The signing of Kolo Toure has been lauded by Celtic fans, and rightfully so, but concerns remain going into their Champions League qualifier with Astana, writes Craig Fowler
Signing ageing talents who once starred in the English Premier League can be risky business. Fans become infatuated with the high profile name and fail to recognise the dangers of recruiting someone with diminishing talents. Rangers have done it three times this summer after securing deals for Joey Barton, Clint Hill and Niko Kranjcar. Now Celtic have followed suit with Kolo Toure.
While no signing is guaranteed to be a success or failure, there are usually a few indicators as to how things will pan out. With players in their 30s, you feel a lot more confident if they come direct from a high level, such as the EPL, having played with distinction in the season prior to the move. While Toure was hardly the most valuable Liverpool player over the past three years, he still had starring turns when he did get on the field, most notably the Europa League final against Sevilla when he was Liverpool’s best player in the defeat. A player who shows real desire to succeed well into his 30s can also be counted on, and while this writer won’t pretend to know what Toure is like off the field, on it he always comes across as a fiery competitor.
Celtic should be confident they’ve significantly upgraded at the position with this acquisition. With Jozo Simunovic to return from injury and Kristoffer Ajer providing depth, they’re probably set at the centre back and we could finally see the end of Efe Ambrose in a hooped shirt. Toure has had injury issues in recent seasons, but they can wrap him into cotton wool if there are any fitness concerns when Celtic are on league duty - if they can get Simunovic fit, or add another defender - thereby keeping their most experienced player for games in the Champions League.
Provided they get there.
While Celtic needed an upgrade at manager with Rangers coming back into the league after the disaster that was last season’s Scottish Cup semi-final, it’s unlikely the Parkhead hierarchy made Brendan Rodgers the highest paid manager in the club’s history for that purpose alone. Celtic fans often argued it was worth paying a great manager £2 million-a-year if the reward was the cash bonanza that is the Champions League group stages. But Ronny Deila alone wasn’t the problem and Celtic fly to Astana for their third round qualifier with roughly the same squad that failed to make it last term.
Toure will not be registered for the Astana tie as Rodgers believes he’s not yet fit enough to play. While the signing itself may not be a huge gamble, the failure to bring in a player who’ll improve the side for what is sure to be a tough tie definitely is. If Celtic stumble, are we to be believed they were content to sign the Ivorian just to play SPFL football?
The Kazakhs are no mugs. They qualified for the group stages last year and remained undefeated at home in a group that contained finalists Atletico Madrid. They did struggle against Lithuanian opponents Zagrilis Vilnius in the previous round so this is far from an impossible task for Celtic, who came up against a similarly robust opponent in Qarabag last term and came through unscathed. But the Scottish champions have certainly not given themselves the best opportunity to repeat the feat this time around.
From a purely financial perspective, this is the most important juncture of Celtic’s season and it’s not been reflected in their approach to recruitment. It’s almost certain the team which takes the field for a 24 September home match with Kilmarnock, for example, will be significantly stronger than the current incarnation. If they are still in Europe at that point remains to be seen.