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Self-proclaimed squad-builder Ange Postecoglou’s decision to sign Joe Hart as the side’s much-needed first-choice goalkeeper in his first transfer window raised a fair degree of concern among the Celtic support. The former England number-one – aged 34 at the time – was brought up the road to Glasgow on the back of more than two seasons without a league appearance, carrying a reputation harmed by ill-fated spells at Premier League sides West Ham and Burnley.
In the end though, like most Ange-era Celtic signings, it was at worst a successful gamble and at best a masterstroke. Enriching an overhauled dressing room with experience and personality, Hart’s presence has been equally as vital off the pitch as it has been on it. Thrown back into regular action with a point to prove, his natural intensity and almost child-like energy helped exemplify Postecoglou’s vision for a relentlessly all-action group of players.
The groundwork that Joe so crucially helped lay down is now firmly placed, however. Angeball has emphatically conquered Scottish football, and with the new frontier of Europe comes a renewed test of the club’s shrewdness in the transfer market. When reflecting on the Hoops’ at-times encouraging but ultimately unsuccessful group stage campaign this season, it is hard not to feel as though Hart’s contributions – both in shot-stopping and possession – left at least a bit to be desired.
The big veteran has certainly not been a liability this campaign, but Ange’s no-nonsense policy of readily replacing well-liked squad members is no secret, and a notable upgrade is both completely possible and of potentially priceless benefit in the finely-margined world that is Europe’s toughest club competition. Without further ado then, let us begin in observing the current state of play:
Another extremely well-known Postecoglou principle is that the 57-year-old will never simply ‘just sign anyone’ – the Celts’ system demands a reasonably broad skillset for every position. That much is true for no player more-so than the goalkeeper, whose footwork and decision-making are of arguably equal consequence to their bread-and-butter shot-stopping skills.
That being said, I’ve taken the above into account and come through with some signing suggestions, all of whom I’d like to imagine are at least to some extent present in the minds of the Parkhead recruitment department ahead of this summer. I’ve also tried to vary the list (which is in no particular order) somewhat, appreciating different specifics which may be prioritised and also assuming that Celtic do actually go ahead and sign a goalkeeper this summer, of course!
- Club: Hellas Verona (loaned to Fortuna Sittard)
- Age: 23
- Nationality: Croatia
- Price estimate: £3–6 million
Part of an impressive generation of Croatian goalkeepers, Ivor Pandur has well and truly taken his opportunity to play regularly in a top European league upon his loan move to ambitious Dutch side Fortuna Sittard. Statistically one of the best shot-stoppers in the Eredivisie this campaign, the 23-year-old also places very impressively in possession numbers, boasting a passing range which would suit Celtic’s game very nicely.
Pandur is on loan in Holland from Serie A strugglers Hellas Verona and is expected to make the move permanent this summer. However, with the prospect of Champions League football a significant incentive, a move to Celtic next season would be a sensical reward for his hugely impressive performances in his first full season as a number one.
🇭🇷 Ivor Pandur (2000) – Fortuna Sittard
Gardien croate prêté par l’Hellas Vérone. Aptitudes intéressantes au pied, très bon jeu mi-long, calme sous pression, 3eme relanceur. Aérien. Agile, avec une bonne envolée. Réactivité et vitesse pour sortir. (1m87)
— Julien San James (@JSanJames) January 27, 2023
A confident, commanding and strikingly well-rounded ‘keeper, the 23-year-old does not have any obvious weaknesses – and with his best years undoubtedly ahead of him, he stands out among the more resale-friendly of the options considered ready to immediately inherit Joe Hart’s regular role at Celtic Park.
- Club: Odds BK
- Age: 23
- Nationality: Sweden
- Price estimate: £750k-2 million
A goalkeeper of admittedly similar profile to the aforementioned Pandur, Leopold Wahlstedt could potentially be favourably compared with the Croatian thanks to already having a senior international cap and experience of captaincy on his impressive CV. The six-foot-three Swede has become an indispensable presence for Norwegian outfit Odds following a swift rise up the lower leagues in Scandinavia, but a move away from the Eliteserien club now seems imminent.
Wahlstedt’s contract expires at the end of this calendar year, making him an actively available option this summer at a cut price. This availability has tickled the fancy of several European clubs already though – Schalke are big fans and are known to have held talks with Bodø/Glimt, Villarreal and even Liverpool among other reported suitors. Taking this into account, it would be an impressive coup for Celtic to get him this summer – but far from impossible.
Leopold Wahlstedt has been amazing for Odd so far this season💎pic.twitter.com/yxr1BHlQaY
— Scandinavian Scout (@Nor_ball) April 24, 2023
Watching him in action, it is no surprise that the stats back up the observation that Wahlstedt is exceptional in 1v1 situations. Such a young goalkeeper having such an impressive grasp of the art of ‘making yourself big’ is rare, and will undoubtedly be a major contributing factor in some of Europe’s most cutting-edge recruitment departments singling him out.
- Club: Santos Laguna
- Age: 27
- Nationality: Mexico
- Price estimate: £4–8 million
Whilst recruiting young, promising players is always a sensible strategy, the outstanding purchases of Josip Juranović and Kyogo Furuhashi stand as fantastic examples of Postecoglou’s willingness to also opt for options closer to their prime age when deemed necessary. Should he make such an assertion this summer, few potential targets boast such a glowing domestic reputation as that of Carlos Acevedo.
Aged 27 – therefore arguably still some time short of the typically later goalkeeping prime period – Acevedo is the captain of his boyhood club, Santos Laguna, and having recently also captained his country in the Continental Clásico against the United States, he is increasingly being touted as the heir to the legendary Memo Ochoa between the sticks at Estadio Azteca. Having publicly voiced his ambition to play in Europe, the one-club man’s long-term contract would be unlikely to discourage him from a potential move to Glasgow.
Carlos Acevedo hizo esto hace algunos días. IMPRESIONANTE. 😱🇲🇽pic.twitter.com/E55TOb1Nlh
— Valentín Torres Erwerle ✍️🎙️ (@TorresErwerle) March 17, 2022
What the 6ft stopper lacks in height compared to other goalkeepers, he makes up for in exceptional athleticism – enabling him capable of breathtaking pieces of shot-stopping and pricelessly sharp sweeping. Compared with Celtic’s evidently favoured Japanese market, the Liga MX does not offer quite the same mouth-watering bargains, but the league’s proven track record of producing international-standard players would make a potentially ambitious transfer outlay for Acevedo all the more compelling for the Hoops this summer.
- Club: Royal Antwerp
- Age: 27
- Nationality: France
- Price estimate: £3.5–7 million
Jean Butez offers another ‘ready-made’ option based much closer to home, having spent the last six years of his career playing in Belgium. Initially leaving his boyhood club Lille for relegation-fighting Mouscron in 2017, he now finds himself competing for the Pro League title in Antwerp – and in a feat rarely achieved by goalkeepers, he has even picked up a player of the year award along the way.
Entering his late twenties with plentiful experience in a strong European league as well as UEFA competition, the Frenchman would, like Acevedo, be expected to instantly improve the goalkeeping department at Celtic Park as a fair investment would likely be required to take him from his long-term contract at the Bosuilstadion. Belgium has been a market confusingly underused by Celtic since Neil Lennon struck gold with Victor Wanyama in 2011, and big clubs in Butez’s homeland are increasingly being reported as prepared to bring him to Ligue 1.
73% – Since making his Royal Antwerp debut in August 2020, Jean Butez recorded the highest save percentage among all goalkeepers with 25+ games in the Jupiler Pro League (73%), as well as preventing the second-most goals in the competition over that period (9.8). Renewal. https://t.co/iXl5usLRot
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) August 26, 2022
As the numbers suggest, Butez’s shot-stopping is absurdly consistent – regularly mentioned among the highly competitive list of the best stoppers in Belgium, he has been a lifesaver at times for an over-achieving Antwerp side. Furthermore, with the arrival of possession-heavy coach Mark Van Bommell this campaign, the 27-year-old has proven himself suitable in a more touch-heavy role, enhancing his Angeball suitability.
- Club: Boston River
- Age: 23
- Nationality: Uruguay
- Price estimate: £1.5–3 million
Allow me to get my left-field suggestion out of the way – Santiago ‘Santi’ Silva is one of those goalkeepers who, when you see their composure, technique and passing range, makes you question why they are a goalkeeper. The Boston River man, native to the freakishly successful talent-factory that is Uruguay, absolutely is indeed a goalkeeper though, and quite a good one at that.
Listen, is Ange going to throw in a young guy from the Uruguayan league to replace Joe Hart instantly? Even with the most optimistic likelihood, probably not. If an exciting understudy is what the Parkhead boss is after this summer though, this really could be a game-changer – such a huge step up in footballing environment could allow substantial development in Silva whose raw abilities are already, in part, world class.
Santiago Silva (23 | 1.90 – Boston River)
Uno de los mejores goleros del fútbol uruguayo, muy completo, es bueno bajo palos, seguro en salida a cortar, top en juego de pies y gran atajador de penales. @JuanGenova980 📹pic.twitter.com/Fh3BxCG0qZ
— Juan I. Gallegos (@JuanIGallegos_) March 20, 2023
You aren’t given the number one jersey in your early twenties if you can’t keep the ball out the net too of course, and that is something which Silva has especially excelled at in penalty situations, from which he has saved four from six so far. In terms of price, the couple-million pounds likely required to get a sale from Boston River – who exported superstar defender Ronald Araujo to Barcelona just a few years ago – could look like a sensational bargain in the future if this gamble paid off.
- Club: FC Cartagena
- Age: 27
- Nationality: Spain
- Price estimate: £1–3 million
Aarón Escandell’s 2022–23 season is quintessential proof of the old cliché that sometimes, all you need is a run of games. Departing Granada (where he deputised for the outstanding Luís Maximiano, now of Lazio) last summer to drop down to Spain’s second tier with FC Cartagena, even Aarón himself would likely not have considered the possibility of him soon being debated by his new club’s fans as potentially the best goalkeeper in their history – but here we are.
Figure-heading the team’s unlikely play-off push, Escandell has proven that his widely-praised shot-stopping masterclass while filling in for Granada in a 2021 Copa Del Rey tie with Barcelona was not a one-off. Achieving cult-hero status with his new supporters, his shot-stopping heroics have been coupled with great responsibility on the ball in one of the most possession-heavy sides in La Liga 2.
🤪 No te pierdas lo que hizo Escandell en el #CartagenaMirandés #LaLigaHighlights pic.twitter.com/F658H3ramd
— FC Cartagena ⚫️⚪️ (@FCCartagena_efs) April 11, 2023
Assuming that Cartagena’s commendable season does not end in fairytale promotion, Escandell could offer a similarly aged option to Acevedo and Butez at a much friendlier price. Admittedly not quite as suitably experienced or tested as the aforementioned pair however, his heroic performances in a competitive league this season would not be questionable – the sample size would.
- Club: Independiente Del Valle
- Age: 22
- Nationality: Ecuador
- Price estimate: £2–4 million
The goalkeeping jewel of Ecuador’s emerging golden generation, Moisés Ramírez’ breakthrough into his nation’s senior setup has solidified his place as one of the best young goalkeepers in South America. Athletic, confident and composed, his varied skillset indicates a tremendously high ceiling – Ramírez has everything required to potentially develop into an elite goalkeeper.
Linked with some of the biggest clubs in South America after standout performances in his club’s 2022 Copa Sudamericana-winning campaign, the 22 year-old is a graduate of the extremely productive Independiente del Valle academy, which has recently enjoyed a significant rise in status as fellow alumni Piero Hincapié, Willian Pacho and most notably Moisés Caicedo have European big-hitters lining their pockets – a successful Celtic spell could absolutely lead to Ramírez doing the same.
Flamengo’s Vitor Pereira loses his second final of the year as Independiente del Valle won the Recopa Sudamericana 1-0.
Santos with a howler, while IDV’s goalkeeper, Moises Ramirez, continues to show why he has a big career ahead of him. 🧤 pic.twitter.com/hVWYSbRG1L
— Nathan Joyes (@NathanJoyes1) February 22, 2023
Profiling similarly to already-covered Silva, Ramírez definitely has a higher profile at the moment, and the Hoops would be much more likely to face competition in the transfer market if a move were to be pursued. What Celtic’s best goalkeepers of the modern era – Fraser Forster and Artur Boruc – have in common, however, is that they were brought to Celtic Park early in their careers with room to grow. If the club believe that this could work out the same way, a great-value move is completely possible this summer.
The importance placed on each transfer window by Ange Postecoglou is well-known – for as long as he is in charge at Parkhead, there is never likely to be an uneventful one. But with the club in such position of strength this summer, there may be a more quality-over-quantity feel this time around.
If that is indeed the case, then Butez and Acevedo stand as excellent examples of potential statement signings – ready-made upgrades prepared for Champions League football. Whilst there are no guarantees when signing new players, Celtic have clearly demonstrated their efficiency in finding instant fits during Ange’s tenure.
In the right circumstances, Pandur, Wahlstedt, Silva, Escandell and Ramírez could all work perfectly too, and who knows – Joe Hart, Benjamin Siegrist, and (whisper it quietly) Vasilis Barkas will all be Celtic players on day one of pre-season. Never say never…
In Ange We Trust!
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