Lee Congerton joins Celtic to find '˜superstars of tomorrow'
Every chief scout will have a showreel and Lee Congerton arrives in the head of recruitment role at Celtic with a montage of star names he can offer as evidence he can continue the club's success in unearthing precious and valuable gems.
“At Chelsea we signed Scott Sinclair for £200,000 and Ryan Bertrand from Gillingham for £150,000. Fabio Borini for €110,000 and Patrick van Aanholt for a few hundred euros before signing him later for Sunderland for £1 million. They sold him recently for £14m,” said the 43-year-old, who first came into contact with Brendan Rodgers more than two decades ago, even before they worked together at Chelsea.
“That’s what motivates me. There’s no correct way in signing a player. Talents that can become superstars of tomorrow is what has attracted me and Celtic have done that well over the years. I hope to continue that with the good network we have in place.
“There’s talent everywhere. KT [Kieran Tierney] is a great talent and he’s on our doorstep. Our priority is always going to be Glasgow and Scotland but we have to be prepared that there are players anywhere at any time. I like the compensation route that [Moussa] Dembele took. That’s quite attractive but if a player is good enough and within our financial means and fits the profile we are looking for then we will try and get him.”
Congerton – also credited with signing Son-Heung-min for Hamburg, who is now a key performer for Tottenham Hotspur following a £22m move to London – would reject the suggestion that he has endured some ill-starred moves in recent years, owing to a spell at Hamburg being brought to an abrupt halt and a difficult stint as Sunderland’s sporting director – a role from which he maintains he was not removed in 2015, as has been stated in recent days.
“I think you have to ignore the noise. Constructive criticism is always welcome. But if you are in this for your ego you are in the wrong business,” said Congerton, who prioritises “smelling the grass” – seeing a player live – in order to make judgments on a prospective signing. “Players will always disappoint you, some will surprise you, we are hopefully trying to make sure we have filters in place to minimise the risk, through people, crossover scouting, the stats, the video scouting we use.
“It is extremely difficult [to sign Champions League players on Scottish budgets] but we all love a challenge.
“It would have been a lot easier for me to go somewhere else because I had other opportunities but actually I am motivated because of that challenge and to work with Brendan again. It is competitive and when you are winning all the time you think ‘this is easy’ but I have experienced losing in recent years too.
“When I went to Hamburg the president lost the election as we were coming in and we had to reduce salaries by £20m in one transfer window. We managed to come together and stay up, thankfully, as Hamburg have never been relegated in their history.
“[Before] I was the sporting director at Sunderland I actually signed a contract in Ukraine after leaving Hamburg but the civil war started.
“Maybe I would have been better going into the civil war than going to Sunderland. It is a marvellous club and I enjoyed working there with some wonderful people but they were bottom of the league when I arrived and we twice managed to stay up.
“It was my choice to leave Sunderland but I really liked the north-east. The people were special and it is a real working-class football community which I think is similar to Glasgow.
“I am really looking forward to moving my family up here and living here.”