11 Celtic players face question marks over futures - fresh fight for duo, club legend under pressure from twitterati, the bad penny
For the now 27-year-old Greek goalkeeper merely marking time in Glasgow, there always seems to be an upcoming move somewhere. Only for that to disappear over the rainbow. Celtic might not lose a pot of gold on a man who just never settled at the club, but they need to accept recouping even a fraction of the £5million they paid AEK Athens for him in July 2020 could be beyond them. The best for the keeper and them would be finding a loan deal for him in the summer at a club willing to meet a decent portion of his wage. It is likely to require him to be playing regularly again – and demonstrating he was just hexed at Celtic a la Shane Duffy now starting again at Brighton – before a buyer takes the plunge. His wage level, to which Celtic are committed for another two years, already seems to have played a part in deals with Sheffield United, IFK Goteborg and his old Athens employers failing to get over the line.
The 21-year-old defender headed out Belgian club Oostende on loan in January. At the time he stated his intention was to return to Celtic in the summer better placed to stake a claim for game time. That might be a tough proposition for a player who came to the club as a free agent last July, having been targeted well before Ange Postecoglou’s arrival. Celtic are reported not to have considered a permanent departure for the versatile performer in the past window, so it may be he is still being considered a development option. Yet, only when Postecoglou fielded a shadow side in their Europa League dead rubber against Real Betis in December did he earn his one and only senior appearance. Recruited as a centre-back, he impressed that night at right-back, yet is playing in the heart of defence for the Jupiler Pro League side.
The scenario desperately desired by Celtic and their manager is that, come the end of the campaign, the US international pledges his long-term future to the Glasgow club. The 24-year-old has become a foundation stone for Postecoglou since arriving on a season-long loan deal from Tottenham Hotspur on deadline day last summer. Therein lies the issue. Celtic would be quite prepared to pony up the £6m it is believed the London club are seeking for a sale. The player seemed receptive to such a move early in his Celtic stint. But that was before a host of English Premier League clubs – led by Leicester City – started to take a serious interest in a centre-back who marries power and deceptive quickness over a half yard with excellent decision-making. It has been floated that a title win for Celtic, and the probability of that earning direct entry to the Champions League, could tempt him to sign up for the club permanently. However, such a contention seems to downplay just how irresistible is the lure of the English Premier League, and the potential for doubling or tripling any salary Celtic’s wage structure could tolerate.
A gloomy prognosis has been laid out for the Frenchman’s Celtic career in many quarters, on the basis that he has dropped out of the Celtic first-team squad lately. Yet, the fact the centre-back only returned to the squad 14 months on from sustaining knee-ligament damage in the closing days of 2020 meant this season was always going to be a write-off for him. There are no opportunities to build his fitness within games, with so much potentially resting on every match. Judgements on where the now 29-year-old’s Celtic career is headed must be reserved until he is on a level with his defensive rivals following a full summer pre-season. It can be easily forgotten how effective – in both boxes – the 6ft 7in performer was in his one full campaign with the club following his £7m move from Toulouse in the summer of 2019. Next season will be the final one of his current contract, and his aerial ability and desire to pass out from the back means he has attributes that could yet be successfully harnessed by Postecoglou.
Reports last week that the Belgian left-back’s loan deal with Russian club FC Ufa – only agreed in early February – had been cancelled called to mind the old adage about the bad penny. A player with no future at Celtic, even after injuries forced Postecoglou to turn to him a couple of times early in the season, he will surely cut his ties in the summer. The die was cast for the 2019 summer signing from Club Brugge when he broke Covid-19 regulations to fly out to Spain for an unauthorised overnight trip in August 2021, but Celtic might have to accept that only a pittance of the £3m invested in him is likely to be recoverable.
The Portuguese winger is in a similar position to Carter-Vickers. Celtic has been good for him; and he’s been good for Celtic. But maybe too good to see his horizons restricted to Scottish football. The wide man had never had an extended run in top flight football until he was recruited by Postecoglou on a season-long loan deal from boyhood club Benfica on deadline day of last summer’s window. He has revelled in the platform offered him by an attack-minded, dominant team – as evidenced with the 10 goals and 10 assists he has served up in 32 appearances. Celtic might have first option on the 22-year-old, a £6m fee to acquire him permanently built into the loan agreement, but that is only relevant if the player wants to commit. He has stonewalled any chat over whether he sees Celtic as where he wants to drop anchor, which doesn’t exactly engender optimism that his representatives are pushing him in that direction. These parties clearly have sought to keep their options open. Ultimately, there may be nothing Celtic can present to him that would make him stay beyond his current agreement.
The senior minutes earned by the midfielder on loan with Motherwell amount to one 45-minute run-out in the club’s past six games. Even as the Fir Park men have remained winless in the league across 2022, the 21-year-old hasn’t been considered by Graeme Alexander as a player to help dig them out of their current hole. That hardly suggests he will return to Celtic and start pulling up trees. Agreement on his freedom of contract summer over from Sheffield Wednesday came a year ago, long before Postecoglou was in place. The youngster isn’t a player the Celtic manager identified as fitting into his plans then. He inherited him, and a couple of outings and a smattering of bench appearances didn’t suggest the Englishman had bowled him over. The situation and timing surrounding his move to Celtic would seem to have undermined any real prospect of him making an impact in Glasgow’s east end.
But for work permit issues, the diminutive midfielder would be on loan with Dutch club Fortuna Sittard. These stymied a January deadline-day transfer to allow the 23-year-old to get playing again after he had been pushed to the fringes across Postecoglou’s first six months. With reports of interest from MLS clubs, there should be some sort of close season movement for the ball winner acquired from Israeli side Bnei Yehuda for a £1.5m in January 2020. Excellent in Neil Lennon’s final months across the winter of 2020-21 – which resulted in one report stating Tottenham Hotspur were keeping tabs on him – those days are now distant memories. The fierce competition for midfield places at Celtic ramped up by the January arrivals of Reo Hatate, Matt O’Riley and Yosuke Ideguchi places the Ivorian firmly in the Celtic departure lounge. It is only the date and destination of his exit that await confirmation.
It seems bonkers there appear so many among the Celtic twitterati in an unseemly rush to declare that the final chapters of the winger’s stellar career have been written. Postecoglou is not among them and only has been restricted in his use of the 30-year-old by a series of niggly injuries that haven’t allowed the attacker the free-run hoped for following the ankle problems that ruined his previous campaign. The Australian, even in recent weeks, has spoken about what an important figure the Scotland international is to him – a big player for the big moments who knows what it takes to win big with Celtic, he championed. He has plenty of time on his side to add to 19 major honours and plethora of landmark moments enjoyed for his solitary senior team over 13 years. Moreover, with Jota’s future uncertain, the Celtic manager will recognise how crucial his continued input is likely to be.
A couple of years ago the fears expressed were that Celtic would struggle to hold on to the wunderkind that every elite English club were circling around. Injuries, and whispers that his application wasn’t all it might have been, have meant his career has stalled since he made his senior debut, at the age of 16, in May 2019. A horrible challenge he suffered in a pre-season friendly against Bristol City denied him the opportunity to sell his abilities to a Postecoglou who talked up looking forward to working with him. Returning to the squad in recent weeks, the Celtic manager has sought to use him from the bench, and the player has responded with a couple of bright, brief showings. Yet, recent reports have thrown doubt on whether the club are certain to offer him an extension to his contract, which expires in the summer; their thoughts perhaps coloured by his desire for a fresh start elsewhere. It is impossible to know how the situation will pan out.
It has just never seemed meant to be for the Swiss striker at Celtic beyond his first couple of months at the club that followed a £4.5m move from West Ham in August 2020. It is sometimes forgotten that his first six appearances yielded five goals but problems with a troublesome ankle injury and conditioning concerns resulted in the forward being flailed – along with Barkas and Duffy – as the misfits that mangled Celtic’s hopes of a record 10th consecutive title. As with signings in recent seasons – notably pre-Posteocoglou – that haven’t found their way in Glasgow, the club may be forced to cut their losses in order to prevent the 25-year-old simply being a wage drain, with little prospect of featuring for the senior side.
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