Celtic transfers: Hannes Wolf, Martin Boyle, Bevis Mugabi - what could happen this window
The biggest issue for Ange Postecoglou come the end of the transfer window could be finding enough pegs at Celtic’s Lennoxtown complex for all the members of his enlarged squad.
There is no sense that the signings of Japanese trio Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi is the beginning and end of the club’s transfer business across the January window. Certainly Maeda, as a likely understudy to fellow countryman Kyogo Furuhashi, will provide an option that should alleviate the possibility of being left without a central striker – as befell Celtic when top scorer Furuhashi joined Giorgos Giakoumakis and Albian Ajeti on the treatment table for stretches of December. It would seem, then, that Postecoglou won’t be looking for any further central striking acquisitions.
It could be a different story as regards the crucial playmaking roles in the Australian’s set-up. Tom Rogic and David Turnbull were required to take on an enormous workload over the first half of the season, with no natural alternatives to rotate the duo. The clever, driving Hatate changes that scenario. But Borussia Monchengladbach attacker Hannes Wolf, who has again been linked with a move to Celtic in recent days, could be pursued to give Postecoglou two players for each of the central midfield creative roles integral to how the 56-year-old wants his team to go after teams incessantly. The fact Turnbull is unlikely to be seen again until March following the hamstring strain he sustained in the League Cup final, means this could be an area Postecoglou will push to further bolster.
Over the past month, Postecoglou lost practically his entire forward line and wide options to injury. It may be that he is intent on running with what might appear an oversized squad because he fully expects to continue to deal with player atrophy owing to the physical demands he places on his players with the intensity he seeks from them in games and daily training sessions. Moreover, should Celtic both make it through in the Scottish Cup against Alloa and progress from their Conference League play-off with Bodo/Glimt, they will face 17 games between their January 17 hosting of Hibs and entertaining Ross County on March 19, a period spanning only eight-and-a-bit weeks. At the rate they sustained injuries across a similarly hectic period towards the close of the year, Postecoglou might consider it judicious to run with hefty numbers.
A move for Boyle?
On that front, speculation Celtic could make a move to Hibs Martin Boyle refuses to go away. Posteocoglou has consistently talked up the Australian international whenever he has been asked about an attacker that plays for the national team he formerly helmed. What could put the mockers on any such move is the £3million price tag Hibs would place on the head of one of their prized assets. Moreover, both Hatate and Wolf can play wide as well as the attacking midfield roles. Celtic interest was reported in Motherwell’s centre-back Bevis Mugabi early this month and Postecoglou may consider it prudent to ramp up his options in the heart of the defence, even as Christopher Jullien is preparing to return from a full year on the sidelines. The Frenchman will require to be eased back slowly and gently following the knee ligament damage that wrecked 2021 for him. Celtic, even with Cameron Carter-Vickers – who could agree a permanent £6m deal in January following a successful first half of the season on loan from Tottenham Hotspur – Carl Starfelt and Stephen Welsh lack a degree of physicality in their defending. The aggressive Mugabi could certainly extend that dimension. The 28-year-old’s Fir Park contract is entering its final six months so a punt on him would not require a major outlay. If not Mugabi, Postecoglou could possibly have another Scottish-based wildcard in mind.
Who could leave?
However unlikely, were Wolf, Boyle and Mugabi all to join the Japanese trio at Celtic in the coming weeks, then in terms of personnel considered of the senior variety Postecoglou’s squad would swell to the seemingly unwieldy total of 34 – a figure that doesn’t include such as Owen Moffat, Joey Dawson, Dane Murray, Karamoko Dembele and Conor Hazard. Something surely has to give with players such as Vasilis Barkas, Boli Bolingoli and Ismaila Soro. None appears to have a future in Glasgow, Soro now behind Callum McGregor, Nir Bitton, James McCarthy and Ideguchi for what tends to be single deep-lying midfield role in Postecoglou’s team shape.
If this trio cannot be moved on permanently, then loan deals may be the means of avoiding stockpiling players with little prospect of contributing. Additionally, the development of young fringe players such as Adam Montgomery, Liam Shaw and Osaze Orhoghide could be better served through regular playing time earned in temporary stints elsewhere. Montgomery’s prospects of filling in down the left – whether at full-back or on the wing – now appear minimal. The emergence of Liam Scales as a rival for the fit-again Greg Taylor as full-back/wing-back, Hatate’s acquisition and the imminent return to fitness for Jota suggest precious few openings for the Scotland under-21 international.
How Postecoglou’s squad options will shape up come the close of the window of January 31 will be fascinating. And even before it opens, with the clubs quickfire J-League business – a first for any club to sign three players from that domain in one fell swoop – the Celtic manager will encouraged that significant steps have been taken to address the need for a greater strength in depth that proved a recurring theme for him throughout his first six months at the helm.
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