticipated slog in January should give us a further clue.
I wouldn’t gamble much on it. The Celtic board, on the other hand, most likely would.