THEY can be called anything from sporting directors to heads of recruitment, but somewhere along the line talent spotters have become the rock stars of football. If the post which Rangers had hoped to fill with Southampton's Ross Wilson could perhaps be termed a one-man band, the job which Lee Congerton has been appointed to as director of recruitment at Celtic is more like the gig which Paul Rodgers inherited with Queen. The new frontman of a smoothly-functioning footballing machine, he is expected to continue churning out a conveyor belt of greatest hits which can make the club shedloads of money.
As spectacular as the high notes have been - Victor Wanyama was bought from Belgian football for £900,000 and moved on for £12.5m, Virgil van Dijk signed for £2.5m and left for £13m, and Moussa Dembele, picked up on a cut price £500,000 cross border compensation fee could yet be anything - there have been misses along the way too. Congerton, a 43-year-old Welshman who worked alongside Brendan Rodgers at Chelsea and has also held posts at Hamburg and Sunderland, outlined a mission statement yesterday to fine-tune the club's existing recruitment strategies to continue their stranglehold over the Scottish game. He also plans to make sure enough safeguards are in place to prevent signings such as Derk Boerrigter or Mo Bangura which end up hitting a bum note.
Congerton's own back catalogue includes picking Scott Sinclair up for Chelsea for £200,000 after two first team appearances at Bristol Rovers, and a future Champions League winner in Ryan Bertrand for £150,000. Fabio Borini and Patrick van Aanholt were two other bargain buys which subsequently made a fortune, while his time at Hamburg saw him unearth the talents which Son Heung-Min is now displaying at Tottenham Hotspur.
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If not Paul, he is undoubtedly singing off the same hymn sheet as Brendan, a close friend and associate who he first encountered in an international youth match between Wales and Northern Ireland as teenagers. They subsequently brushed shoulders on a coaching visit to Barcelona, before being reunited again at Chelsea. Indeed, so tight are the two men that Congerton revealed the Celtic had coach had even sought his counsel on the biggest recruitment decisions of this season, presumably including both Sinclair and Dembele. While the focus of his work is the first team, his eyes will be trained on Scottish and even Glaswegian talent.
"There's a system and a strategy here and that's what attracted me to the club," said Congerton. "It's about young players adding value and continuing to dominate Scottish football and play Champions League football. Celtic have done that well over the years. I hope to continue that with the good network we have in place.
"I like to see players, get them into the system, and hopefully they grow and become the superstars of tomorrow," he added. "Hopefully you get more right than wrong. But players will always disappoint you. Some will surprise you. And we are hopefully trying to make sure we have filters in place to minimise the risk. I like to smell the grass and see the player."
Congerton's use of this last phrase is ironic, considering the amount of gardening leave he has been on recently. If spells at Hamburg and Sunderland didn't end well, Congerton insisted that is more about the moving of goalposts at boardroom level than anything of his doing, although it was his decision to leave Wearside.
Recruiting Champions League quality players for SPFL money is a challenge all right, but then he has never been one to shirk one of those. To illustrate the point, the Welshman had agreed to join his former Chelsea mentor Frank Arnesen at Metalist Kharkiv in the Ukraine when the shelling started.
"I actually signed a contract in Ukraine after leaving Hamburg to go and work with Frank again but the civil war started," said Congerton. "Maybe I would have been better going into the civil war than going to Sunderland!
"It would have been a lot easier for me to go somewhere else [than Celtic] because I had other opportunities but actually I am motivated because of that challenge and to work with Brendan again," Congerton added. "He has spoken to me since he arrived here about a number of the players he signed and asked me my opinion. So I’ve been involved in some of those conversations prior to my arrival. This wasn’t a tough decision for me to make - it was a long decision because of my own personal situation. But when I knew things were being resolved, I was delighted to come here. The club understand how important recruitment and scouting is."
As for the ongoing pursuit of his equivalent across the city, and the possibility of Old Firm signing wars in the future, Congerton is non-plussed. "Rangers are obviously going to do what’s right for them," he said. "If that includes the appointment of a director of football, then good luck to them. But my interest is Celtic Football Club."