The transfer window is well and truly in full swing now with clubs across Europe already opening their chequebooks as they begin preparations for the new seasons. Despite not yet having a manager in place, Celtic are also making tentative inroads into the transfer market with 20-year-old Norwegian midfielder Odin Thiago Holm apparently set for a medical ahead of a transfer from Valarenga.
Once the new manager is officially announced one of his first tasks upon evaluating the squad, will be deciding where it needs improving in order to put together a group of players capable of competing in Europe. The squad assessment will have to be brutally honest and transfer activity maintain the same level of ruthlessness that Ange implemented if we are to see Celtic return to being a competitive force on the European front.
It could be argued that every position on the park is in need of an upgrade if Celtic is to make progress in Europe in the coming season and reverse an unwanted record of not having won a European knockout tie since 2004. However, realistically, with three or four big signings the most we can expect, we take a look at some areas of the team where the new manager may look to prioritise a signing.
Celtic are in a difficult place when it comes to signing a goalkeeper for European competitions. On the one hand, the club need a solid shot-stopper for Europe as we are likely to spend a large amount of time on the defensive as the 4th placed seed in our Champions League group.
Joe Hart has proven himself to be a solid shot-stopper throughout his career however some poor performances towards the end of the season have raised doubts over his long-term future as undisputed number one. Add into the mix his obvious discomfort at playing with the ball at his feet, something Ange and Brendan Rodgers both look for in a keeper, and we find ourselves in the market for a more modern goalie this summer.
Goalkeeping errors have been a major contributing factor to Celtic’s European misfires in recent years, especially in Rodgers’ first spell at the club. Errors from Celtic’s current keeper also cost the club dearly in last season’s Champions League campaign, one which showed promise but with minor mistakes providing catastrophic consequences.
If Celtic is serious about pushing on in Europe, a more balanced and complete goalkeeper with age on his side may be needed, and that is something the club does not have at this current moment.
Despite being a strong point in the team, the centre of the defence is still an area that could, and probably should, be improved on further. Over the years you could always rely on Celtic to produce a defensive lapse in judgment in European competitions at the worst possible moments, to the point where this had almost become the expectation when the team takes to the field in European matches.
Carl Starfelt was notably shaky at the start of his Celtic tenure but has come on leaps and bounds since his tricky start. Despite these improvements, there is still potential for error in the Swedish internationalists game.
Cameron Carter-Vickers is the main man in the Celtic defence, and despite the quality Starfelt possesses, a centre-back of the same quality as the USA international could help Celtic push on in Europe. Beyond Carter-Vickers and Starfelt there is a severe drop-off in quality with neither of their understudies, Welsh and Kobayashi, near the same level of quality. And this is the main reason why another centre-back could become a signing priority in the summer.
Another Cameron Carter-Vickers will be hard to find, but it is not impossible. Celtic’s recruitment over the last few years has stepped up a gear or two and the club definitely have the capabilities to pull off the signing of another top centre-back.
If the reports of a £30 million transfer kitty are true, Celtic can definitely afford to push the boat out to strengthen the foundations of the team.
While Odin Thiago Holm may become Celtic’s first signing of the summer and swell the midfield ranks yet further, it could be that central midfield is still an area we can add some missing qualities to.
The current crop of midfielders at Celtic are generally on the small side physically and, while technically skilled, lack a degree of athleticism. More often than not in the big European games, Celtic tends to lose the midfield battle after 60 or 70 minutes when the physical prowess of our opponents takes over.
For Celtic to make progress in Europe, the addition of an athletic, tall, and physically imposing midfielder to the ranks could give us more of a competitive edge when it matters most. With rumours of Reo Hatate potentially moving on this summer, there may be a space in the midfield to fill and the chance to add a new skill set to an already impressive array of talents should not be missed.
In an ideal world where money is no object, we could go out and bring a top-class centre forward to push Kyogo and Oh to new heights. At the same time, we could also add a new winger with the ability to beat his man and deliver telling crosses.
However, the reality is that we may only be able to fill one of these positions and the decision on which one is likely to be determined by who leaves (if anyone) and how the new manager wants the team to play.
While our first picks in both areas are strong, last season showed that we either don’t have the depth we thought we did, or don’t have the quality of backup that we thought we did. Again, to progress in Europe we will need to strengthen and improve the first team and looking to last season, we fell short up front when it mattered most in Europe.
The signing of a European-class frontman would certainly increase our chances of hitting the targets we, as fans, set for the club outside of the domestic game.
Whenever the new manager is announced, we are sure to be in for an interesting summer of transfer activity and reshaping of the squad into something, we hope, can make us proud in Europe again.
James McKenzie / Kevin McCluskie