Celtic: Overflowing with midfield options, reliant on one striker

Kristoffer Ajer
Norwegian teenager Ajer will join up with Celtic in the summer

Having already completed the loan signing of, ahem, the 'English Messi' - the 19-year-old Patrick Roberts - Celtic have now, it seems, plunged for a 'Norwegian wonderkid' in Kristoffer Ajer, the 17-year-old just brought in from IK Start on a four-year deal.

Ajer, a project player for now, brings the number of midfielders at Celtic Park to 17 with another five currently on loan at lower-league clubs. On the face of it, 17 - or 22 depending on how you look at it - is an eye-watering number, but, of course, the overall figure is a bit misleading.

Among that cavalry are young players on loan and who may never get a look-in, plus the deadwood that is Derk Boerrigter, a passenger who has cost Celtic, between transfer fee and wages, somewhere north of £4.5m since his arrival from Ajax in 2013.

Strip out those who haven't got any kind of realistic shot at the first team next season and you are still left with more than a dozen and possibly as many 14 or 15 midfield players at Celtic Park.

The club is on a hoarding mission. In one area of the pitch they're bursting at the seams. In another area - up front - they are almost threadbare.

Options, options, options

Consider opening day next season and the possible Celtic line-up from their usual two holding players to the three ahead of them and then Leigh Griffiths up top. Scott Brown and Nir Bitton would probably be the two buffers. Stuart Armstrong, Stefan Johansen and Gary Mackay-Steven could be the three.

Scott Allan in action for Celtic
Allan is yet to start a domestic game for Celtic since his summer switch from Hibernian

Or maybe Charlie Mulgrew and Ajer - if he develops quickly - could be the holding players with James Forrest, Kris Commons and Roberts ahead of them. Then again, Callum McGregor and Liam Henderson - presuming he returns from Hibs - could hold the fort in the defensive midfield roles with Tom Rogic, Scott Allan and Ryan Christie playing in the advanced positions.

Choices, choices. Too many. There isn't a chance in hell that manager Ronny Deila can keep everybody, never mind keep everybody sweet.

Ajer is a development player so he can't be expecting much game-time - he might end up as a centre-half in any event - but most of the rest of them will be looking for plenty of action and most of them are going to be disappointed.

'Something special'

Roberts is an interesting customer. Clearly he's an extremely talented kid and, after Manchester City paid £12m for him, his reputation is skyscraper-high. He's not Celtic's player, but the next 18 months could see him thrill fans and make them suspend reality and pretend that he's one of their own.

If you can forget for a moment that he's only there on loan, Roberts' signing could be something special.

Manchester City would not have given him to Celtic for that length of time if the deal didn't come with a commitment to play him regularly. That was Celtic's bargaining chip - first-team football.

Who would you have alongside him? Commons, Johansen, Rogic, McGregor, Allan? And who would play outside him? Armstrong, Mackay-Steven, Forrest, Christie, Henderson?

Patrick Roberts is on loan from Manchester City
Will Roberts get an opportunity to shine in the Celtic first team?

Celtic have more midfielders in their squad than Imelda Marcos had shoes in her wardrobe.

Some will be bit-part players, some will have no part to play at all and will be quietly moved on.

Correcting the imbalance

There needs to be a cull. Deila has arrived at a bizarre situation where he has way too many midfielders - and too many similar-type midfielders - and not nearly enough strikers - and only one effective striker.

The imbalance is the thing. In defence, Celtic are attempting to make things right. They have a first-choice of Mikael Lustig, Jozo Simunovic, Erik Sviatchenko and Kieran Tierney. Lustig is the only one of that lot who's over 24. That's a promising combination once it has a chance to bed-in.

The back-up doesn't inspire confidence, but at least it exists in bits and pieces. Up front, Griffiths is not just The Man, he's pretty much The Only Man.

You'd call Colin Kazim-Richards a deeply odd acquisition but then what level of puzzlement would you reserve for Carlton Cole? These two have a combined age of 61, zero sell-on value and a questionable - at best - goal threat.

Celtic's most expensive strikers are on loan. Nadir Ciftci is in Turkey, Stefan Scepovic is in Spain and Anthony Stokes is in Edinburgh but may as well be in Timbuktu as far as Deila is concerned.

Deila is packing his squad with midfielders and giving himself a world of choice, but in the business of strikers Celtic continue to leave themselves curiously short.

At some point in the summer they'll need to think about the doomsday question and come up with a compelling answer: What happens if Griffiths gets injured or loses form? How do you like the sound of 4-6-0?

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