The main recruitment changes since Brendan Rodgers was last at Celtic

At this time of year it is difficult not to be seduced by transfers. The rumours of them, the thought of that ‘must-have’ player being paraded at your club, the worry that one of your star men will leave, or the hope that one of your squad’s fringe players or a player who is a busted flush gets a dream move that sees him become another club’s problem.

I don’t know for a fact how scouting and transfers work at Celtic but I can make an educated guess based on the vast amount of media on YouTube covering how elite clubs scout and recruit. So, my wild guess is that we mirror those clubs as we try to act like an elite operation. We have also started to employ staff with experience of such set-ups, which will undoubtedly strengthen our own approach.

Gone are the days when managers just bought players from other Scottish clubs that played well against them. When Gordon Strachan was in charge, he seemed to have a penchant for Hibs players.

Recruiting smarter

This week, I read on the ever-fabulous Arseblog, the curious case of Nicolas Pépé. The Arsenal manager at the time, Unai Emery (who has proven during his time at Aston Villa just how much of a fraud Steven Gerrard is), wanted a right-footed winger with Premier League experience to play on the left. The player Emery had in mind was Wilfried Zaha. The sporting director went out and bought Pépé, who is a left-footed winger that plays on the right, for an eye-watering £72m. A perfect example of how not to conduct transfer business, but a scenario that we all recognise.

Then on Monday, Paul John Dykes referred to Liam Shaw and Osaze Urhoghide on the ACSOM Bulletin as “legacy signings” that we made from Sheffield Wednesday. Both players seemed to have been cast in Emmerdale when they turned up for the Love Island audition, and have been labelled as misfits by many of the ACSOM contributors. Both players have been considered as ‘done deals’ who preceded Ange Postecouglou, but the timeline doesn’t support this view in the case of Urhoghide.

Liam Shaw was signed on a pre-contract on 10th March 2021 when John Kennedy was Celtic’s interim manager. This player was coming in on the 1st July 2021 whether it was Eddie Howe or Eddie Munster who was the manager. This move would have been rubber-stamped by Neil Lennon or it should have been. Celtic negotiated and got the player out his contract earlier meaning that he could join Ange for the first day of training and we had to pay £300,000 for that privilege.

Osaze Urhoghide – The Big O as the Sheffield Star calls him – wasn’t signed until his contract expired at Hillsborough on the 1st July 2021. The player who was highly-rated was attracting interest from Britain and Europe before Celtic nipped ahead of these clubs to sign him.

When the player was announced on Celtic’s website, our then manager admitted that the club had been tracking him for a while and that he had a meeting with the player before signing. Ange believed that Urhoghide had all the attributes to contribute to the way he wanted Celtic to play, and, whilst the Australian may not have been involved in the player’s scouting, he certainly had the final say on his signing.

While Liam Shaw is credited as being the first signing of the Ange era, I think it’s clearer that Urhoghide was the first player rubber-stamped by Ange. This was probably the case of just getting bodies in the door, but if the manager didn’t want that particular player, he still had time to say no.

From Osaze onwards it’s different. The manager would be asking for a certain type of player, there would be meetings with the scouting team to establish which players fit the new manager’s metrics, and meetings with preferred agents about what we require.

Postecoglou’s signing record

The next signing was Liel Abada, quickly followed by Kyogo, who was quite clearly the manager’s selection. By the time the summer window finished we had also signed – in this order – Carl Starfelt, Joe Hart, James McCarthy, Josip Juranovic, Liam Scales, Jota, Cameron Carter-Vickers and, finally, Giorgios Giakoumakis.

James McCarthy often gets included in the ‘not a manager signing’ category with the ‘Sheffield Two’. By the time we signed James it was the start of August and the manager was then in full charge of the players being recruited. There were no grey areas like Shaw and Osaze.

By the end of the window, apart from Kyogo, all the players had been identified by our recruitment team based on the manager’s requirements. The winter window was definitely the manager’s, with Reo Hatate, Yosuke Ideguchi and Daizen Maeda arriving, but Matt O’Riley would have already been scouted by the club.

The club’s recruitment base has been completely changed since 1st July 2021. The appointment of Mark Lawwell in July 2022 was made to ensure continuity in scouting and recruitment, and that it was done to the best possible level within our budget. Celtic want to play on the front-foot, be quick, skilful and mobile, and we are scouting to suit that model. Our scouting philosophy will be completely different from a club like West Ham, both in financial terms and in player type.

Brendan Rodgers has said that the biggest difference from his first time at Celtic is the recruitment and scouting. He didn’t try to hide this, he hasn’t tried to hide the fact that he left before because of the number of transfer targets he wanted and didn’t get but that’s still on him because he accepted the fourth or fifth choices he was offered.

That’s my point. A manager can say no. Rodgers could have said no to Youssouf Mulumbu when he was offered him as an alternative to John McGinn, but he didn’t and that’s completely on him.

There has been a bit of comparison between the Sheffield Two and our first two signings of the Rodgers reign in Odin Thiago Holm and Marco Tilio. For me, there is no comparison. Every player we have scouted and the positions we have scouted will be well known to Rodgers.

That he has already stated this area of the club’s operation has impressed him means that we are now operating on a different level from two summers ago.  It suggests that he’s on board with the plans we already had in place, there should be no Nicolas Pépé or John McGinn situations. Rodgers will have agreed to both incomings, fully understanding the reasoning and plan for these players. That we’ve got them in this early means they were first choices in whatever planning list they were on.

The biggest difference over the last two years is that we have signed our top targets who fitted our plans and that has to continue.

The signs are already good.

Kevin Graham

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