Celtic have completed the signing of Youssouf Mulumbu who impressed at Kilmarnock last season. Craig Fowler looks at the positives of the deal but also what it says for the club’s recruitment.
At the end of a frustrating transfer window for Celtic fans, management staff and players, the Hoops finally appear to have signed the man to replace Stuart Armstrong and bolster their midfield corps.
Youssouf Mulumbu arrives at the club following a successful spell with Kilmarnock last season. At times the Congolese international looked a cut above in Scottish football. Supporters will often know little about incoming players from other Scottish clubs, as they tend to spend games focusing on their own side, but every member of the Parkhead faithful must surely remember Mulumbu’s devastating performance in Killie’s 1-0 victory over Brendan Rodgers’ men in February.
While he’s the replacement for Armstrong in terms of position, he’s a different player to the Scottish international. Armstrong was known for his driving runs through lines and propensity to score belters. Mulumbu, meanwhile, has the edge when it comes to strength and close control.
The 31-year-old can bully an opponent off the ball and then embarrass him by producing a deft piece of skill to evade their rebuke. He’ll likely not start when everyone is fully fit, but with Celtic competing on four fronts, he should get his fair share of game time and sparkle in a Celtic uniform.
He may even be used as a stand-in for Scott Brown when the captain needs a rest. The reigning PFA Scotland Player of the Year turned 33 over the summer and has already witnessed his form waver a bit with Celtic’s demanding early season schedule. Expecting him to play just about every game is no longer plausible. Though Mulumbu prefers to play further forward and is a decent playmaker in that area, his composure on the football and physical qualities would enable him to fill in as the enforcer in front of the back four.
He ticks a lot of boxes and arrives without a transfer fee. No doubt, this should turn out to be a very good deal. However, it’s also another damning indictment of Celtic’s transfer strategy.
Perhaps that’s too harsh on the Parkhead hierarchy. Perhaps they wanted Mulumbu as soon as the window opened but the player was holding out for a move to the English Premier League which never materialised. But seeing as Mulumbu has been available for a pre-contract offer since January, and the way this summer has gone for the Ladbrokes Premiership champions, not to mention the failed pursuit for John McGinn, it seems far more likely that they’ve been forced into settling as the transfer deadline draws near.
It’s also a move which questions the strength of Celtic’s scouting network. Despite having a designated head of recruitment in Lee Congerton and scouts working for them across the globe, the club’s transfer wishlist is largely confined to those who impress in the Ladbrokes Premiership or a promising youngster from an English Premier League side available for loan.
They have been recognised in recent years for signing some of the brightest young stars in world football and selling them on for a profit, if you think of Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and, soon to be, Moussa Dembele.
This summer transfer window even started in that vain with the club breaking their transfer record to sign 20-year-old Odsonne Edouard. But since then, for whatever reason, the well has gone dry. This is despite them badly needing improvements at right-back, centre-back, an additional option in midfield and a Dembele replacement up front.
Instead, they look set to settle for a pair of sticking plasters in Mulumbu and Filip Benkovic. They should make an already superior Scottish football squad even stronger, but they won’t do much to quiet the discord which exists among the supporters.