Amid the swirl that has been surrounding Celtic’s dealings once again during a transfer window, Brendan Rodgers yesterday chose to blast back at those who would seek to implicate Lee Congerton in any perceived shortcomings.
The club’s head of recruitment has been a bete noire for Celtic’s online community. His role has never been exactly understood and, indeed, the processes at work in the club’s pursuit and capture of players have appeared opaque and confusing – Rodgers adding to the mystery with comments this week that he had seen little of Maryan Shved, a Ukrainian winger for whom the club are finalising a £1.75 million deal at a time when the manager said they had “a million wingers and don’t need another one” in the short-term.
Rodgers said yesterday he was just “being honest” in his reaction that came in his post-match conference following the midweek win over St Mirren in not pretending he had been personally “trailing” the 21-year-old for six months, and said yesterday that “absolutely” he had the final say on any arrivals and that the Shved move represented an “opportunity” the club had to act on now to benefit from his talent further down the line.
“I don’t need to share anything about the internal working of the club,” Rodgers said pointedly in reference to the machinations behind Shved’s pursuit. Later he acknowledged he simply found it difficult to hide his “frustrations” when, as he recognised was simply a fact of life owing to the restrictions – financial and model-based – within the club, player targets were missed.
Equally blunt was his terse “I have no comment to make on that” in response to whether the processes involved in signing players at Celtic were easier than the transfer committee he had undisguised issues with at Liverpool.
There has been a return to that once oft-promoted notion that chief executive Peter Lawwell acts as a de facto director of football and, in consequence, Congerton has been portrayed as a Celtic employee without portfolio.
The former Chelsea chief scout was brought in by Rodgers almost two years ago. And, despite suggestions he may be wanted by one-time Stamford Bridge director of football Frank Arnesen at his current club Anderlecht, Congerton is bomb-proof at Celtic according to the Irishman, who despairs at the bullets being fired in his direction by those who may not understand his narrow remit.
“Once he’s found a player and recommended them, that’s where he’s away, he’s out of it then,” Rodgers said. “But listen, the regular supporter wouldn’t know the operation. And when one or two get emotional in the media and point fingers, that can snowball.
“But he hasn’t worked in the game for this period of time without having that talent. He’s working tirelessly for the club. But for any recruitment officer here it’s always going to be very, very difficult because the expectancy against the reality of where the club is makes it tough. But he loves it and he’ll continue to work tirelessly with his staff.
“It’s very easy for people and it’s the modern way, isn’t it, to criticise? I’ve never known a head of recruitment get criticised the way he does. So I’m not sure where the stories come from. Because I’ve never known it. And it’s unfair.
“People shine a torch, of course, on recruitment. But the likes of Odsonne [Edouard] he’s a fantastic player – one of Lee’s players. And the likes of [Filip] Benkovic. Part of Lee’s job is to find not just players for now, but to find players who are strategic for the club, who can help the club later on. He obviously has to scour the market and, at this moment in time, in terms of recruitment, it’s probably never been more difficult.
“He puts in a lot of miles, a lot of hours and of course the torch gets shone on him. But it’s very unfair because, a lot of the time, he’ll find players we just can’t bring in. They spend many hours, them and their people, travelling and working. And sometimes you aren’t getting that player in. But there’s a hell of a lot of work that goes into it. It’s not just a click of the fingers and you get a right-back or you get a central midfield player. It’s not as easy as that.
“Lee was someone who Frank, when he came in as sporting director at Chelsea, recognised as a big talent.
“He saw the players that Lee found. I remember the likes of Coutinho, Oscar, guys like that he brought into Chelsea. So there’s no doubting his eye for talent. But, bringing someone to the club, there’s a lot more to it than just seeing a player.
“But Lee has really enjoyed working for Celtic and I’ve known him for years, so I know his eye for a player, which is top class.”