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Celtic news: Celtic's Champions League exit to Cluj was an accident waiting to happen

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Strategy? What strategy? Celtic's Champions League exit was an accident waiting to happen after poor recruitment under Brendan Rodgers and Peter Lawwell - the Europa League is now their levelCeltic crashed out of the Champions League third qualifying round on Tuesday Brendan Rodgers' decision to get rid of superscout John Park was a disasterBad signings have left Celtic with few saleable assets after Kieran Tierney's exitCeltic can't be trusted to reinvest £25m Tierney fee given lack of strategy 

When it came to Celtic's transfer strategy people used to know where they stood.

Scouting chief John Park oversaw a scouting department charged with finding 'em cheap and selling 'em big.

They didn't all work out. Mo Bangura, Lassad, Miku and Amido Balode offered nothing. And fans always suspected Peter Lawwell of having more sway over football comings and going than a Chief Executive really should.

But, here's a thing. When the signings worked they worked.

Celtic used to buy young talent like Virgil van Dijk on the cheap and sell them on for big money

Put Ki Sung Yeung, Victor Wanyama, Virgil van Dijk, Fraser Forster and Moussa Dembele together and that's £60million in the bank. One out, one in the wings was the way it went and Celtic still fancied their chances of reaching the Champions League. Once or twice they even made the last 16.

Brendan Rodgers didn't get much wrong as Parkhead boss. But a decision to dispense with John Park and replace him with Lee Congerton instead was a strategic disaster.

In the transfer windows since January 2017 Scotland's champions have now signed 28 players. Olivier Ntcham and Odsonne Edouard cost £13.5million between them and can be deemed a success. Eboue Kouassi, Jonny Hayes, Kundai Benyu, Marvin Compper, Charly Musonda, Jack Hendry, Daniel Arzani, Emilio Izaguirre, Youssouf Mulumbu, Oli Burke and Jeremy Toljan made little or no contribution to the first team. And that's only half the story.

Rodgers blamed the failure of his signings on the club's reluctance to spend big cash sealing big deals.

But how much Celtic spend has never really been as important as *how* they spend it. And in recent years they've spent poorly.

Charly Musonda was one of a host of Brendan Rodgers signings who rarely played for Celtic

New signing Boli Bolingoli already appears to have lost Neil Lennon's trust after a shaky start

So poorly at times that when Rodgers left or Leicester City on February 26, the door shouldn't have struck Lee Congerton's backside on the way out.

With a huge rebuilding job ahead it made no sense to waste any more time or money on a head of recruitment with one eye on legging it back down the road to rejoin the boss.

Within an hour of Rodgers going Peter Lawwell should have been on the phone to John Park with one hand while handing Congerton his severance cheque with the other.

Instead Congerton remained a Parkhead employee until Leicester finally paid the money to release him on May 11. By then three months of valuable rebuilding time had been wasted chasing up the recommendations of a head of recruitment who had no intention of hanging around.

Arsenal's interest in Kieran Tierney was no secret. And Celtic knew they needed a top class replacement.

Rodgers' decision to replace superscout John Park with Lee Congerton proved to be a mistake

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell has overseen Celtic's recent erratic transfer policy

Yet Nicky Hammond, a former West Brom and Reading chief scout, didn't pitch up until June 20.

Appointed for the 'summer period' the Englishman remains a short-term appointment.

All of which raises the question yet again. What *is* Celtic's transfer strategy these days?

Hammond inherited a European scout, a scout in North America and three to cover the UK. Recently a scout has been appointed to cover South America and the Englishman has plans to revamp the whole set-up.

By the time he does it will be too late to salvage Celtic's Champions League ambitions.

Too late to repair the rotten recruitment of recent transfer windows.

Callum McGregor was forced to play at left-back in Cluj defeat as Lennon didn't trust Bolingoli

Boli Bolingoli is neither the first iffy signing, nor the biggest. He could still come good. Yet Neil Lennon described the Belgian's early appearances in a green and white shirt as 'up and down'. A nervous wreck in the first half of a 5-2 win over Motherwell, he couldn't be trusted to start against the champions of Romania.

That's why Callum McGregor - arguably the most effective midfielder at the club - was shunted out to left-back. Lennon said he wanted to accomodate Olivier Ntcham in midfield. The *real* choice he faced was watching Cluj target Bolingoli through the cracks of his fingers or taking a punt on McGregor and hoping his coupon came up.

The damage was done in a passive first half. As boos rang around Celtic Park after a 4-3 defeat the blame game game began in earnest.

With £25million from the sale of Kieran Tierney fans want Lawwell to spend serious money.

Yet, after a Champions League exit, that seems less rather than more likely. And, besides, would anyone *really* trust Celtic to spend £25million well in the current climate?

Celtic sold Kieran Tierney to Arsenal for £25m but lack the strategy to reinvest money wisely

They spent half that sum on Christopher Jullien from Toulouse, Bolingoli from Rapid Vienna and Ukrainian winger Marian Shved this summer. None of the three started against Cluj.

Hatem Adb Elhemed from Hapoel Be'er Sheva looks a solid enough replacement for Mikael Lustig.

Yet the Israeli played right-back in a 4-3 defeat to Cluj; only the third time Celtic have conceded four goals at home in Europe in 182 games.

There were shades, during a crazy second half, of the infamous 5-4 game against Partizan Belgrade in 1989. PSG scored five as recently 2017, but Dan Petrescu had no Neymar, Mbappe or Cavani at his disposal.

Cluj are champions of a Romanian league with a total wage bill of £53million. Their centre-forward Mario Rondon is 33-years old. In the last published figures Celtic's salary bill came to £59 million, yet they've now crashed out of the Champions League to Legia Warsaw, Maribor, Malmo, AEK Athens and Cluj. None of them has a turnover to match the champions of Scotland.

Fans were quick to point fingers at Neil Lennon. They pay their money, they take their choice.

Celtic fans will heap pressure on Lennon if they lose to Rangers at Ibrox a week on Sunday

Many considered the Northern Irishman an easy, cost effective appointment after the Scottish Cup Final and his decision to field McGregor at left-back sharpened the knives once more. Lose to Rangers at Ibrox a week on Sunday and Lennon will come under serious pressure.

Yet the incessant obsession of fans - and club - with ten-in-a-row is part of the problem.

Celtic have become a Champions League club with an outlook which stretches no further than the other side of Glasgow. By focussing their gaze on staying one step ahead of Rangers in Scotland they've allowed their eye to come off the ball in Europe.

In the last six years Celtic have now failed four times under three different managers against modest opposition to reach the group stages of the Champions League.

Until the player recruitment improves a stark truth is unavoidable. The Europa League is now their level.

 

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