Clock ticking for Ange Postecoglou as Celtic scramble for new recruits ahead of Champions League deadline
Postecoglou can’t be held accountable for the status and strength of the squad he inherited when he was appointed last month. The Australian coach is reliant on the existing structures at the club, now being reviewed and reformed by new chief executive Dom McKay, to provide him with the tools he will need to succeed in Glasgow.
But the reality is that McKay and Postecoglou have little room for manoeuvre when it comes to reshaping his side ahead of the first leg of the Champions League second qualifying round tie against Danish Superliga outfit Midtjylland at Celtic Park next Tuesday night.
Postecoglou has to submit his initial list of players for the tie to UEFA by midnight on Thursday. After that, Celtic will be able to register just two more players by midnight next Monday.
While Postecoglou has expressed confidence that Celtic will be in a position to announce the arrival of ‘one or two’ new signings over the next couple of days, that has done little to ease the fans’ anxiety over the minimal business conducted so far.
It is no disrespect to 20-year-old midfielder Liam Shaw and 21-year-old defender Osaze Urhoghide, who may both ultimately prove to be shrewd acquisitions, to say that their captures on freedom of contract from Sheffield Wednesday have not exactly matched the profile of new additions Celtic supporters want to see.
Around £400,000 in training compensation fees for Shaw and Urhoghide is the extent of Celtic’s squad investment so far this summer.
With the club having raked in around £17.5 million since January from the sales of Jeremie Frimpong, Hatem Elhamed, Patryk Klimala, Jack Hendry and Vakoun Bayo, it can be assumed Postecoglou has been assured he has a decent budget at his disposal to revitalise a club which is coming off the back of a first trophy-free season in 11 years.
"We need players in a number of positions, it's not just one," said Postecoglou after Celtic defeated Charlton 2-1 in their second pre-season friendly match in Newport on Saturday.
"Even looking at those who have gone from last season, purely on numbers, we need players."
Celtic are understood to remain hopeful they can succeed in their pursuit of £4 million-rated Swedish international central defender Carl Starfelt, currently with Rubin Kazan in Russia, while they are also being strongly linked with a move for Rennes’ highly-regarded teenage right-back Brandon Soppy.
But getting new signings over the line isn’t the only issue for Celtic before the transfer window closes next month. Determining the future of several unsettled members of Postecoglou’s first team squad is a significant complication.
Reports in Norway have claimed that Celtic rejected an initial £12 million offer from English Premier League newcomers Brentford for Kristoffer Ajer. The fee could have potentially risen to £15 million but Celtic are believed to want £20 million for the Norwegian international central defender.
Ajer is entering the final year of his contract with Celtic and it remains to be seen if both he and the club will be content for him to stay for another season and run it down.
French midfielder Olivier Ntcham is in a similar position and with a possible move to AEK Athens having broken down, he returned to the Celtic squad to take part in the friendly against Charlton. There is no doubt about Ntcham’s talent and perhaps Postecoglou can encourage him to display the kind of commitment which has been missing from far too many of his performances.
Ryan Christie’s situation at Celtic, meanwhile, continues to perplex. At his best, the Scotland international attacking midfielder is an asset to any side and his style of play would appear ideally suited to the kind of high intensity, front-foot strategy Postecoglou says he intends to implement at Celtic.
But Christie is also entering the final season of his existing deal and is understood to be attracted by the prospect of moving abroad, having been linked with several European clubs. Again, Celtic must decide whether to cash in on him now or keep him on board to assist the early stages of Postecoglou’s tenure.
Clean slates have already been offered to goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas and striker Albian Ajeti, both of whom endured underwhelming first seasons at the club. The combined fees of around £8.5 million spent of those two last summer underline the vagaries of trying to get recruitment right, regardless of how much money is at a manager’s disposal.
Ajeti has scored in both of Celtic’s friendlies so far and will look to build on that encouraging form when they face Bristol City on Wednesday night before returning home for Saturday’s meeting with Preston North End at Parkhead.
But Postecoglou will be relieved to still have the services of Odsonne Edouard at his disposal for the Champions League qualifiers, assuming the knock which forced the French striker to limp out of the Charlton match is not a major issue.
Edouard, also in the final year of his contract, is likely to attract bids before the end of next month but in the short-term could be crucial to Postecoglou’s hopes of making a positive start.
Reinforcements may arrive in the coming days but Postecoglou must largely rely on the troops already under his command if he is to hit the ground running as Celtic manager.
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