The striker is a figure who occupies a privileged status of especially strong affection in the hearts of most football fans, and there are few names which provoke such profound adoration around in the east end of Glasgow as Henrik Larsson. Even many years after the Swede’s final appearance for Celtic, his goalscoring feats (242 in 313 games) in the hoops remain the gold standard against which every one of his thirty plus successors have been held, with varying degrees of favourability.
It’s worth revisiting the question of who is the best since the swede and casting a glance across Celtic’s pantheon of mercurial marksmen, prolific poachers and brainless crisp bag chasers to take inventory of our various attempts to plug the Larsson-shaped hole in our squad. And what better way to do this topic justice than with an arbitrary and highly subjective series of rankings?
Only those who have made at least 5 appearances will be included, meaning now would be the appropriate time to give an honourable mention to those strikers whose presence in a Celtic jersey can be summarised by an abstract appendage to this list (a la Brozek, Atajic, Kapo et al) – their contributions range from the insignificant to the briefly traumatic, but have been largely forgotten.
Finally, while putting the ball in the net is the raison d’etre of every striker, some context is important – if breaking down a strikers impact is a binary consideration of goals and appearances, then sometimes the latter statistic is just as important as the former.
When Einstein stated that the definition of insanity was ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ little did he know his prophetic proclamation would manifest itself in the form of a carthorse striker by the name of Craig Beattie. It took Celtic’s management 65 games to work out what most of us could see in the first 90 minutes – that Beattie’s limitations were too numerous for him to ever make the grade at Celtic Park.
His goals to games ratio is akin to that of some of the worst players on this list and he was afforded a great deal more opportunities than the majority of those goalscoring pariahs.
His celebrations after scoring for Hearts against Celtic in a cup semi-final and his brainless contributions on radio don’t endear him much either.
It’s fair to say that time has somewhat dulled the painful memories of Camara’s legacy at Celtic. He commonly ranks highly in the minds of many supporters in their ‘worst Celtic signings of all time,’ but much of this acrimony is probably down to the bluster with which the Senegalese international came to the club on a season long loan from Wolves.
Touting himself as the worthy successor to Henrik Larsson and requesting the Swede’s recently vacated number 7 jersey, it became evident that he was the only one who thought he was up to that task.
His record, when all’s said and done, was bang average and it would be wrong, given his equally unremarkable record almost everywhere he played, to so intensely scrutinise him under the Larsson microscope – even if that’s exactly what he himself did.
A ranking probably influenced by its freshness in the memory, it looked like Celtic had pulled another proverbial on-loan rabbit from the hat with Timothy Weah. He’d already made senior appearances for a PSG side bursting with world-class talent and was held in extremely high regard by their supporters.
His time at Celtic started extremely well and the American took to the Scottish league with few problems – he more or less turned a turgid performance against St. Johnstone into 3 points from the bench at McDiarmid Park.
Following the departure of the manager who brought him to the club (whose name is not important), Neil Lennon was appointed and obviously didn’t see the same quality that the aforementioned coach had. His loan deal wasn’t renewed and he left with some coarse words for the Celtic management.
His career has stalled since then and he never made another appearance for PSG before being sold.
It’s rather begrudgingly that Kenny Miller is allowed into the top 20 of this list – if it were based on ability alone he’d be nowhere near it (even under my own criteria his relatively lofty status is questionable).
That said, the prodigal hun scored some big goals in Europe for Celtic and fulfilled the role expected of him by Gordon Strachan, albeit characterised by his trademark brainless ball-chasing.
He was definitely given far more appearances than his performances merited (see Beattie, C) but his extremely underwhelming goal scoring feats are only half of the story. Scoring against the now defunct Rangers was probably the stand-out moment during his time at Celtic, and our supporters can draw some level of comfort knowing that no amount of airbrushing of Miller’s career retrospective will ever expunge that fact. A desperately average but, ultimately, professional stint in his extensive career.
A player consigned to the clique of Ronny Deila flops, the signing of Scepovic was a real statement of intent at the time. He arrived – albeit dragging his heels – following a collapsed move to Getafe, with an exceptional goalscoring pedigree behind him in the Spanish second division with Sporting Gijon.
He couldn’t replicate the form that saw him score 24 times in Spain, wouldn’t do so for the remainder of his career in Europe and his time at Celtic was marked with an overall indifference on the part of the Serbian.
He had all the tools in his arsenal to make a name for himself in Scottish football and yet wasn’t above lampooning the league’s sub-par brand of long-ball lumping as an excuse for his failures at the club.
Nevertheless he did have streaks of goalscoring during his only season, bagging a couple in the Europa League and poaching some decent goals domestically. But at no point could he be relied upon to carry the burden with Guidetti and Griffiths doing most of the heavy lifting.
He had to content himself with a string of substitute appearances towards the end of his time at the club, none of which suggested he was going to set the league alight.
A player who ultimately should have offered more but whose career fell off a cliff after pulling on the hoops.
A boyhood Hibee whose talent was unquestionable, but whose temperament certainly was. Riordan’s career at both and Celtic and beyond is one of the most regrettable ‘what if…’ stories in Scottish football.
Brought in by Strachan as an extremely raw but exciting prospect, Riordan’s game was so well-rounded but backed up by the stats (his record at Hibs had been exceptional). For all the perennial question marks already loomed over his off-field antics, there was real optimism that Strachan would be able to reign him in and help realise his undoubted potential. He wasn’t an immediate starter at the club and had to fight for his place with some experienced international goalscorers, but it seemed like every time he came on to the pitch he did something special.
Away from the glamour ties in Europe and the adulation of the Celtic support, his performances in training were reportedly dire, his attitude found wanting and before too long he’d run out of second chances. Punted back to Hibs following the umpteenth fallout with Strachan, he scored a magnificent strike for the Edinburgh club at Celtic Park the following season in a 2-1 defeat, giving our supporters one last glimpse of his forever waning potential. It would be one of a few dwindling moments of brilliance from Riordan and his career finished in 2017 with only 3 Scotland caps, plying his trade at semi-professional Edinburgh City.
We’re more or less over the bad and the ugly at this point in the list, and all those who remain could reasonably be considered ‘good’ servants for the club – to varying degrees. Kamara is a very apt example of such a player.
One of two Mowbray high-profile loan signings in January 2010, as he desperately tried to avert his Stalingrad moment at Love Street, Kamara can’t be blamed for the team’s ultimately dire showing. He was a bit of a cult hero at his parent club Fulham and it was hoped that he could take some of the burden off Marc-Antoine Fortune as Celtic slipped further and further behind in the league.
A rocket on his debut against Dunfermline in the cup with a great finish in a 4-4 thriller at Pittodrie showed the quality that he possessed, but injury coupled with the form of Robbie Keane saw his minutes restricted.
A new regime with Neil Lennon as manager took over and, with his advancing years and hefty wages, he didn’t fit in with the manager’s long term vision. No adjective more adequately describes Diomansy Kamara’s time at Celtic than ‘good’.
There are few strikers more beholden to the legacy of one single goal in their career as Tony Watt. It’s an observation that’s been done to death at this point, but irrespective of anything Watt has done or will go on to do in the game, the first piece of trivia beside his name in every commentator’s notebook will be that goal against Barcelona in the Champions League. Only a moment of such heroic proportions could almost overwrite the Airdrie-born striker’s incredible debut, which surely ranks as one of the best in our club’s history.
He’d been singled out as a great player at youth level before the Celtic scouts were on the trail of his goalscoring exploits at Airdrie. At the age of 18, he was brought on during a post-title league match at Fir Park and within minutes had bagged himself a double, an explosive start that began a meteoric rise rarely seen from someone so young at Celtic.
Lennon placed even more faith in him the following season with the squad stretched on both the domestic and European fronts and Watt seemed up to the task, performing consistently in rotated squads before the glamour ties.
That goal against Barcelona, however, would not be the moment that sent him into the stratosphere, but rather it was a single moment of euphoria that, in hindsight, marked a decline in his form and goal returns in a Celtic jersey.
His attitude soon became a problem and, while it would be easy to put that down to his now immortalised feats against Europe’s best team, it’s maybe more accurate to say he never had the discipline to kick on from there. He was loaned out and then sold to Belgium and has never settled since – now finding himself a perpetual prospect journeying around the Scottish Premiership.
A brief glance at Fortune’s record prior to joining Celtic and it’s clear to see that he had plenty of it when Tony Mowbray called on him to be the club’s marquee summer signing. The Frenchman (from French Guiana) was clearly not striker who could produce the sort of numbers required to win any league title and it seemed like Mowbray had resorted to a familiar figure (having managed him previously at West Brom) rather than a capable one. He failed to score for several games before opening his account against St. Johnstone and throughout the first half of the season, following Scott McDonald’s exile and Samaras’s injuries, the expectations for goals gradually grew. He saw a goal wrongly disallowed against Rangers in a match that would have changed the complexion of the season had it stood, but which more importantly might have worked wonders for Fortune’s confidence. Instead he finished the season with the sort of numbers you would have expected from him, although it must be said that truly did give everything to be the main man at the club. The arrival of Robbie Keane in January of that season eased some of the pressure on him but the squad’s dismal showing in the league saw a lot of the blame lay at the striker’s door. A couple of wonderstrikes against Motherwell and St. Johnstone will live long in the memory (…of those who can remember them), but they couldn’t disguise Fortune’s unremarkable returns and Lennon promptly sold him upon taking the managerial role permanently. Just not good enough but it wasn’t for want of trying.
A real Jekyll and Hyde story condensed into the 2014/15 season, Guidetti looked all but set to be crowned as the successor to the last great Swede, by supporter and journo alike.
Brought in as a last gasp loan signing from Man City, his signature was so late in fact that his registration for that season’s Europa League group stage failed to meet the deadline.
His early form left Celtic fans ruing his omission from a relatively complicated European campaign as he began his Celtic career with a glut of goals and a string of man of the match performances in the league.
However, by the time Celtic lined up against Inter Milan in February, he’d fallen out of favour with the Celtic boss and, more importantly, his place in the team. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, supporters were imploring the board to make Guidetti a permanent acquisition in January, such was the potential he’d displayed in the first half of the season. No signing was ever made, and the supporters soon came to terms with the reality of Guidetti’s mindset, apparently rejecting advances from Celtic in the hope he’d get the mega-move he (and only he) believed he merited.
Ironically, it was at this point in the season, when he ought to have been backing up this bluster, that his goals dried up. While his goalscoring record looks more than respectable, upon closer inspection this includes a hat-trick against Thistle in the league cup and only four goals in the calendar year of 2015. He was nowhere near as prolific following his boardroom battles and had largely been forgotten about as Leigh Griffiths began to hit form.
That being said, he did leave his mark on the aforementioned glamour tie in the Europe with an outrageous last minute volley as Celtic drew 3-3 with Inter.
It was too little too late however and his evident lack of commitment to Celtic left him ostracised from the team, a fact only compounded by a series of remarks made about the management and the obligatory dig at the Scottish game upon his permanent departure.
He went on to lead Sweden to the U21 European Championship title that summer, which probably turned more heads than anything he achieved in Scotland, and was picked up by Celta Vigo after the tournament.
The same arrogance and egotism have dogged his career ever since, a career which could have seen him idolised by the Parkhead masses for the sort of talent showed in the former part of his time at Celtic, but instead has precious little by way of accolades.
I suppose he can add ‘the best striker signed by Ronny Deila’ to that scant collection now.
Best Striker Since Larsson Part 1