THIS January transfer window has been a very encouraging one so far for Celtic as their new recruits appear to suit Ange Postecoglou’s style of play and fill a need within the squad.

Seems fairly straightforward, doesn’t it? However it hasn’t always been so simple at Celtic Park and four squad members, each recruited within the last couple of years and now unwanted by the club, can provide a lesson for the scouting and recruitment department. 

Vasilis Barkas: Plan ahead to avoid compromising

Eighteen months after joining Celtic from AEK Athens for £5million, Vasilis Barkas is shuffling tentatively, as is his style, towards the exit door.

Although Celtic’s desire to recoup a portion of that transfer fee may mean a parting won’t happen until the summer transfer window, Scott Bain’s recent contract extension was the latest indication of the Greek keeper’s medium to long term status at Celtic Park. Bain is considered a backup and not seen as a successor to Joe Hart while, at just 18 years old, Celtic B starlet Tobi Oluwayemi is a number of years away from first-team starts.

Celtic appear keen to cut their losses with Barkas and then re-enter the market in the search for a player who can compete with Hart and be heir to the number one.

Last season Barkas had a good start, managing to be undefeated in his opening eight Scottish Premiership games and registering clean sheets in five of those. However, by the end of the campaign, he had the fourth-worst rating of all goalkeepers in the division for Goals Saved Above Average which is a StatsBomb metric measuring how many goals the keeper saved versus expectation.

Barkas saved 68 per cent of the shots he faced whereas the model, based on the location and type of strike, expected him to save 73 per cent of them. By comparison, Joe Hart has saved 78 per cent of his shots against an expectation of 73 per cent.

Barkas often fails to make himself seem big, has made the error of reducing the surface area of his ball contact at times by attempting to punch swerving shots instead of using his palm and doesn’t always have optimal movement immediately after an attempt is struck at his goal.  

Celtic Way:

Despite this, James Dailey made a convincing argument for The Celtic Way that Barkas is a good fit for this season’s Celtic side under Postecoglou by pointing out his superiority over Hart in terms of On-Ball Value, a stat which values a player’s contribution in possession, and Claims percentage, which rates the goalie’s attempts to claim passes or crosses compared to the average competitor.

However, goalkeeping fundamentals surely have a hierarchy of importance with shot-stopping at the pinnacle and just besting a soon-to-be 35-year-old Hart’s flaws doesn’t equate to good enough.

There’s a risk for analysts that an understandable desire to defend Barkas against Celtic fans fixated on the memorable big saves of Joe Hart and Fraser Forster could lead to wrongfully excusing his deficiencies. 

Celtic Way:

With Barkas making his only league appearance of this season so far on Boxing Day, Celtic’s scouting department has likely been instructed by Postecoglou to find a replacement. 

A robust review of what led them to Barkas in the first place - and let’s hope it wasn’t just some reasonable distribution in the August 2018 Champions League qualifiers for AEK Athens viewed from the Celtic bench - should be part of that process.

It could be argued that the late realisation that Fraser Forster was not going to be available for the 2020-21 season led the club to be desperate and compromise, accepting a player they knew was flawed.

The lesson here is that proper squad management and succession planning this time around is a must to give them time to recruit for excellence across all aspects of being a goalkeeper.

Boli Bolingoli: Do your due diligence

Left-back Boli Bolingoli has long been unwanted at Celtic Park. He signed for the Bhoys in July 2019 and started the 2019-20 season as first-choice in his position but, due to injuries and form, did not appear in a league match after the turn of the year. 

In August 2020, he broke Covid-19 quarantine rules which led to widespread condemnation and a season-long loan to Istanbul Basaksehir.

This campaign, Bolingoli has featured in a Celtic starting XI just twice and hasn’t even been in the matchday squad for 21 of the 25 domestic fixtures. 

His contract runs to the end of May 2023 so unless Celtic are able to find a buyer soon they face the risk of Bolingoli waiting it out until he is a free agent. 

Ironically, the style of football under Postecoglou might have suited Bolingoli to an extent. He demonstrated an ability to play short link-up passes and rotate infield positionally in his time at Celtic, especially in tandem with Olivier Ntcham, and may have adapted to an inverted ful-back role well.

However, just 0.11 open play xG per 90 in his 2019-20 appearances is an underwhelming creative output which contrasts poorly with Greg Taylor’s 0.22 per 90 in both this and last season. 

Celtic Way:

Celtic’s goal when shifting Bolingoli on will be to free up space and finance to recruit a left-back with the ability to do all the things Postecoglou requires of his full-backs.

They’ll also have to conduct the due diligence required to assess the character of any incoming player. Incidents such as Bolingoli’s ill-advised, unauthorised holiday to Spain and the fact this is a player who’s only played 1,426 minutes (the equivalent of about 16 full matches) for Celtic in his two-and-a-half years on the books are not things the club’s scouts can afford to repeat. 

READ MORE: Why Celtic's 'new normal' could leave Carl Starfelt exposed in defence

Ismaila Soro: Technique is a prerequisite

Twenty-three-year-old Ivorian Ismaila Soro has already had quite a footballing journey since leaving his home country and seems destined to add another club to his CV shortly.

He began his career in European football at FC Saxan in Moldova before joining FC Gomel in Belarus, then moving to Israeli side Bnei Yehuda before transferring to Celtic two years ago in January 2020. 

Last season Soro played about 1,000 league minutes in the Hoops, starting 10 matches in a row through December 2020 and January 2021. Thereafter he has been used sporadically and sparingly. There were a few substitute appearances near the start of this season’s domestic campaign and no then no league minutes at all, in fact just two spots in a matchday squad since the start of October 2021. 

Celtic Way:

Soro is competing for the 6, or deepest midfield, role in this side and just doesn’t have the technical attributes required.

Callum McGregor fills this position perfectly with his ability to pass excellently under pressure, move smartly into space to be a passing option when Celtic have possession, progress the ball into dangerous areas up the pitch, stealthily cover the pitch when they lose possession and tackle in a way that regains possession or halts the opposition in unthreatening areas.

Soro gets dispossessed three times as often as McGregor, makes twice the number of fouls, makes half as many deep progressions of the ball and has a comparably significant decrease in his passing completion when under pressure. Unfortunately, he is too often clumsy with his touch of the ball or timing of a leg movement. 

Celtic can’t expect to recruit the finished article and must expect to develop players tactically but, especially as an attacking team that plays forward, a good technical level should be a prerequisite. 

Celtic Way:

Even when Soro has performed relatively well there have been caveats, such as the quality of the opposition. Against Jablonec in an August 2021 Europa League qualifier he was fine on the ball but this was the second leg with Celtic already 3-0 up from the opener against a limited team that are, at the time of writing, 14th out of 16 in the Czech league. 

A lesson for Celtic here, especially as they are now recruiting from new markets and particularly if they wish to consistently reach European competition group stages, is to be mindful of the quality of the league a recruit is arriving from and ensure they have the required technical ability for this side. 

Albian Ajeti: Scout for stylistic fit

The final unwanted Celt providing a lesson in recruitment is 24-year-old Albian Ajeti.

The move to Glasgow is not the first which hasn’t worked out for the Swiss centre forward. He had an excellent goal-scoring record in youth football for FC Basel and has found the net consistently during spells back in his homeland but made just one Bundesliga appearance for FC Augsburg and was given no English Premier League starts during his time at West Ham United. 

In some ways his move to Celtic made sense. Ajeti would be joining a dominant team which should create plenty of chances for him at a more suitable level of football than the Premier League or Bundesliga.

However, the importance of assessing a player's fit for the team’s style of play is clear when considering Ajeti. In Switzerland, the vast majority of Ajeti’s goals were first-time finishes and often came as a result of the opposition allowing space in the box or behind their defensive line. Ajeti doesn’t have the quick feet or burst of speed in possession to generate shots for himself and doesn’t have the link-up passing skills with his back to goal which would help to manipulate a set defence.

Last season this proved problematic as Ajeti was stymied by deep blocks and quite simply didn’t shoot enough for a centre forward in a Neil Lennon Celtic side. He attempted 1.78 shots per 90 whereas Odsonne Edouard tried 3.73 every match.

Celtic Way:

Postecoglou differs from Lennon and tends towards maximal efficiency for his forwards. He doesn’t expect them to take a huge number of shots - which suits Ajeti - but there is an expectation that they successfully dispatch a significant proportion of the high-quality chances they do get.

Ajeti has been profligate - remember the Dundee United game? - but the real issue stylistically this season is off the ball. The manager needs his centre forward to lead the press and this just isn’t a role that suits Ajeti. He makes 15.75 possession-adjusted pressures per 90 whereas Kyogo Furushashi makes 23.73 per 90. 

Postecoglou has identified this lack of fit with Ajeti being selected for just 25 minutes of football and not even making the matchday squad on seven occasions since his run of three starts in September 2021.  In fact, he hasn’t even made the bench for Celtic in the league since late November when he was sent on for just the final minute of the match against Aberdeen.

His chances of playing for Celtic are further hampered by how well new recruit Daizen Maeda appears to suit the team’s style especially in terms of pressing from the front. There is some risk that they have already repeated the error with Giorgos Giakoumakis, but Ajeti should be a learning opportunity in terms of scouting for a stylistic fit. 


These four lessons could give a framework for Celtic as they prepare for the summer transfer window.

They’ll want to consider Christopher Jullien’s capability upon return from injury, the risk caused by key players such as James Forrest, Tom Rogic and Callum McGregor entering their 30s, the need for a left-footed centre back, a requirement for a new right winger, an heir to Joe Hart and some competition at left-back.

Plan ahead, do your due diligence, treat technique as a prerequisite and scout for a stylistic fit.

Celtic Way: