Alan Morrison with A Celtic State of Mind – Why can’t Celtic produce their own striker?

As I write this on Happy Lisbon Lions Day I re-read my numbers based piece on Celtic’s greatest match – you can view it HERE.

Home Goals

One of the many striking aspects is that Stein’s side contained so many players who scored so many goals for Celtic:

Lennox 273
Chalmers 228
Wallace 135
Johnstone 130
Murdoch 105

Those were very different days. Players did not move around so much and staying at one club was not as unusual as it is today. The Lions famously all came from the local environs of Glasgow and Ayrshire.

Celtic fans (actually, all football fans) love seeing ‘their own’ come through, especially goal scorers. For me it was Dalglish and then Nicholas. It meant more because they were seen as “one of us”. Let’s be honest, being the unknown local lad who breaks into the first-team and becomes top scorer is the fan fantasy we all have.

Who, recently, has lived that dream?

Listen to HARALD BRATTBAKK with A Celtic State of Mind here:

The Striking Nine

I also did a piece on the 9 in a row players and their stats – THE MEN BEHIND THE NINE. The top scorer in the 9-in-a-row era by some distance is Griffiths with 84 (league games only), 30 ahead of Forrest. Griffiths is at least Scottish but was purchased from Wolverhampton Wanderers after spells at Livingston, Dundee and Hibernian (loan).

If I look down the 9-in-a-row goals list then obviously Forrest stands out as a one club Celtic Bhoy, but he is not a striker. The next Scottish striker on the list after Griffiths is Tony Watt on seven but he was bought from Airdrie United. At the bottom of the list there are 11 players with a one-goal contribution to ‘the nine’. Of those, we have our only Celtic-raised striker – Aitchison, who famously became the youngest Celtic goal-scorer when netting on his debut against Motherwell – the final goal of Deila’s reign.

Aitchison is still only 20, still at Celtic, and has had a relatively successful spell at Forest Green Rovers in English League Two last season. Re-positioned as a ‘10’ rather than out-and-out striker, he weighed in with six goals in 30 appearances. His club were 11th at lockdown. But this is a rough, tough school and one that set a young Callum McGregor up for a stellar Celtic career. So there remains hope for Aitchison to make his mark at Parkhead.

18 players came through Celtic’s youth system to play a part in the 9 with Forrest and McGregor being the stellar examples. But it isn’t just the case that Aitchison was the sole Celtic-reared striking scorer in the last 9 seasons, he is the only one who even made an appearance! Maloney was more a winger or ‘10’, as is Karamoko Dembele, Calvin Miller was transformed from a striker to a left back / wing back whilst Atajic was bought from Malmo.

So, one goal and three appearances from a home-reared Celtic striker in 9 title-winning seasons!

There seems to be a problem here despite the unimpeachable success of the club.

Scottish Striking (Recent!) History

The last Scottish striker to have any first-team role at Celtic before Griffiths was Derek Riordan in the 2007/08 season – he played 11 matches scoring 1 goal. Kenny Miller made his final appearances that season adding 3 goals to the 9 he scored the previous.

The 2006/07 season saw Miller play a full season, Riordan appear over 20 times, and it was also the last time before Aitchison that a Celtic youth team striker broke through into the first-team. That player was Craig Beattie. He had been at Rangers until he was 17 and then moved into Celtic’s Under-19 squad. Two years later, he made 17
appearances in season 2003/04 scoring 2 goals. He would go onto score 16 goals in 65 matches before moving to
England and West Bromwich Albion in time for the 2007/08 season. But even he did not really come all the way
through at Celtic.

We have to go back to the 2002/03 season and an appearance by Simon Lynch, Andy’s son. Lynch scored 3 goals in 4 appearances between 1999 and 2003 before leaving for Preston North End. He is the last Scottish (he is actually half Canadian) fully Celtic-reared striker to play and score for Celtic before Aitchison.

In terms of the last Scottish-born Celtic-reared striker who had anything like a regular spot in the team, it is back to the 1998/99 season which saw the debut of Mark Burchill. He appeared in 63 matches for Celtic, scoring a healthy 24 times. In league football he scored 20 from 17 starts! The lockdown has afforded me the opportunity to download and play the magnificent Championship Manager 01/02 edition. This probably doesn’t surprise you. I mention this because within that edition Burchill is quite a player and easily the first choice for Scotland in the game. Unfortunately, in real life (remember that?), a journeyman career befell Mark post Celtic (it is always downhill from Celtic) marked by very little actual football and he finished on 70 career goals from 278 appearances of which 128 were from the bench.

Long story short, having ANY successful Celtic Scottish striker is a thing of the long past (the last golden age being the likes of McClair, Johnston, McAvennie, McGarvey, Nicholas and McCluskey in the 1980s). And having a Celtic-reared Scottish striker make an impact is something that belongs to a bygone age. Before Burchill’s fairly average run, Creaney in the mid ’90s is probably the most notable case post the last golden age.

Is This Celtic’s Fault?

Celtic clearly are capable of producing talent from the academy that is good enough to hold down a first-team place. Forrest, McGregor, Tierney being recent stellar examples. As mentioned, 18 home-reared players contributed to the 9, albeit not many in a comprehensive way. It’s just that only one (Aitchison) has been a striker.

The striker paucity isn’t just a Celtic phenomenon, however. Who was the last great Scottish striker? In truth there haven’t been many, given the size of the nation if we are taking “great” to mean in international terms. Scotland’s record goal-scorers at that level remain Dennis Law and Kenny Dalglish on 30 goals. The last of those was in 1984.

Since then, McCoist scored 19 to be 5th on the all-time list and netted in a major tournament (Euro ’96). From then, Kenny Miller picked up 18 goals in a hard-grafting career of 69 caps. McFadden netted 14 but wasn’t really a striker.

So, you are really going back over 20 years to an international-class striker for Scotland, whatever you may think of McCoist personally.

Since then, some players like Duncan Ferguson (0 goals for Scotland), our “own” Griffiths (4 goals), Naismith (10
goals), Fletcher (I’m scraping the barrel now) have been good players, but international-class strikers? Nah.

It’s a national problem then, the lack of Scottish strikers, not just a Celtic one.

How have Celtic mitigated this?

Wasted Millions?

If there is one area of the park Celtic have spent time and again, it is for strikers. As most clubs do to be fair. There have been some notable successes of course. Larsson for £650k was a once-in-a-generation bargain in 1997, the
season before Burchill played.

Since then, there have been successes in buying in rather than growing our own with the following being notable:

Season // Player // Cost (£m) // Manager // Matches // Goals

But in the same period the following will make you weep:

Season // Player // Cost (£m) // Manager // Matches // Goals

The latter pair may come good, well, here’s hoping.

12 successful purchases in 23 years for strikers. McDonald, Stokes, Griffiths and Dembele were notable pound shop bargains. But the other eight were all bought for serious money that paid off.

25 disappointments over the same period means Celtic have had a 1:3 success rate buying strikers. I am not saying that is bad by industry standards but spending over £27m on 112 goals over 23 years doesn’t sound like value for money. We’ve paid over £1m per-season for less than 5 goals.

Meanwhile, £36m has been spent wisely accruing 828 goals in return. For an average of £1.5m, we’ve seen 36 goals per-season.

My conclusion is that when shopping for strikers, Celtic should buy well-scouted quality that the management have high confidence in e.g. Edouard (try before you buy model) whilst avoiding taking punts on seemingly unpolished gems or stop-gaps who may be cheap in transfers but expensive in wages (e.g. Wright, Dublin, Cole).

Better invest £1m-a-year in improving data analysis, scouting, coaching so that a player will more likely come through the academy or be bought very young at low cost (e.g. Okoflex perhaps).

Summary

It may not matter to Celtic management whether the club has a Scottish striker come through the ranks and shine in the first team. But I suspect many fans would cherish it. From the local Lions and hundreds of goals from home-grown lads to a famine lasting a generation, Celtic’s ability to bring on a young local striker mirrors a national paucity.

But Celtic have better foundations and more financial clout that any other Scottish club. Like England used to do with trying to find fast bowlers, there should be a concerted effort to find Scottish-based striking potential. Then, rather than turning them into wing-backs, invest in the coaching and analysis that will better bring those young players into the first team.

(Oh, and keep looking for the Edouards, of course! We’re fans – we want it all).

Alan Morrison

Watch A Celtic State of Mind at the Stevie Chalmers Auction here:

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