SIGNING young footballers with potential for nominal fees has been a shrewd and successful policy for Celtic over the years.

There have certainly been a few speculative acquisitions who have failed to develop as had been hoped and expected and who have moved on without excelling, or even featuring in some cases, for the first team.

Josh Thompson, Grieg Spence, Paul Slane, Marc Crosas, Andre Blackman, Rabiu Ibrahim, Kundai Benyu and Marian Shved, to name just a handful, were all unable to make the grade.

Yet, for every half dozen “project players” who have sunk without trace there has been one resounding success story who has more than compensated for the failures. 

Kristoffer Ajer, Nir Bitton, Ryan Christie, Moussa Dembele, Jeremie Frimpong, Tom Rogic and Victor Wanyama were all brought in for six figure fees. Virgil van Dijk cost considerably more. But they all proved to be bargain buys. 

Bitton and Rogic have given years of outstanding service to the Parkhead club and have been important players for manager Ange Postecoglou at home and abroad this season.

Ajer, Christie, Dembele, Frimpong, Van Dijk and Wanyama, meanwhile, were exceptional and collectively banked Celtic in the region of £70m when they were eventually sold.

The far-sighted strategy enables them to challenge for silverware domestically as well as compete on the continent and, importantly during these economically testing times, to break even.

Ian Bankier, the Celtic chairman, outlined the importance of the approach in his statement to shareholders in the annual accounts which were published back in September.

“Balancing player development and player trading is fundamental to our self-sustaining business model,” he wrote.

“The disposal of the registrations of Odsonne Edouard and Kristoffer Ajer demonstrates our core strength of being able to transform young talented players into seasoned professional footballers.

“In turn, we invest the proceeds of these transactions back into the first team squad to enable us to continue to develop our squad and to challenge for future honours.”

So it is easy to see why Celtic have brought in Liam Shaw, Joey Dawson, Osaze Urhoghide, Bosun Lawal, Liam Scales and Jonny Kenny, the Sligo Rovers striker who arrived earlier this week, this season.

The sextet set the Parkhead club, who had a revenue of over £60m in the last financial year despite the devastating impact of the Covd-19 pandemic, back little over £1m. If just one or two of them flourish in the years ahead then bringing them on board will have been a worthwhile exercise. 

The Premier Sports Cup winners have laid, as they have done repeatedly on so many occasions in the past, the foundations for a bright future with their forward-thinking recruitment drive.

Yet, fans are far more concerned with the present moment, with what they are watching at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, than who is coming through and might grace the first team in a season or two.

Should Callum McGregor and his team mates fail to reclaim the cinch Premiership title or land the Scottish Cup in the coming months then their followers will not be slow to voice their displeasure.

When Postecoglou has full complement of players to choose from he can put a starting XI on the park that can overcome any domestic rival – Joe Hart, Josip Juranovic, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Christopher Jullien, Callum McGregor, James Forrest, David Turnbull, Tom Rogic, Jota and Kyogo Furuhashi are as good as anyone in the country in their position, if not better.

But it became apparent during the first six months of the 2021/22 campaign that the Celtic manager did not, despite bringing in 14 players at a cost of nearly £20m in the summer, have the strength in depth in his squad required to cope with a heavy schedule of matches.

Owen Moffat, Joey Dawson, Adam Montgomery, Dane Murray and Liam Scales were possibly only given game time because, no disrespect to the promising quintet, there was no alternative.

Does Postecoglou, whose side are six points adrift of Rangers in the Premiership with 18 matches remaining, have the resources that he needs to land the league now? So much hinges on how January signings Reo Hatate, Yosuke Ideguchi and Daizen Maeda get on in the coming months.

If the Japanese trio settle quickly and prove themselves to be gifted and effective as their compatriot Furuhashi then Celtic will be well placed to negotiate a packed fixture list and beat their city rivals to the Scottish title come May.

If they take time to make the transition from Asia to Europe and kids have to be drafted in again to plug gaps when injuries and suspensions arise then they will struggle to avoid the dips in form that resulted in dropped points against Dundee United, Livingston and St Mirren.

It will be fascinating seeing how Hatate, Ideguchi and Maeda, who could make their debuts against Hibernian at Parkhead on Monday night, fare.