Football Features

How Celtic could have lined up if they hadn’t sold their best players

By Squawka News

Published: 17:49, 25 June 2019

Over the past decade Celtic have been comfortably the dominant force in Scottish football, racking up eight consecutive league titles while their fierce rivals Rangers have been working their way back towards the top.

Despite Brendan Rodgers’ untimely exit during the 2018/19 season, Celtic still managed to secure the treble-treble, winning all three domestic trophies for the third year in a row, a task completed under the stewardship of Neil Lennon.

However, the club has been unable to make strides in Europe in recent years, unceremoniously crashing out of the Champions League and the Europa League on a number of occasions.

A major reason why Celtic haven’t been able to make much of an impression in Europe is that they simply do not possess the financial power of their competitors, meaning their best players are routinely signed by wealthier clubs.

Had they managed to hang onto their prized assets, though, it is highly likely that they would’ve made greater headway in the Champions League with a number of their former players now starring elsewhere.

Here’s the XI we might have seen at Celtic Park had they all stuck around – including the best of the current crop, plus the ones who got away, to make one ultimate team.

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster

Celtic apps: 197

Current club: Southampton

Career value: £13.5m

The towering shot-stopper was unable to force his way into Newcastle United’s first-team after graduating from their academy, spending loan spells at Stockport County, Bristol Rovers and Norwich City in the lower leagues.

His form for the Canaries persuaded Celtic to sign him on a two-year loan deal and following some consistently excellent displays North of the border, he joined permanently in 2012.

The England international kept 101 clean sheets during his time at Celtic Park leading to a big-money switch to the South Coast in 2014. And although his form has dipped of late, Celtic fans will remember him as a top-class goalkeeper.

Right-back: Mikael Lustig

Celtic apps: 273

Current club: Gent

Career value: £459,000

Signed on a free transfer from Norwegian side Rosenborg in January 2012, Mikael Lustig proved to be an outstanding acquisition, becoming a mainstay of the side under a number of different managers.

A Swedish international with over 50 caps, Lustigcaptained his club on numerous occasions and even chipped in with 21 goals from defence before leaving for Gent at the end of his contract this summer.

Centre-back: Virgil van Dijk

Celtic apps: 115

Current club: Liverpool

Career value: £90.9m

One of a number of players to use Dutch club FC Groningen as a springboard to bigger and better things, Virgil Van Dijk joined Celtic in 2013 and immediately became an influential member of the side.

The Dutchman won the Scottish Premier League title in both of his seasons in Glasgow but followed Forster to Southampton in 2015 where he won the club’s Player of the Season in his debut campaign.

A huge £75m move to Liverpool following in January 2018, and Van Dijk has now arguably developed into the best centre-back on the planet, winning the Championship League in June.

Centre-back: Kristoffer Ajer

Celtic apps: 68

Current club: Celtic

Career value: £600,000

Celtic have been attempting to find a new high-quality centre-back ever since Virgil van Dijk left. It looks like they may finally have one in the form of Kristoffer Ajer.

The 21-year-old Norwegian made 34 appearances across all competitions last season and started in the Scottish Cup final victory over Hearts. Lennon will hoping to keep hold of him for the next few years.

Left-back: Kieran Tierney

Celtic apps: 170

Current club: Celtic

Career value: N/A

Celtic’s academy must rank as one of the best in Great Britain as a number of young players are blooded in the first-team, year in and year out.

Five years ago we saw the emergence of another local lad in the form of attack-minded full-back Kieran Tierney who made the left-back position his own.

Tierney is now being heavily linked with a move to Arsenal after developing into a Premier League-standard left-back over the last few seasons.

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Defensive midfield: Victor Wanyama

Celtic apps: 91

Current club: Tottenham

Career value: £25.5m

Little was known of Victor Wanyama when Celtic swooped to sign him from the now defunct Belgian club Germinal Beerschot in 2011 and while he was raw to begin with, he quickly became a fan favourite in Glasgow.

The Kenyan powerhouse was crowned the Scottish Premiership Young Player of the Year at the end of the 2012-13 season but it was in European competition that he really stood out, memorably scoring the winning goal against Barcelona.

A move to the Premier League beckoned with Southampton signing him in 2013 and after three successful campaigns on the South Coast, he joined Tottenham, where injuries have reduced his playing time over the last 12 months or so.

Centre midfield: Scott Brown

Celtic apps: 524

Current club: Celtic

Career value: £5.61m

With over a decade of service for Celtic having joined from Hibernian in 2007, Scott Brown has been the heartbeat of the team for a number of years, with his committed displays endearing him to the club’s supporters.

He was appointed club captain in 2010 and during his time in Glasgow he has lifted numerous trophies, proving undroppable in the heart of midfield. Not bad going.

Centre midfield: Ki Sung-yueng

Celtic apps: 87

Current club: Newcastle United

Career value: £8m

Signed by Celtic after starring for FC Seoul in his homeland. Ki-Sung-yueng took his time to settle in Scotland but when he did he became an integral player in Celtic’s midfield, drawing the attention of a number of Premier League clubs.

Eventually, he left to join Swansea City in 2012 for a £6m fee and during an impressive debut season at the club he helped the Welsh club win the League Cup – their first major piece of silverware. He now plays for Newcastle.

Attacking midfield: Stefan Johansen

Celtic apps: 114

Current club: Fulham

Career value: £4m

Norwegian playmaker Stefan Johansen made the move to Celtic in 2014 following the appointment of his compatriot Ronny Deila, who had coached him at Stromsgodset, the same club where Martin Odegaard made his name.

Johansen won the league title in each of his three seasons in Scotland but it was during the 2014-15 season where he really shone, winning the Scottish Players’ Player of the Year due to his goalscoring exploits from midfield.

Following two and a half years in Glasgow, Johansen opted to move to London in August, joining Fulham where he performed well before joining West Brom on loan in 2018/19.

Striker: Moussa Dembele

Celtic apps: 94

Current club: Lyon

Career value: £20.1m

Linked with a host of big clubs as his contract with Fulham drew to a close, Moussa Dembele eventually decided to join the Brendan Rodgers revolution in Glasgow and it is a decision that has proved to be a good one.

The former PSG academy forward saw his reputation skyrocket during his time at Celtic, earning himself a big-money move to Lyon, for whom he scored 20 goals in his debut season.

Striker: Odsonne Edouard

Celtic apps: 81

Current club: Celtic

Career value: £10.3m

Dembele’s exit left a gaping whole in the Celtic team when it came to goals, but Odsonne Edouard stepped up in 2018/19, finding the net 22 times across all competitions.

The former France youth international wrote his name in Celtic folklore by scoring the two vital goals in the Scottish Cup final that secured the club’s treble-treble. If he keeps up his current form, Edouard could be the next Celtic player taken by a bigger fish.