JONATHAN Gould believes whoever Celtic appoint as their new manager has to make signing a top class keeper his No1 priority this summer if the Parkhead club are to reclaim the Scottish title from Rangers next season.

Speculation has been rife about who will replace Neil Lennon in recent weeks and Eddie Howe, the former Bournemouth and Burnley manager, looks set to be confirmed as his replacement in the coming days.

However, for Gould, who helped the Glasgow club stop their city rivals from completing 10-In-A-Row at the end of his debut season in 1998, bringing in an exceptional goalie is every bit as important to their future prospects.

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Vasilis Barkas, a £4.5m capture from AEK Athens last year, has struggled to settle in this country and the Greek internationalist last started a match in the 2-2 draw with Livingston at the Tony Macaroni Arena way back in January.

Conor Hazard, the young Northern Ireland cap, had a stint between the sticks and played in the Scottish Cup final win over Hearts at Hampden in December that secured an unprecedented quadruple treble.

However, Hazard’s form has also fluctuated and Scott Bain is currently being given the nod by caretaker John Kennedy. 

Gould, who is now a coach at Napier City Rovers in New Zealand, can sympathise with all of the Celtic keepers as there were spells during the five-and-a-half years that he had in the East End when Rangers dominated and he knows it can be tough.

However, the former Scotland internationalist understands that both Old Firm outfits must have outstanding keepers as well as strength in depth in that crucial department in order to flourish.

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He thinks that whoever takes over from his old team mate Lennon will have to strengthen in that area.

“I can see why there are problems now,” said Gould. “I said before the season that I thought goalkeeper was a crucial part of their recruitment. Fraser Forster and Joe Hart were mentioned. They are big names.

“Go back to Andy Goram, Stefan Klos, Artur Boruc, the Holy Goalie, David Marshall, Fraser Forster; they are all top keepers. You need to have that if you want to win titles and cups and do well in Europe.”

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He added: “I was in goal for Celtic when it was difficult as well as when things were going well. You need to have a very hard shell, need to be able to take stick, sometimes for things that are out of your control.

“When I look back now, we also had plenty of competition, Dmitri Kharine and Magnus Hedman, a Russian international and a Swedish international, were there. I was a Scotland international at the time.

“We also had Stewart Kerr and Gordon Marshall. Stewart had the potential to be a top keeper and barring injury probably would have been. Marshy was experienced. You need to have quality and you need to have good back-up as well.” 

Gould was languishing in the Bradford City reserves when he was signed by new Celtic manager Wim Jansen in 1997 – but he had played in the English top flight with Coventry City previously and made an immediate impact in Scotland.

He quickly established himself in the first team at Parkhead and helped the Glasgow club to win a League Cup and Premier League double in a memorable debut season.

“The reason it personally clicked for me at Celtic was because I had already had Premier League experience down south,” he said.  “I had played 30 odd times for Coventry. That is a reasonable apprenticeship to come not the Scottish game.

“The dressing room was also massive at that point.  I think the lads were accepting of whoever came in. That was a big thing. Henrik Larsson and Regi Blinker came in on the same day.

“The one thing I remembered when I walked into the Celtic dressing room was that Tom Boyd was the captain. He ran the room.

"You shake hands with every player and they wish you all the best. They know the demands of being a Celtic player and they genuinely want you to do well as part of their group. That had a big impact on me in those first few weeks at the club.

“My first game was a pre-season friendly against Roma. They were the biggest club I had ever played against at that time. I kept a clean sheet and we won 1-0. Although it was only a friendly, it gave me the belief that I was capable.  I had lost my way a little bit at Bradford. That game probably gave me my inner strength back.

“I found it easer playing in the top flight in England than I did in the third or fourth tiers. I was a reactive, agile goalkeeper.  I wasn’t someone who was always going to come off my line and catch crosses. I was more of what would be termed a shot stopper.

“I think that probably helped me in the Premier League. It helped in the Scottish game as well. I found it very frenetic. But there was more skill, more players with technical ability.”

Gould realised early on that Celtic had to win every game they played in domestically - but he was helped to settle in by manager Jansen, his assistant Murdo MacLeod and goalkeeping coach Peter Latchford. 

“I probably didn’t understand what was required when I came into the club,” he said. “That was a good thing. I learned it pretty quickly. Going into Old Firm games was my first taste of it, of the pressure there is on the Celtic players and the Celtic goalkeeper. The naivete probably helped me. I was able to just go and be a goalkeeper.

“Wim’s attitude helped too. He just let me go and do my job. Murdo was a great sounding board. He knew the game. I had Peter Latchford, who had played 350 odd games for Celtic. If I couldn’t learn from him I couldn’t have been able to do the job. That was the beauty of it.

“Peter could sense what the game was going to be like before it happened. He would have a few minutes with me before a game. He was almost like a fortune teller. He could predict the game.

“The 1997/98 season was the most consistent season of my career. It was the most important because of what was at stake. It was probably the most enjoyable as well. There were challenges and there was pressure, but we were a group that thrived on that pressure.”