IT IS strange to think that it has taken a Norwegian to “tartanise” Celtic. Yet, if, as expected, Scott Allan is enticed to the east end of Glasgow then he will become the third Scottish-born player to sign for the champions in little more than seven months. To provide some perspective for that figure, it is higher than the number of senior Scottish players recruited by the club in the previous seven years.
Celtic’s belief in the need to go on an economy drive in recent seasons in part accounts for a new-found interest in players that are operating within the club’s own borders. Yet, the fact that head coach Ronny Deila has been in charge for little more than a year cannot simply be considered a coincidence when analysing this trend.
Transfer activity tends to follow a pattern and the willingness to bring in Allan will also be related to the fact that Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven have made seamless transitions since joining from Dundee United last season. Similarly, Leigh Griffiths, who has been at Celtic for only 18 months, has provided greater value than a host of more expensive overseas strikers who have failed to make an impact at the club over the past five years.
News of the moves for Allan came on a day when the 18-year-old Scottish left-back Kieran Tierney was handed a new four-year deal by Celtic. Deila seems determined to demonstrate that there are pathways outside and inside the club for indigenous talent to make it at Parkhead.
“I think it is important that if there is a possibility to add Scottish players that we do so,” said the Norwegian. “We are a Scottish club and there is a lot of talent out there who would die to play for Celtic and want to play for Celtic. We have shown players that there is a possibility to do that.
“We have shown with Gary and Stuart that it is possible. With Nadir Ciftci, we have brought in three players from Dundee United and we are looking at other Scottish players.
We want to have as many Scots as possible. But first and foremost it is about the qualityRonny Deila
“There are a lot of good players in Scotland. If players do well in the league then we will look at them. We have to have control of our own country first and then look to other countries. If I am looking at two players who are similar and one is from Scotland and one is from abroad, I’ll pick the Scottish one.
“We want to have as many Scots as possible. But first and foremost it is about the quality.”
The advantages of going native for acquisitions do not make Deila reluctant to scour the globe for potential transfers, though. As with everything in the world of the measured Norwegian, it is all about balance. And he doesn’t accept that, on balance, Celtic have a mixed record of late in scouting effective performers from abroad. Never mind that, in the past three years, it has hardly worked out at Celtic for Mohamed Bangura, Teemu Pukki, Amido Balde, Derk Boerrigter, Mubarak Wakaso, Aleksandar Tonev, Jo Inge Berget and Stefan Scepovic.
“When you play in Scotland you know what Celtic is all about and you know the Scottish league,” Deila said. “Those are positives but I don’t agree that it’s difficult for foreign players to settle in. It is about the individual. About 80 or 90 per cent of the foreign signings have done well.”
One – of a good number, it should be said – who has undoubtedly been a terrific capture is Virgil van Dijk. The centre-back has again been linked with a move away from the Celtic this week, with Southampton reportedly considering a £10 million bid. The St Mary’s club are using the Scottish champions as a feeder club, it would seem, following the £22m they have paid in recent seasons to acquire the services of previous Celtic gems Victor Wanyama and Fraser Forster.
Whatever happens in the Champions League play-off tie against Malmö, who visit Glasgow for the first leg next Wednesday, it seems unlikely Van Dijk will still be at Celtic come the summer transfer window closing on 1 September. Deila expects to see movement both in and out in the next fortnight – with Anthony Stokes another strong contender to depart – and hints that Van Dijk’s Celtic career could be measured in days.
“We will definitely keep him for the Champions League qualifiers. We want to keep him after that,” said Deila, who conceded he would spend “many hours” formulating his team for the visit of Inverness Caledonian Thistle tomorrow. He is unwilling to risk any player carrying a niggle ahead of Malmö, meaning such as Scott Brown, Dedryck Boyata, Kris Commons and Armstrong could be given the weekend off.
“We don’t have to sell Virgil. If the right offer comes in then maybe it will be an issue. But our first priority is to keep him. I have said before he is one of the biggest talents I have seen in Europe.
“He could play for one of the top teams in Europe. It’s all about experience. Wherever he eventually goes he will need time to adapt. Whether it is Southampton or whatever, he has the skills to take him to a very high level.”