What We Saw Through The Transfer Window
The general consensus is that Celtic didn’t have one of their better transfer windows, as its difficult to argue that the club emerged stronger from the wheeling and dealing than they were before it.
Rebus has a look at the issues it raised ….
Sufficient euphoria has passed over Sunday to warrant the raising of some serious issues re the transfer window.
As with most things there are causes and effects.
The effects are obvious… no permanent new CBs nor RB, and no John McGinn. There are probably other hidden effects re players who did not hit the headlines. I think most will agree that these “effects” are unsatisfactory.
However, the more important aspects are the “Causes”.
To my mind these fall into three categories:
PL and the Board;
the management team,
the scouting system.
I would include recruitment within the PL/Board category.
Like most, I do not possess all the information, and I also do not trust a lot of the propaganda put out by much of the media. However, we have the benefit of some statements from the manager and we have the results of previous transfer windows to help assess what happened.
There are many failures here but let us confine the chat to three in particular:
The Boyata saga;
the Dembele flounce,
the McGinn disappointment.
The Boyata and CB Situation:
it seems to have been recognised, early on, that Boyata was likely to be for the off. The objective was to replace him and get the max price that we could for his sale. His performance in the WC enhanced the chance of the latter. Acceptable bids were received for him but the manager appears to have blocked the sale, on the grounds that we did not have a suitable replacement. The Compper option from January had turned into a fiasco that clearly identified that there was something seriously wrong with scouting and target assessment….. a blind man could have seen the dangers because of his age and recent injury history.
So, was he BR’s choice over Schar, or was he foisted onto BR as the cheaper option? In the first case, it reflects badly on BR, and in the latter it illustrates how penny pinching does not produce a quality football team. There have been many examples of the latter over other transfer windows. Whether Boyata’s inclusion vs AEK would have made a difference, possibly, but that is left with the Gods of chance. Certainly, a performing Boyata would have made the team stronger. The real problem here is not Boyata in or out, it is the failure to plan for the obvious…that Boyata needed to be replaced in the January window. Any investigation needs to focus on what went wrong with recruiting a CB in January, 2018. Incidentally, a mini version of this issue continued in the last window by which time it was known that Compper was not the answer. Jack Hendry, at best, was going to be a development project, who, apparently, could also play RB.
So, in summary, an appropriate plan was in place to manage our assets(Boyata) and to replace him, strategically. The problem was in the implementation of the plan.
The Dembele Flounce
There are similarities and differences in this situation. Firstly, it was well understood that, eventually, Moussa would move on. The timing on it was the issue. The last minute bid by Lyon (and at least one other club) created a similar situation to that of Boyata. Namely, we would lose a key player without having an adequate replacement. BR, initially reacted in the same way as he did with Boyata, he refused to sell the player. We all know what happened next.
I have a certain sympathy for all involved in this situation because of the last minute nature of it. However, is it such a surprise that clubs make last minute bids for players, especially good players? Had scouting identified a list of replacements for Dembele? Edouard is a different type of player from an out and out striker like Dembele so he is not a replacement. Griff brings something to the table but, again, his fitness is an issue and he does not provide the out ball. In addition, BR said he wants to go with three strikers.
With Boyata, a plan was put into place but implemented poorly. However, with Dembele there seems to have been no plan to replace him…simply to hope that he did not go this window.
What should have happened here? Firstly, unless a key player has developed a deep love for the club, after two years we should be planning to sell him on at a time of our choosing. There are ways of letting other clubs know that a player is available earlier in the window. If we do this, we have a chance of getting a replacement in a timely manner. Celtic are a selling club and that means that it needs to have an excellent scouting system in place to generate replacements….there is a lot of scope for recruiting quality at fees less than what we received for Dembele.
The McGinn Disappointment
Although it could be argued that the midfield is our strongest area of the team, in my view the McGinn outcome is the most disappointing. Why? BR answered this himself by indicating that it is important for a club like Celtic to have succession planning. It is no coincidence that the players that are most likely to stay long term are Scottish…..CalMac, KT, JF and, of course, SB. These players “get” the club so it is important to recruit domestically to acquire replacements. The proviso is that such recruits need to be quality. McGinn was head and shoulders above anything else in the SPL at his position(s). To lose him to England was a bitter and surprising blow. The story is really one of a gamble that failed.
We all know McGinn’s background and his desire to join the club. BR was in regular touch with the player over the last months. Hibs overvalued the player at 4-5 million but would accept less. We eventually placed a top bid of around 2 million just before the wheels came off the situation. The gamble was that Hibs would eventually accept our bid as we neared the end of our transfer window, or they would lose the player to us for a couple of hundred thousand in January. Our backup position was that if all else failed, McGInn would sign a pre-contract in January and all would be well.
The player eventually joined Villa for around 2.75 million and better wages than we could offer.
So, in summary, we lost the player for the want of 750,000 and possibly wages saved by keeping him off the wages account for three or four months. An example where holding a club to ransom, backfired badly. Now, any accountant worth his/her salt will watch the pennies, but in this case we had lots of funds and we were buying the future of the club. I suspect there have been other examples where this style of brinkmanship has resulted in us losing players for the want of less than a million. The impact is that we move down the target list to attempt to get a lower priority(cheaper?) player. This kind of brinkmanship is unlikely to be successful most of the time. Clubs get to know this way of operating very quickly, and, for quality players, they have other buyers.
So, what can be concluded from the above? We do not get to know the list of targets for obvious reasons but it is clear that our business model requires that we have a scouting network large enough and sharp enough to continually identify targets. Up to date target lists need to be available at all times to address situations like Dembele and Boyata. Secondly, we need to be prepared to sell our top players to our schedule and not to that of the players. This may be unpopular with the fans but it is necessary to satisfy both accounting and footballing objectives. Thirdly, either our negotiation strategy has to become more varied or those implementing it have to change. Domestically we have a lot of clout but blackmailing tactics probably only work in the short term. Negotiating with a foreign club is a whole different ball game.
For the future, the first step is realising that we have these types of problem. Only then can we hope to develop solutions.