Since the beginning of May, Celtic have been without main man Cameron Carter-Vickers as he recovers from a knee operation that had been delayed as long as possible.
The American international defender is set to miss the rest of the season, causing Ange Postecoglou more defensive problems than he probably expected, despite the 25-year-old being a titan of Celtic’s back-line for the past two seasons.
Carter-Vickers joined Celtic in August 2021 for what would be his seventh loan spell from parent club Tottenham Hotspur, whom he had only featured for five times in seven years. With Carter-Vickers’ nomadic career path taking him to eight clubs in just four years, it was hoped that Celtic could provide him with an environment within which he was able to progress, and a platform on which he could thrive.
The announcement of CCV’s capture was made four minutes before the 2021 summer transfer window slammed shut. Christopher Jullien had been injured the previous December, having collided with a goal-post against Dundee United just before Celtic’s season descended into mayhem. His recovery had been expected to result in a return to first-team action for the Frenchman by September 2021, so the arrival of Carter-Vickers cast some doubt over this ETA.
Carter-Vickers had a debut to remember, getting the opener against a stubborn Ross County side after 64 minutes. The debutant’s deflected effort broke the deadlock and paved the way for an Albian Ajeti (remember him?) double, as Celtic ran out 3-0 winners.
Carter-Vickers teamed up with Swedish international, Carl Starfelt, for the first time that afternoon, and so began as solid a partnership as we have seen since Virgil van Dijk complemented Jason Denayer at the centre of Celtic’s defence. Carter-Vickers’ arrival was like adding the cement to the mix.
Carter-Vickers and Starfelt provided the bedrock on which Celtic’s success was built in Ange’s maiden season. We went on to win a Premiership and League Cup double, and went into a summer hoping that the club would show enough ambition to secure the £6 million-rated Spurs man permanently.
Not only did we capture CCV on a four-year contract, we also added Jota in an audacious summer of spending, as Ange looked ahead to improving on his first season’s tally of two trophies.
Carter-Vickers continued his excellent form into his sophomore season at Celtic, playing the full 90 minutes in each of his 39 appearances before bowing out of the campaign after dispatching Rangers out of the Scottish Cup at the semi-final stage.
For the remaining games in Carter-Vickers’ absence, there seemed an obvious enough solution, in no small part due to Ange having already taken care of business in that department. Yuki Kobayashi had been brought in during the January transfer window from Kyogo’s previous club, Vissel Kobe, and seemed a perfect fit, but it hasn’t worked out as flawlessly as we’d all hoped.
During the post-split matches against Hearts, Rangers, St Mirren, and Hibs, we have looked uncharacteristically fragile at the back, winning just one of those games, whilst conceding nine goals.
Starfelt and Kobayashi lined up at Tynecastle, where, despite wrapping up the league virtue of a 2-0 victory, the central defensive area lacked the solidity we have become accustomed to. Hearts’ Josh Ginnelly and Lawrence Shankland bullied Kobayashi throughout what was something of a rude awakening for the Japanese international.
Next up were Rangers at Ibrox, with Ange opting to maintain the central defensive partnership that had helped to get us over the line the previous weekend. It turned out to be nothing short of a catastrophe, with Kobayashi directly or indirectly involved in all three goals conceded. Starfelt was also culpable for the third after a mishap with Callum McGregor, which led to Fashion Sakala having a free run at Joe Hart’s goal, with no cover provided by Kobayashi, who was far too slow to react to the danger.
Kobayashi dropped out for the visit of St Mirren, and was replaced by Tomoki Iwata, who would usually favour a defensive midfield position. The Buddies took the lead after an unspectacular long-ball by keeper Trevor Carson caught out Anthony Ralston and Iwata after just four minutes. The game finished 2-2, and the Iwata experiment hadn’t worked.
For our visit to Easter Road, Kobayashi returned to partner Starfelt, but the defensive performance was verging on shambolic at times, as Hibs ran out 4-2 winners.
After these post-split games, it is clear that the absence of Cameron Carter-Vickers was something that Celtic were not as well-prepared for as they thought. The lack of first-team ready replacements is worrying, and the centre-back position is one that Ange should be looking to improve in the summer.
In the meantime, with trophy day and the Scottish Cup final to negotiate in the coming weeks, Ange will be looking towards Joe Hart, Carl Starfelt, Greg Taylor and (hopefully) Alistair Johnston, to get Yuki Kobayashi through this difficult run of form. If the 22-year-old plays through it and starts to perform to the potential he undoubtedly has, these last few testing weeks will prove pivotal in shaping his Celtic career.