OK, I know in my ‘return’ post I said I was going to leave old news alone. I’d promised I’d keep things fresh by looking at new, fast moving information, and shed my very own light on them. Well, I’m going to slightly break that in order to combine my view on the Mexican game and my beloved Celtic. You see, since I’ve been away the Hoops have announced a link to the Coahuila-based club, Santos Laguna.
As somebody who sees a great deal of Mexican football, I see this a really shrewd move by the board, and am delighted at the potential it offers the club. As we all know, Celtic’s traditional markets have been strangled by the vice-like grip the Premier League holds over the majority of Europe. Greatly inflated fees have quickly spread all across Europe, with even 17 year-old unproven kids being priced at £20m. (Yes, anybody who has seen him can appreciate that Romelu Lukaku of Anderlecht is a wonderful talent, but £20m? I think not!)
This has forced the club to widen the net, and look to markets that would normally be both out of sight and out of mind. So far, Lennon has done reasonably well in the transfer market from very different areas of the world, with the Israeli Beram Kayal and Emilio Izaguirre from Honduras being particularly impressive. And this is the right type of market for Celtic to exploit, finding players who are relatively young (Kayal is just 22, and Izaguirre is 24) to bring to Europe, nurture, and sell on for a profit. Indeed, there is already reported interest in Izaguirre from Manchester United, with a rumoured £10m figure for him.
Of course, it is disappointing to think that a club of Celtic’s size will have to become a ‘selling club’, but we have to be realistic. There is no money at all in Scotland, which means the game and the clubs will have to adapt to survive. This means a combination of signing youngsters at a really early age (the Ajax system) and then buying players from leagues with even less finance than our own, and selling them at a huge profit (the ethos of PSV). And of course, if Manchester United will sell Cristiano Ronaldo, ANYBODY is for sale.
What better way then to look to exploit these kind of markets than by taking on a feeder side? A club right towards the top of the Mexican game (they finished runners-up in this year’s Apertura championship, progressed through to the CONCACAF Champions League quarter finals, and won the Clasura in 2008) makes them an attractive proposition for the better players in South and Central America, which ultimately benefits us, too. After all, the better they do, the better the calibre of players available to us through the partnership.
Now as the Mexican Primera is not exactly a regular on European television, many Celtic fans may well be wondering just how fruitful the partnership will be. Are there any players worth signing? Is the Mexican league actually any good, or is this nothing but a publicity stunt? Well, I’ve decided to do my very own little scouting trip to hopefully provide you all with a little more info, and whether in my opinion they’d offer anything extra at Celtic Park.
Oswaldo Sanchez: 37 year old Mexican international goalkeeper. Sanchez has won 98 caps for his country, and played at Santos for four and a half seasons. A decent shot-stopper, but prone to the odd error, especially with crosses. Too old to be a realistic signing for Celtic, with no re-sale value. Worth signing? No.
Jose Antonio Olvera: 24 year old Mexican international central defender. Olvera has won 3 caps Mexico, is good on the ball which also allows him to play in midfield. He’s calm while under pressure , but he’s greatly let down by his lack of size. At only 5 foot 8, he would struggle at the back in the aggressive nature of Scottish football. Worth signing? No.
Uriel Alvarez Rivera: 20 year old Mexican defender. Rivera has yet to win a cap for his national side, but he certainly shows promise. He is strong in the tackle and good on the ball, although he does suffer a little with inconsistency. Perhaps one for the future. Worth signing? Maybe in a few years.
Jonathan Lacerda: 23 year-old Uruguayan defender. At 6 foot 2, Lacerda is certainly built like a defender. Decent in the air, and with an ability to win some vital challenges, Lacerda could be ideal at Parkhead. At 23 he is a great age to sign, but he is currently fourth choice central defender defender for Santos. He’ll need to break his way into the side for a sustained period before he’s even considered. Worth signing? Yes, but not just yet.
Felipe Baloy: 29 year-old captain of Panama, central defender and club captain. 6 foot 2, and a colossus at the back, Baloy is right out of the Bobo Balde mould. Very mobile, with a desire to get forward, Baloy would become a cult hero at Celtic Park. Only negative is that he is a month away from his 30th birthday, and as such he would have little or no resale value, but this is countered by his qualities on the pitch. Worth signing? Yes, immediately.
Jorge Estrada Manjarrez: 27 year old Mexican international wing-back/ full back. Santos Laguna regularly play with three central defenders, and so I’ve normally seen Manjarrez play as a wing back, but what impresses me most is his mobility. He’s constantly joining attacks, has a lot of ability when it comes to crossing and he even pops up with the odd goal. Only made his Mexico debut in 2010 and suffered an injury, or I suspect he’d have a few more than just one cap. However, once again I think his size would be an issue as he is only 5 foot 6. In addition, he’d struggle to dislodge Cha, Hinkel or even Wilson out of the side. Worth signing? No.
Carlos Morales: 31 year old Mexican international left wing-back/ left midfielder. Morales has won 8 caps for his country, the last one coming in 2005. Another decent player going forward, offers plenty of width and a decent cross into the box, but he struggles defensively. His age works against him, and he’s not a patch on Izaguirre. Worth signing? No.
Jose Cardenes: 25 year old left full back/ wing back/ left midfielder. Cardenes has won two caps for Mexico, and scored on his debut. Cardenes is a real creative force for his side when he plays further forward. Skillfull, quick and with a peach of a left foot, Cardenes is at his best when operating further forward. Great from a dead-ball, his corners are a particularly useful weapon for Santos. At 25 years old, he’s still young enough to be a worthwhile signing. Worth signing? Yes.
Fernando Arce: 30 year old defensive midfielder, has won more than 40 caps for Mexico. Arce is one of the vital tools in this Santos Laguna side, sitting in a holding role alongside Juan Rodriguez. Always available for a simple pass, with the ability to get forward and put the ball in the net. Another small player in stature, but without him, Santos are not the same team. However, Celtic are at their strongest in the middle of the park, so despite his talents, I don’t see him as a real option. Worth signing? No.
Juan Rodriguez: 31 year old central midfielder, has also won in excess of 40 caps for Mexico. Originally broke into the national side on the back of his goal scoring exploits at Club Atlas, where he scored more than 50 goals in 6 years from midfield. He became renown for his set pieces, although he has now become more of a ‘simple stuff’ type player, much like Lennon himself was. Lacks a cutting edge in the tackle, and would probably be another to struggle in the aggressive Scottish game. Worth signing? No
Daniel Ludena: 28 year old Argentine attacking midfielder, who began his career at River Plate. In my opinion, Ludena is the best player at Santos Laguna, and he has been reportedly interesting several clubs in Spain. Ludena is exceptional from dead-balls, very much in the Nakamura mould, and averages a goal every three games from midfield. He has great vision, and regularly unlocks defences with a wonderful through ball. Although not the quickest, he’d slot straight into the Celtic side and stay there. Worth signing? Immediately.
Carlos Darwin Quintero: 23 year old Columbian international striker, wide midfielder. Well, what can I say about Quintero? Easily the most frustrating player in Mexico, Quintero certainly has the ability to be dynamite. He has blistering pace and great skill, and at 23 he has definite potential. However, his finishing is highly erratic, and he frequently picks the wrong option. Think Samaras but about twice as quick and half as tall! Should score far more goals from the positions he finds himself in. Worth signing? Dubious.
Christian Benitez: 24 year old Ecuadorian international striker. Of course, the second the partnership was announced Celtic were linked to the ex Birmingham striker, and for good reason. Benitez was the top scorer in the Apertura on his return to Santos, scoring 16 goals in 22 games, and he also averages a goal every other game for Ecuador. It never quite worked out for Benitez in England, but he is a predator in front of goal and has blistering pace. At just 24, another spell in Europe is certainly not beyond him, and I’d undoubtedly back him to be a success. Would certainly offer another option up front, even if only used as an impact player. Worth signing? Yes.