Keen observers of goings on outside of the Mackem bubble will have recently noted a whole load of fuss regarding Celtic’s transfer activity (or lack thereof), with former Sunderland Sporting Director Lee Congerton seemingly right at the centre of it.
The 45-year old - who also held high-ranking positions in the past with Chelsea and Hamburg - was a controversial figure during his time on Wearside, and is perhaps best known for being the man at the helm when Sunderland brought Jack Rodwell, Jermain Defoe, Patrick van Aanholt and Ricky Alvarez to Wearside under the stewardship of Gustavo Poyet.
To try and gain some perspective on what is going on up north I sat down with John McGinley, a die-hard Bhoys supporter and Podcaster, to find out more about what appears to be going wrong for Congerton at Parkhead on the back of a disappointing summer for Celtic in the transfer market.
RR: I couldn’t help but notice that there appears to be some discontent amongst Celtic supporters at present with regards to Lee Congerton, who these days of course operates under the guise of ‘Head of Recruitment’ at your club. To be blunt - what is going wrong for him at Parkhead?
GAP: He is firmly in fans’ sights at the moment due to a summer transfer window that to this point has been something of a disaster for us.
We entered the summer in a position of strength after an unprecedented two seasons of success, although most supporters recognised that the squad need freshened up, fresh blood brought in and an inadequate defence sorted out.
With not long left before the window shuts, to date we have addressed our defensive deficiencies by signing a 32-year-old former player as back-up and... that’s it.
There doesn’t seem to have been any sort of long-term planning in place, so naturally Congerton’s role has been called into question.
RR: When Congerton was appointed back in March of 2017, Brendan Rodgers said: “He brings knowledge, experience and excellence to such an important area of our work and I know he will add real value to the club.” Has he, in your opinion, delivered on any of those things?
GAP: Frankly there hasn’t been much evidence of any of those things.
There’s every chance that behind-the-scenes he expertly navigates what is probably a difficult job, as a fan and an outsider though there’s been very little to get excited about when it comes to recruitment since he arrived.
Lack of transparency is a real issue with regards to his role and the recruitment process in general at Celtic. Much of the anger directed his way right now is because he’s the man behind the curtain and there’s no communication to re-assure supporters what is being done, what can’t be done and why.
RR: What was Congerton’s remit - was it to kick on in terms of the Champions League, or reduce wages and make profits through sales?
GAP: Most fans recognise that truly competing with the big clubs in the Champions League isn’t feasible considering the ever widening financial gap between ourselves and the big five nations in Europe.
There’s also an acceptance that when we sign a quality player, the chances are he will move within two or three seasons (see Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and potentially Moussa Dembele).
His remit would be to continue to source young, exciting talent that Celtic can develop into European quality players and ideally provide contingencies in the event bigger clubs come in to buy them.
That would be in service of consistently qualifying for the Champions League group stages. Failing to do that this summer has been a massive part of the current feeling, along with the general panicky vibe Celtic have been giving off in the transfer market recently.
Is Congerton identifying the targets we need to maintain success? That’s the question every fan wants answered.
RR: How much influence does Lee Congerton really have with regards to Celtic’s recruitment? Rodgers seemed frustrated by the lack of activity.
GAP: Perhaps distant from a more traditional Director of Football role, Congerton would not actually be involved in negotiations for players. That falls primarily to our Chief Executive Peter Lawwell who is receiving even more flak currently that Congerton himself.
That’s due to the public frustrations of Rodgers you mentioned.
The feeling is that Congerton oversees a scouting department that identifies and analyses potential targets, which are then signed off on by Rodgers and handed to Lawwell and his team to bring in to the club.
We know that this summer Celtic failed to sign John McGinn before he moved to Villa. There’s substantial rumours that Congerton and Rodgers had identified Cristiano Piccini (now at Valencia) and Fabian Schar (now at Newcastle), which Lawwell and the club then failed to deliver on when they were available.
At the same time, three players Congerton helped to bring into the club in January (Charly Musonda, Marvin Compper and Jack Hendry) have all failed to work out.
Compper in particular has been a complete disaster, playing 82 minutes against a lower league since the start of the year. The defender has become a joke figure with the Celtic support and is probably picking up a healthy wage on the back of it. Given he came from a market we’ve not really utilised much previously, many have assumed he is a Congerton signing through and through.
RR: Are there any signs as to how the relationship between Head of Recruitment and Manager appears to be? Do you think Rodgers’ frustrations were aimed at Congerton, or higher up?
GAP: Congerton very much appears to be Rodgers’ man in honesty. Undoubtedly Rodgers was taking a swipe at the Celtic board with his public comments.
RR: Has there been an obvious plan in terms of recruitment, or is the squad a mixture of Congerton’s players and Rodgers - like it was at Sunderland?
GAP: The lack of a plan as I mentioned earlier is what is concerning most in the closing days of this transfer window.
We are reportedly on the brink of selling Moussa Dembele to Lyon and Rodgers admitted to the press earlier this week that replacing him will be about seeing who is available before the deadline rather than identifying potential replacements in anticipation, with the impression we’re into last resort territory.
The lack of contingency planning for what was a pretty obvious potential transfer scenario is incredibly worrying.
There’s been no real desire to improve the weakest area of the team - defence - and again the club were caught unaware by the want-away centre-back Dedryck Boyata, with no viable replacement ready to come into the club despite the player having less than a year on his contract.
In an ideal world as a fan, you want your club to plan to improve your first-team squad, whereas we don’t even seem to be planning to maintain its current quality level.
The first-team is actually mostly made up of players that were here before Rodgers arrived!
RR: At Sunderland, Congerton is perhaps remembered best for two of the worst pieces of transfer business in the club’s history - Ricky Alvarez, a player we still are paying for today due to several lost lawsuits, and Jack Rodwell, who cost the club £70,000 a week in wages without ever really playing for any great length of time. If he left tomorrow, what would his legacy at Celtic be?
GAP: The notorious transfer would undoubtedly be the Marvin Compper one I mentioned, although credit should perhaps be given for the signature of Odsonne Edouard, who looks a very good player indeed.
The only other real success since he arrived has been midfielder Olivier Ntcham who was likely sourced because of our informal relationship with Manchester City rather than the work of Congerton.
If he left tomorrow, his legacy would probably be one of slight embarrassment, a touch of bemusement and a whole lot of questions.
RR: Where do you see this going from here? Do you suspect that Congerton will remain in a job much longer?
GAP: It honestly depends how things play out with Brendan Rodgers and the board. In my opinion there appears to be a bit of a power struggle at the moment, specifically in relation to transfers and so it wouldn’t surprise me if Congerton is made something of a justified scapegoat.
What I want to see happen is the trio of Congerton, Lawwell and Rodgers address fans openly honestly about what’s gone on this summer.
A lot of people are playing the blame game with regards to individuals but the conclusion must be that there’s been failings on all fronts in the transfer market and recruitment.