With the January transfer window done and dusted, Craig Fowler looks over some of the more interesting deals from the past month
Esmael Goncalves to Hearts
Since the rebuild of Hearts, and probably even including the two seasons prior, the Gorgie Road club has retained an aura of a side built around a team rather than a couple of star players. In the former years it was a lack of talent throughout the side, while the latter campaigns were based around the system, as players went in and out of the door with surprising frequency.
The way Ian Cathro talks, you’d expect that to be his plan as well. He wants his team to control games and for everyone to contribute to a passing, attacking side. Unfortunately, at present, he need wins, and when your back is against the wall sometimes you require a player better than anyone else in the side to lift the rest.
Enter Esmael Goncalves. To suggest he’ll definitely be the team’s talisman based on five months with St Mirren four years ago would be foolish. However, he’s a strong, fast and powerful striker who, at the very least, has shown before he can score goals in Scotland. He’s also exactly the type of player Hearts are missing from their attack, someone who can both run at and run behind defences.
Even if he can’t improve the overall standard of results, his capture at least rejuvenates confidence among fans who aren’t exactly looking forward to this month’s clash with Hibs in the Scottish Cup.
It’ll also be quite a story if he can get Hearts to a major final having played a huge role in inflicting heartache on the club while with St Mirren. Goncalves scored the equaliser in the 2013 League Cup final, as St Mirren went on to defeat Gary Locke’s side 3-2.
Ryan Christie to Aberdeen (loan)
Once looked upon as one the league’s brightest young prospects, it’s fair to say Christie’s career has stalled somewhat since his move to Celtic. The Parkhead side’s stockpiling of talent during the Ronny Deila era is partially to blame, but other young Scottish stars at the club, notably Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor, have come from the periphery to force a regular place in the team under Brendan Rodgers. When Christie has played, more often than not he’s not shown enough to suggest he’ll make it at Celtic long term.
He should therefore use this opportunity to prove to any doubters that he does belong with a team at the top end of the Scottish Premiership. Though he’ll have to fight for his place first.
Aberdeen have picked the same side in five consecutive games, winning all five, and have settled on a midfield of Ryan Jack, Graeme Shinnie and Kenny McLean, with Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes on the wings. Christie can still be a great option off the bench, though it’s doubtful that’s what he had in mind when he agreed to the loan deal.
Then there’s his description of Aberdeen as “sheep s*****g c***s” in a tweet four years ago and the fact that he could knock Rangers out of second spot while still being a Celtic player. Those are a couple of nice wrinkles to add to this narrative.
Krisoffer Ajer to Kilmarnock (loan)
The 18-year-old Norwegian previously said he expected to go on loan to the English Championship, so it was a bit of a surprise when he headed for Ayrshire instead.
The reason behind the switch in destination was simple, Celtic couldn’t find a team at the required level down south who were willing to give the 18-year-old regular playing time as a centre back, which is where Brendan Rodgers believes the player will reach his true potential. That’s when Kilmarnock stepped in.
He’s played two games in the position for Killie already and looked at home in both. It’s hard to believe he’s still a teenager, such is the poise and class he shows on the ball.
However, it’ll still be interesting to see if Killie stick to their promise. A lot of Rugby Park fans thought a ball-playing, cool-headed centre midfielder was exactly what they needed, rather than a centre back. Ajer will play there for the meantime, but when results drop, as they likely will at some point, and Miles Addison returns from injury to potentially partner Scott Boyd, will Ajer remain in the role Celtic have selected for him?
Regardless of where he plays, Celtic fans will be rightly excited by Ajer’s future if he can maintain the level of performance displayed in his opening two matches. Could he be another star in the making?
Billy Mckay to Inverness CT (loan)
Inverness fans are rightly excited by this signing. Mckay was excellent for the club in his first spell. More than just a goalscorer, he was often a gutsy battler leading the attack by himself. Though he didn’t have the natural physical qualities of a lone striker, he made up for it with tireless work, a real fighting spirit and intelligent movement. If that player returns, ICT should carry a greater threat in attack.
There still remains the possibility that, even if Mckay returns to his prior form in the Highland capital, Inverness will still go down. The biggest problem with the side has been in defence. A team boasting the talents of Josh Meekings, Gary Warren, Ross Draper and Greg Tansey should not be as porous as they are. It’s down to a lack of organisation, both in the back four and in front of them, as they’ve regressed massively in that area under Richie Foran.
Then there’s the potential don’t-go-back issue. Mckay was great before but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be great again. Besides, he was poor for the most part during his year-long loan at Dundee United last season, where he infuriated the Tannadice support with the sheer amount of one-on-one opportunities he missed.
On paper it’s a good signing, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done for Inverness to dig themselves out of trouble, as evidenced by the 3-0 defeat in Hamilton last night.
Eboue Kouassi to Celtic
He’s a 19-year-old who’s arrived with a degree of fanfare. The last Celtic signing we could say that about was one Moussa Dembele. Even if the former FC Krasnodar player turns out to be a fraction as good as his new team-mate, he’ll still be a terrific addition.
Celtic’s strategy in the transfer market in recent years has been to pluck obscure talents and develop them. It worked with Victor Wanyama, Fraser Forster and Moussa Dembele, to name a few. It’s also failed with a number of others. The difference now is that, in Brendan Rodgers, they seem to have the best caretaker around to nurture the talents of these raw youngsters. There’s barely a Celtic player who hasn’t improved dramatically over the course of this season. Even Dedryck Boyata has looked like a solid defender over recent weeks. With this in mind, fans should be excited by Kouassi’s potential and what Rodgers can do with him.
For the meantime, Rodgers has to figure out exactly how to bed the player into the squad between now and the end of the season. It may depend on how quickly the Ivorian can acclimatise and, if not, how seriously Rodgers wants to take the pursuit of an unbeaten season. In Stuart Armstrong, Nir Bitton, Callum McGregor, Scott Brown, Tom Rogic and Liam Henderson it’s already a crowded area in the centre of the Celtic midfield. The youngster may have to be patient.