Former Celtic and Scotland striker Andy Walker watched in disbelief at Parkhead on Tuesday evening as his former club’s shambolic rearguard actions contributed hugely to the 4-3 defeat by CFR Cluj which saw them miss out on Champions League football for the fourth time in six seasons.
The TV pundit was baffled by manager Neil Lennon’s decision to leave left-back Boli Bolingoli, the £3million summer buy from Rapid Vienna, and central defender Christopher Jullien, his £7m marquee signing from Toulouse, on the bench. And Walker was just as confused by the choice of playmaker Callum McGregor to replace Bolingoli, a selection which backfired spectacularly.
Walker also questioned the ambition of a Celtic board which has been hoarding cash at a time when the squad desperately needs strengthened in order to have a hope of progressing in Europe.
“On the football side, Neil must shoulder the blame for dropping Bolingoli, the player he signed for £3million, and shoehorning Callum McGregor into the left-back position,” he said.
“The early indications are that Bolingoli isn’t up to it, but Neil sang his praises after Saturday’s win at Motherwell, saying that the Belgian had come through a hard time – and then he sits on the bench for 90 minutes alongside the £7m centre-half, Christopher Jullien.
“Celtic lost five international defenders at the end of last season and they’ve just sold another in Kieran Tierney. Yet, after spending £10m on two new signings, neither of them are used in the most important game of the season, even though they both played at the weekend and clearly aren’t injured.“The worst thing for me about dropping Bolingoli, though, is that it was done to accommodate (Olivier) Ntcham, a player who doesn’t even want to be here. He’s already said publicly that he thinks he’s too good to play in Scotland and I can only assume that he played on Tuesday night because that will make it easier to sell him. Neil is going to have problems managing a player who cost the club a fair bit of money and isn’t interested in playing for Celtic.
“Tuesday’s selection also hurt the team because McGregor is their most creative midfielder – everything goes through him and he’s the man who makes them tick in the middle of the park.
“Callum is an automatic starter for Scotland and Brendan Rodgers used him as the fulcrum of the team in the Champions League. He can find half a yard in the tightest of spaces and he’s also a goal threat but he’s not a defender.”
Walker also took a pop at chief executive Peter Lawwell and the club’s directors for their parsimony.
“I don’t understand why, but the club increasingly appears to accept that their level is, at best, the Europa League,” he said. “Celtic have over £50m in the bank so it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to spend another £10m on defenders to give themselves a chance of progressing.”