Celtic's next transfer dealings could involve up to eight players in winter window like no other
The January transfer window doesn’t tend to be a period when there is extensive player movement. However, the first month of 2024 could be a period to buck this trend for Celtic after Rodgers’ admission last week “the squad is too big, that is the reality of it.” Big is an understatement. The Scottish champions are operating with pool so enormous it is approaching ocean magnitude. It boasts no fewer than 32 names, while five others are currently out on loan. For comparison, Liverpool have the same number of loanees, but that leaves 27 players for Jurgen Klopp to work with on a daily basis.
Of course, one of those farmed out by the Anfield club, in the form of Nat Phillips, has pitched up at Celtic, When the centre-back agreed a six-month loan deal on the final day of the summer window, it seemed he was a desperately-needed acquisition as his temporary employers found themselves with an injury crisis in his position. Following the emergence of Liam Scales, Cameron Carter-Vickers being restored to full fitness, and the imminent return from a hamstring injury for £4.3million summer signing Maik Narwocki, it is difficult to see how Phillips fits in. Not least with his presence having deprived another close season investment, Swede Gustaf Lagerbielke – a £3m summer buy from Elfsborg – of even being included in Celtic’s last two matchday squads, even as he netted a first goal for his country in that period.
Never mind that also turning up at Lennoxtown to do his utmost every day is another central defender in Yuki Kobayashi, his shadow status having prompted the comment from Rodgers last week about his squad surfeit. All before considering that currently working his way back to fitness is yet another such option in Stephen Welsh, who was handed a new four-year deal this season. Seven into two will not go and it is inconceivable that Phillips and Kobayashi – at the very least, with Lagerbielke tie for loan experience – will still be on the Celtic scene come next February.
This situation is replicated in other departments of the Celtic playing staff, ahead of taking into account that the majority of the club’s summer transfer activity was on-stream before Rodgers’ return in June. As a result, the 50-year-old will judge the next window as the opportunity to recruit a couple of experienced, immediate first-team picks he patently wanted ahead of the campaign. Spaces require to be freed up to prevent Celtic running out of pegs at their training complex. Into this mix can be added the possibility of predators circling around current mainstays. It can surely be regarded as a given that if Matt O’Riley continues on his current spectacular trajectory he will have more head-turning suitors than Leeds United, understood to have been rebuffed with a £10m bid in August. Prior to signing a contract extension last month, Rodgers was candid when it was suggested the 22-year-old doing so would tie him to the club for the long-term. “We have seen how it goes”, he cautioned, a reference to the club being powerless to retain players – regardless of the time remaining on their deals – if an offer that meets their valuation and is irresistible to the individual is received.
As it stands, his free-scoring form and Reo Hatate rediscovering his peak powers have severely limited the game-time for Thiago Odin Holm and David Turnbull. Both were left on the bench as fellow midfielder Tomoki Iwata and on-loan Benfica youngster Paolo Bernando appeared for the closing stages of the 4-1 win away to Hearts on Sunday. Holm has exhibited sufficient promise to suggest his time will come, but Turnbull may be running out of that commodity owing to the fact the 24-year-old a free agent come next summer. With no discussions appearing to have taken place on a new contract, Celtic could shortly be in the position of having to decide if they accept a cut-price winter offer for the player or risk deriving no return on the £3m they paid Motherwell for him in the summer of 2020. Meanwhile, with £850,000 July arrival Kwon Hyeok-kyu – the South Korean holding player acquired from Busan Park – has instantly become a ghost player. Not even included in Rodgers’ 25-man Champions League squad, it would surprise no-one if he is spirited back to his homeland at the turn of the year.
Another 22-year-old whose Celtic prospects would hardly seem encouraging is Australian winger Marco Tilio. The most expensive football export from his homeland following a £1.5m move from Melbourne City in June, Rodgers didn’t sugarcoat the position the player finds himself in after recovering from an injury that sidelined him across his early months. The “intensity” of his new environment has made for “a really, really hard transition for him”, confessed the Celtic manager last week. Which can be taken as a barely-coded message he won’t be troubling his first-team squad in the foreseeable future, and most likely without stepping up that transition courtesy of a loan period elsewhere.
In terms Celtic’s plethora of wide players, the Irishman said he would like to integrate the unquestionably talented Mikey Johnston at some point. However, even as the 24-year-old has shown recently for the Republic of Ireland he can be a potent performer, previous physical fragilities surely have put the mockers on him prospering long-term with his boyhood club. A parting of the ways sooner rather than later seems inevitable, as it does for Irish striker Johnny Kenny, who will return from his latest loan in late November, which marks the end of the summer season for current stop-off Shamrock Rovers.
With a potential for up to eight exits beyond any sales, then, Celtic’s potential for imminent deck-clearing could keep a battery of junior seamen in gainful employment. Moreover, it won’t be lost on the captains of the club’s ship beyond Rodgers that the wage savings possible add up to the sort of booty lurking in a dead man’s chest.
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