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Celtic need to find a gem, ready-cut and polished

THE first recruit has been enlisted but the rigours of D-day are still ahead for Celtic.

Stefan Johansen, right, is business done; now Neil Lennon must turn to more pressing matters. Picture: Getty
Stefan Johansen, right, is business done; now Neil Lennon must turn to more pressing matters. Picture: Getty

The signing of Stefan Johansen from Stromsgodset of Norway gives Neil Lennon another midfielder. The search goes on for the striker so craved by manager and supporters.

This transfer window has a particular significance for Celtic. First, two of the old guard have to decide whether there is another campaign in Glasgow for them. Georgios Samaras, the Greek internationalist, and Joe Ledley, the Welsh internationalist, will be asked about their intentions today, or at least their representatives will be questioned about where their clients see their future.

This is integral to the second matter of significance for Celtic and, perhaps for the manager, the priority in the transfer window. Lennon wants a striker capable of making the Champions League qualifiers a more tranquil process than of late.

The departure of Ledley and Samaras would not be welcomed by Lennon but he is enough of a realist to appreciate that if they both go now Celtic have both time to bed in replacements and the added bonus of a transfer fee, however reduced, and a chunk of more than £40,000-a-week off the wage budget. Lennon's concern is that a cadre of reliable players had departed in double-quick time. Samaras, wanted by Atletico Madrid and Hull City, and Ledley, coveted by Crystal Place, would follow Gary Hooper (Norwich City), Kelvin Wilson (Nottingham Forest) and Victor Wanyama (Southampton) on the trail away from Celtic Park.

The Celtic manager has to have a cohesive unit in place for July and a striker is central to that ambition. Amido Balde and Teemu Pukki both gave some signs of hope in the weekend break in Turkey but Lennon is desperate to add quality up front. The problem for Celtic is not financial. Even without any windfalls from Samaras or Ledley, there is money to spend. There is a recognition at both board and football management level that the team has to be strengthened before the Champions League qualifiers.

The problem is two-fold: the availability of top-class strikers and their willingness to come to Scotland. The speculation over Steven Fletcher of Sunderland has been heated and entertaining but has been chilled by a cold reality. Even if Sunderland, in the deepest of the relegation mire, were keen to sell, the buyers would most likely be in the English Premier League and at a price in excess of the £6m routinely quoted for the Scottish internationalist.

Celtic could, in the words of Lennon, push the boat out on wages but £30,000 a week would surely be the limit with anything more leading to a disgruntled queue forming outside the manager's office in Lennoxtown.

But this is all rendered irrelevant by the most important consideration: where does the player want to go? In the case of a Barclays Premier League striker, the answer is, well, the Barclays Premier League. This is why Lennon and his scouting staff are more likely to be found at a Huddersfield match than a Chelsea game.

The task for Celtic is not insurmountable but it is difficult. Lennon has spotted a gem in the lower leagues in Hooper, signed from Scunthorpe United. But now he has to do it again with the realisation that the identification of talent is not enough as the transfer of Charlie Austin, a Celtic target, from Burnley to Queens Park Rangers proved.

It is why Celtic have been linked with Leigh Griffiths of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The 23-year-old Scottish internationalist would be keen on a move to Glasgow and his wage demands and transfer fee would not be a problem.

But would he be the top-quality striker Lennon seeks? Would Lennon and his staff be able to improve a gifted player to a level that would make him an asset in the Champions League qualifiers?

The alternative is to find a hidden gem in, for example, Scandinavia or Africa. Unfortunately, these need to be polished to such an extent that the process becomes wearing for both club and player and results are never delivered with the immediacy that modern football demands.

One D-day for Celtic will concern the decisions made by Samaras and Ledley. This will come quickly and the futures of both may be beyond the persuasive powers of the club. Celtic will have to live with that reality. However, the more important task is to improve the team in a window not conducive to value buys. January is a time when teams try to be rid of problems in terms of underachievers or those whose contracts are running down. Their most prized assets are needed for the rigours of the business end of the season.

Celtic, almost uniquely, can look beyond the next few months as their D-day lies beyond an assured SPFL title in the next few months.

Their challenge is to reinforce ahead of a European campaign. But the player who could be a reliable goalscoring hero in such an arena is not immediately visible or available.

Celtic will continue the search but they will need to be brave, resourceful, ambitious and, of course, lucky to secure such a talent.

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