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3 Quality (affordable) players for Celtic before window closes

By Brendan MacFarlane

The €9m Recruitment Challenge – Could French Talents Strengthen Celtic’s Weaknesses?

Ahead of the end of the current transfer window and in the sombre wake of Celtic’s catastrophic and premature exit from European football’s biggest competition, I’ve been asked to take on a daunting challenge. The lads at E-Tims have asked me to deal with an enticing hypothetical situation – if I had €9million at my disposal, could I solve the club’s main positional weaknesses (left-back, centre-back and centre-forward roles) with three players sourced from football clubs in France.

It’s a challenge that I’ve taken on with vigour and one which I hope you’ll agree that I’ve succeeded in fulfilling by the time that you’ve finished reading this piece. I would project a maximum spend of €3mil (£2.2mil) on each of the three players I have focused on.

First of all, ‘why French football clubs?’ I hear you ask. The main reason for the Gallic nature of this task is because, although my first footballing love is and always will be the green and white of Celtic, I cover all tiers of football in France whilst doing analyst work for both French and English-language online publications.

It must be conceded that Celtic have had mixed fortunes in their transfer dealings with French-based players over the years – while Bobo Baldé may still be fondly remember by the support, the prospect of signing Ligue 1 or Ligue 2 players may bring up uncomfortable memories of the Mowbray-era for some, with many fans still failing to come to terms with the £4million that the club handed over to Nancy for Marc-Antoine Fortuné.

However, in my opinion the Ligue 2 market in France is perhaps one of the best places to scout in the world, with West Ham Utd’s Diafra Sakho and Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez being perfect recent examples of the talent available in France’s second division. They serve as examples of players signed for relatively modest transfer fees who will no doubt in the future be sold on for healthy profits.  It’s for that reason that I’ve decided to focus on three targets in Ligue 2 and I firmly believe that the players that I have chosen would fit into Celtic’s ‘buying to sell on’ framework.

If you are interested in Ligue 2 emerging talent in general, you can check out my top 11 young Ligue 2 players to watch out for this season here – .

Simon Falette –   23 – Centre-Back – Stade Brestois

Simon Falette

Twenty-three-year-old Simon Falette was formed as a youth product by Ligue 1 club Lorient, and after making his debut against Lille as a twenty-year-old, he was sent out on loan spells to Ligue 2 clubs Laval and Brest.  After amassing a total of sixty-seven games during these two loan spells, he made a permanent move to sign for Brest at the beginning of last season in a bid to play regular first-team football.

He established himself as a starter at the Stade François-Le Blé alongside the more experienced current Angers centre-back Ismaël Traoré, and their solid partnership helped the Breton club to become the league’s second best defence last season. Despite the fact that the club could only manage a sixth-place finish because of their goal scoring inefficiencies, Brest only conceded three goals less than eventual champions Troyes.  Falette’s performances were key to this success.

The twenty-three-year-old stands at six-feet, roughly around the same height as Jason Denayer, but he more than makes up for any lack of height with his physical presence. The defender of Guyanese origin uses his 90kg frame to great effect, using his shoulder to brush even the most forceful centre-forwards away with ease.  The fact that he was a promising Judo prospect as a youngster is probably enough to scare any strikers that have the misfortune to come into his path.

He is a commanding centre-back who despite his relative youthfulness appears to be very vocal on the park and he is an unenviable foe in aerial duels. Asides from being a purely solid presence, he also has a good natural game awareness and he likes to use his pace and ability to read the game to quickly intercept passes.

Falette though is much more than just a competent defender -he is a left-sided player who uses his physical strengths to his advantage, but as with most players who play his position in France, he is also competent with the ball at feet. He often helps assist Brest’s offensive moves by playing diagonal balls over the top of defences. Centre-backs in France from an early age are encouraged and schooled to play as ‘relanceurs’ i.e. defenders who are happy to step up into midfield to assist the team’s play on the deck when they are in possession of the ball and Falette often does this. He also demonstrated last season his ability to shoot from range with his left foot when pushing forward, and like most centre-backs he is keen to offer himself as an aerial target at set-pieces.

One area of his defensive game he could however improve is his temperament. He has a tendency to appear to lunge too early into tackles, giving fouls away.  He is however only twenty-three, and sometimes people forget that given the fact that he leads the Brest back four. His youthful exuberance and enthusiasm may lead him to dive in early, but he is a ‘rough diamond’ who I firmly believe has a potential that can be honed with the right coaching and guidance.

Udinese are reportedly among a number of Serie A clubs who are keen to move for Falette, and the centre-back has two years remaining on his deal with his current club. Celtic however do have an advantage which could perhaps lure the promising defender to Glasgow – Jason Denayer and Virgil Van Dijk’s success stories at the Bhoys could attract a player like Falette to the club if he has future English Premier League ambitions.

Gaëtan Bussmann – 24 – Left-back – FC Metz

Gaëtan Bussmann

The bane of many Celtic fans’ lives has been our inefficiency at left-back since Emilio Izaguirre’s form began to slump below mediocre levels. Finding a good left-back, by virtue of the particularity of the role, is not a simple task, but recruiters have the job of recruiting and a club of Celtic’s size shouldn’t be too daunted when faced with that challenge.

Despite the fact that he is by no means a household name and that he’s a current teammate of Amido Baldé, I think FC Metz’s Gaëtan Bussmann could be the resolution to our perennial left-back problem.

The former France youth internationalist has always been regarded as one to watch, having won France’s prestigious U19 Coupe Gambardella with his current side and having achieved glory in the famous blue international shirt by winning the European Championships within the same age category in Ukraine in 2010.

Bussmann is now twenty-four, and whilst he may not have hit the same footballing heights as his former France U19 teammates Antoine Griezmann and Alexandre Lacazette, he is still a reliable and useful left-back. He is above the standard required to be a success in Ligue 2 and in my opinion is more than capable of being a success within a good side.

Bussmann was a key player in FC Metz push from promotion in the 2013-2014 season helping, his side to be crowned Ligue 2 champions. Despite the club’s eventual relegation back to the second-tier, the twenty-four-year-old stood out as a result of his individual performances. He is a level-headed full-back who sticks to the job at hand and rarely loses concentration. As result of his discipline he rarely finds himself out of position after pushing up to support attacks. He has started the current Ligue 2 campaign brightly, with his side only conceding once in the four games they have played so far and sitting in a so far deserved first place.

Like Mikael Lustig, Bussmann is unusually tall for his position, measuring at 6ft, and as a result he is effective in the air. From a defensive point of view, he is capable of stepping-in from full-back to attack diagonal balls and he has also played competently at centre-back when he has been called upon to do so for his side.  One of the main advantages of his height is the fact that it has allowed him to become an extra goal scoring threat for his side, both with his gifted left foot and with his head.  He scored twice last season in Ligue 1 and he has already found the net this season in Ligue 2, scoring a vital goal in his side’s victory against Créteil.  Bussmann’s eleven goals in one hundred and twenty appearances for his side in all competitions appear fairly prolific in comparison to Izaguirre’s meagre tally of two goals in around one hundred and fifty games.

Bussmann is perhaps a player whose potential has never been adequately reached and at twenty-four, his next move from Metz will be of massive importance. Suitors for Bussmann continue to emerge, as Championship clubs have reportedly being monitoring his situation. Ligue 1 side Saint-Étienne were also rumoured to be lining up a bid for the defender until they signed Benoît Assou-Ekotto on a free transfer, providing them with a cost-free solution to Franck Tabanou’s departure to Swansea City.

He has been held back by the fact that he has remained at FC Metz for as long as he has – despite his success with the side in the 2013-2014 season, he was unable to demonstrate fully his strengths while playing for a weak side in Ligue 1 last season after Sakho’s departure to West Ham. Perhaps a move to a strong Celtic side in comparison with the rest of the Scottish top-flight could allow him to finally realise his potential.

Karl Toko Ekambi – 22 – Centre-Forward – Sochaux

Karl Toko Ekambi (Pictured at the top) moved to Sochaux from Paris FC at the end of the 2013-2014 season after impressing with the then National (third-division) side by scoring fourteen goals throughout the campaign. Since arriving at the Franche-Comté side he has imposed himself as a first-eleven starter and his frequent goalscoring has helped him to become a favourite amongst the club’s passionate support. He has just a year remaining on his contract at the Stade Auguste-Bonal and a bid at this stage of the window would surely be a tempting proposition for the club’s directors.

Despite being born in Paris, the twenty-two-year-old has forced his way into the Cameroonian international set-up thanks to his impressive performances in Ligue 2. Toko Ekambi offers his side with pace, decisiveness and mobility upfront, and he has used these attributes to score an impressive sixteen goals for his side in forty-two games.

This figure may not seem impressive on paper, but given the fact that Sochaux finished in an unimpressive tenth position last season, you get the impression that the striker would score a lot more goals in a side that would create more chance for him. His strikes counted for 36% of all Sochaux goals last season, and so far this season he scored 50% of all his side’s goals, scoring two in four.

Toko Ekambi has a fantastic ability thanks to his off the ball movement to get himself into positions between centre-backs and the goalkeeper to score. He uses his pace to stay onside when doing this and this helps him to at times become almost impossible to defend against. The 6ft striker often scores in the six yard box as a result, using either foot to score tap-ins or by using his head to great effect. He scored seven headers last season and this ability has helped him to become one of the most promising centre-forwards in Ligue 2, with only three more players having scored more in France’s second division than the Frano-Cameroonian.

Toko Ekambi has quick-feet and his ability to take on defenders would definitely excite Celtic supporters. He has the attributes to become a future star and he fits the profile of the type of player that the club would be able to sell-on with a return after a couple of impressive seasons. He has already proven his adaptability by stepping up from the National to Ligue 2 and changing clubs without any hindrance to his goalscoring.

As he is available on a free contract at the end of the season, I expect him to be followed very closely by both Ligue 1 and Championship scouts. He could be expected to leave Sochaux in January on a cut-price fee if he doesn’t leave before the current window slams shut.

Three players who I firmly believe would enhance greatly the Celtic starting eleven and all available in the £2m price range.

Over to you Celtic scouts…

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7 years ago

Great piece of work im going to snag them for football manager lol

7 years ago

Meet the new head of scouting for Celtic! A great piece of work. Now, it needs acted upon—quick. Many thanks to Brendan Macfarlane.

7 years ago

Very interesting does anyone at celtic scout in france,Istill think we need a top class creative midfielder,with the board claiming money is tight,I cannot believe we are after Christie from ICT FOR 500.000,THEN LOAN HIM BACK,any spare money should go to getting players readto enhance the first team immediately,the money could help to pay for a good players salary.

Frank McGaaaaarvey
7 years ago
Reply to  deadhead67

“Any spare money should go to getting players ready to enhance the first team immediately”. What? At Projects FC? It’ll never catch on man.

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