It won’t surprise any Celtic fan that Ange Postecoglou is working overtime to bolster his defence. With Kris Ajer joining Brentford and the less said about Shane Duffy, the better; there’s a gaping hole in our defence that needs to be filled.
The player that has been brought in almost as a direct replacement is Carl Starfelt from Rubin Kazan. The big Swede is highly rated by Johan Mjallby, and if he’s half the player of his fellow countryman, we could have found the first piece of our defensive jigsaw.
One of the criticisms laid at the door of Ajer over his tenure at Parkhead has been his unfathomable inability to dominate in the air. At 6ft5, he’s a giant of a man, but how many times did we see him fail to deal with balls in the box last season? As a result, some speculate that he would be much better suited to a defensive midfield role, and it will be interesting to see if Brentford employ him further up the field.
But in Starfelt, we are bringing in a guy who can truly dominate in the air. In the Russian Premier League last season, he won 67 per cent of his aerial duels – putting him in the top three for aerial ability in the league.
He’s also decent on the ball, completing 94 per cent of his passes in both domestic and international games last season. And given Ange’s philosophy of building attacks from the back, a ball playing centre half is surely a minimum requirement.
The bookies like STS Bet still have Rangers at 4/7 favourites for the title this season, so the onus is really on us to step up to the plate and rebuild our squad in the right areas. With the impetus coming from the new boss and some quality, young additions, there’s no reason why we can’t reclaim the title at the first time of asking.
So, if we can replace Ajer with a guy who’s better in the air but still has the potential to step out and build attacks from the back, it could be a step in the right direction.
But who would he play alongside?
Lots of Hoops fans have been impressed by Stephen Welsh, who certainly put in some decent displays last year. He was one of the few defenders who didn’t disgrace themselves against Rangers, with Nir Bitton’s red card and Duffy’s midfield hack on Kent springing to mind when recalling our defensive displays against them last year.
Despite featuring for Scotland at Euro 2020, we’ve just let Jack Hendry leave on a permanent deal to KV Oostende in Belgium, where he was by all means impressive last season. Hendry’s someone who featured, albeit briefly, for Melbourne City in 2020, so it’s perhaps a bit of a surprise that Ange was happy to let him go.
Of course, there’s also the distinct possibility that Startfelt would line up alongside Chris Julien next season, providing the Frenchman can keep himself fit. But Julien’s another one who flatters to deceive somewhat, and although he has doubtless quality, he might not be the long-term answer.
From another viewpoint, there’s a chance that Starfelt will partner with another new signing entirely. Rumours have been doing the rounds that a deal to sign Mario Vuskovic for 6 million Euros is close to being completed. The nineteen-year-old Croatian is certainly one that’s on Ange’s radar, and few of us would be sad to see a fresh partnership at the heart of our backline next year.
Whoever we bring in at the heart of the defence, we need to do it quickly. And frankly, another central midfielder and a better striking option are also required if we’re to truly compete with Rangers this coming season. There’s something frustratingly robotic about their performances, and it’s all built upon a strong foundation.
Fortunately, Ange seems to be focusing on strengthening our core, and whether he will edge Ryan Christie, Odsonne Edouard, and a couple of others out the door remains to be seen but could pave the way for some much-needed reinforcements in all areas of the team.
Let’s hope that Starfelt will be the first of many and one that we can rely on to tighten things up at the back.