In his first contribution to The Cynic, freelance football scout Calum Scullion evaluates possible options as Celtic look to recruit a number #1 goalkeeper for the coming years.
The goalkeeping spot has to be one of the most talked about positions in the Celtic team over the past few months; Joe Hart has done a great job since joining the club in 2021 bringing his experience and personality and helping us get back on track in Ange’s first season and being key to the success since then. In my opinion I think he is having a decent season, keeping 7 clean sheets in 17 league appearances so far and making important saves at times in the season. However, it appears clear that Celtic will be looking to recruit a younger, longer-term option to come in and be our number one goalkeeper to help us improve and become stronger both domestically and in Europe.
In this article I’ll be looking at three potential targets that I think Celtic should be exploring either in January or in the subsequent summer transfer window. Two of the three players that will be mentioned and highlighted in this article have been linked to Celtic recently; Andriy Lunin of Real Madrid and Caoimhin Kelleher of Liverpool, the third goalkeeper is my own personal left-field option Vladan Kovacevic of Polish side Raków Częstochowa. I will go through each of these players and discuss their strengths, weaknesses, background and how they fit into Celtic’s style of play in terms of how each keeper plays out from the back, ability to play under pressure, shot-stopping and also if I think each of these keepers would help improve our team overall.
Andriy Lunin – Real Madrid
Andriy Lunin was born in February 1999 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He started his footballing career in the Metalist Kharkiv youth academy and was picked up by FK Dnipro in 2015 and impressed instantly when playing in the reserve team at the age of 16. Lunin made his first team debut for Dnipro at the age of 17 in a game against Karpaty Lviv in October 2016, going on to make 25 appearances that season and was building his reputation as one of the most promising young goalkeepers in the world.
Due to FK Dnipros relegation and financial issues, Lunin moved to Zorya Luhansk in 2017 in order to continue his development, once again he quickly became the first-choice and caught the eye of Europe’s top clubs. Real Madrid signed Lunin in 2018 for a reported fee of around €8.5m, since joining Real Madrid he has had loan moves to CD Leganes, Real Valladolid and Real Oviedo respectively where he gained valuable minutes and experience in Spain’s first and second tiers. Since the 20/21 season he has struggled for consistent game time making only 23 appearances over the past three seasons. Lunin has made 9 appearances for the Ukraine national team and once again its a position he has great competition in with Anatoliy Trubin and Georgiy Bushchan being preferred at times so with his contract expiring in 2025 it’s understood he is looking at moving in order to play regular first-team football.
In terms of play style on the ball he fits the modern keeper role well, he can play out comfortably from the back and he looks to distribute the ball quickly with short/medium range passes or throws. Lunin is doing this with a high accuracy, in the five La Liga appearances so far this season he has a 89% passing accuracy; obviously a small sample size of game time but for me this is a positive straight away as it fits in with what Celtic want their goalkeepers to be doing and from the games watched he looks very comfortable on the ball and doesn’t panic when under pressure. The Ukrainian did play some stray longer passes but I think this is expected when on the ball so much and looking for longer pick-outs. I was impressed with his general awareness and readiness to receive the ball time and time again.
In terms of goalkeeping I thought he was very strong, able to consistently save shots with ease, got down to his right hand side quickly and effectively and he was able to catch and contain most shots, however I did think in a couple of instances his reactions could have been quicker as he was caught out with a good header and a couple of close range efforts. His catching and ability to come off his line to take crosses and punch balls away is a leading aspect of Lunin’s game and would particularly improve us currently as its something that Joe Hart has struggled with particularly in recent weeks. The only other possible negative I found was his positioning in 1v1 situations, at times it could be better and would perhaps require some work.
I think Andriy Lunin would fit the Celtic team really well and would be an ambitious top target for us. As previously stated he has very good distribution and I noticed that when a midfielder dropped deep to show for the ball Lunin was able to break the lines and find the midfielder on a consistent basis, I think this is something that would work well at Celtic as midfielders drops deep to get the ball and it would help us get up the pitch quicker if we have a goalkeeper that can play good passes straight into the midfield and by-passing the defence at times when possible. Also the experience he will have gained from playing at Real Madrid and being an understudy to Thibaut Courtois will be invaluable, he will also have a real desire and hunger to prove that he can be a first choice goalkeeper for a high level team on a consistent basis. If we were to sound Lunin out as a target and take an interest in signing him we wouldn’t be the only ones, it is believed that Real Betis amongst others are supposedly showing an interest in the Ukrainian, and I can imagine this list will grow once any potential transfer terms are set.
Caoimhin Kelleher – Liverpool FC
Caoimhin Kelleher was born November 1998 in Cork, Ireland. He started his footballing career at Ringmahon Rangers, was signed by Liverpool in 2015 and went into their U18 squad. He has progressed through the age groups at Liverpool and is now the backup Goalkeeper to Alisson Becker. Kelleher made his debut for the Liverpool first team in September 2019 in a 3-0 EFL Cup victory over MK Dons, going on to make four appearances that season. In the 2020/21 season he made five appearances for Liverpool and impressed in a 1-0 win over Ajax in the Champions league. Since then he has made 20 appearances, eight of them have came this season with four being in the Europa League, two in the EFL Cup and two in the Premier League.
Much like Andriy Lunin, Kelleher hasn’t played a lot of first team football over the past couple of seasons but he will have learned a lot being the understudy to one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Alisson. Kelleher has made 10 appearances for the Republic of Ireland national team, however he does face stiff competition from Gavin Bazunu of Southampton who is often selected ahead of him.
In terms of play style Kelleher shows a mix of traditional goalkeeping and modern, on the ball involved in build-up play styles. As highlighted previously I think it’s key that any prospective candidate for Celtic should have good distribution and the ability to play out from the back. Kelleher has shown competent passing and distribution, preferring to play short simple passes to defenders rather than riskier, line-breaking pass into the midfield or forward areas. He did come forward at times and looked to match the CBs positioning when he had time on the ball and then wait for a passing option to become available out wide. His distribution was a little slower compared to Lunin, I think this could potentially lead to some problems when being pressed high up the pitch and being forced into making a quick decision. His long range passing and goal kicks were inconsistent, some of them were able to find an attacking player in a good area and others went straight to the opposition, however I don’t think this would be too much of an issue at Celtic as we do prefer to play short under the current manager.
The first thing I noticed was his alertness and awareness at set-pieces. Kelleher was comfortable leaving his line and coming to punch or catch the ball. He made some important saves and kept his composure in big moments of games, able to tip powerful shots over the bar and get down and covered his corners well, however I did notice that he has a tendency to make a save but parry the ball into the path of an opposition player, so he definitely needs to look to clear the ball out of play or hold on to it to stop the opposing teams getting additional opportunities.
I do think Kelleher could also improve his positioning at times, he seemed to rush out early when a ball was played over the top for an opposing attacker to run onto, this would at times leave him exposed and caught in a no mans land situation which the attacker can take advantage of.
Overall I think Caoimhin Kelleher would improve our current goalkeeping situation and he does show some really good qualities, I think he’d fit the team pretty well. He would definitely make a list of targets for me but I think someone like Lunin that just offers that bit more in terms of distribution and overall play should be prioritised over Kelleher. Also with him being contracted to Liverpool until 2026 and their ability to command high fees; any potential deal would be difficult and perhaps involve an initial loan with a fee.
Vladan Kovacevic – Raków Czestochowa
Vladan Kovacevic was born April 1998 in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He started his career in the FK Zeljeznicar Banja Luka youth academy and played for them up until under-19 level before moving to FK Sarajevo. He was sent on a six-month loan to Sloboda Mrkonjić Grad in February 2018, where he got his first taste of professional football, making nine appearances in the second-tier of Bosnian football. Upon his return to Sarajevo at the start of the 18/19 season Kovacevic would go on to have his breakout season making 36 appearances and keeping an impressive 20 clean sheets – cementing himself as a goalkeeper of some quality. He continued to be the number one for FK Sarajevo for the following two seasons and he actually played against Celtic in a Champions League qualifier in 2019.
After three good seasons at Sarajevo in which he kept 48 clean sheets in 98 games and won two Bosnian league titles, Kovacevic attracted the interest of Raków Częstochowa amongst other clubs. He moved to the Polish side for an reported fee of around €300,000 in the summer of 2021. He made 34 appearances in his first season for Raków and seemed to adjust to the league with ease, winning the Polish Cup and Polish Super Cup. Things got even better for Vladan in the 2022/23 season as he kept 19 clean sheets and helped Raków win the Polish league for the first time in their history. So far this season he has made 30 appearances, keeping12 clean sheets across the Polish league and cup competitions and also the Europa League group stages. Kovacevic is yet to make a competitive national team appearance for Bosnia and Herzegovina but he has played in friendlies and has been called up to the squad on numerous occasions.
The main difference between Kovacevic and the two other goalkeepers mentioned is that he has played regularly over the last few seasons, he wouldn’t need that adjustment time to regular football that Lunin and Kelleher potentially would. His distribution was generally good, favouring to play short passes to his defenders and also playing balls into the midfield at times; his longer passes were often inaccurate either being intercepted by an opponent or going out of play. The stats back this up as only 35% of his long balls were accurate compared to 86% accuracy of passes in his own half. He showed good throwing and was able to get the ball out quickly to the full backs with a long throw. He communicated well with his teammates and looked to command his box and be pro-active at set-pieces.
He is an impressive shot stopper with great reflexes, reactions and the ability to make saves even when you think he has been beaten, Kovacevic was great at getting down quickly to both his left and right hand side and being able to make important saves in crucial moment of matches. He will come out and catch or punch the ball at corners and he was very successful at this as he has a good leap and determination to get to the ball first. He showed good positional awareness and alertness and was able to rush out of his goal, get to loose balls and cut out potentially dangerous through balls before an opponent can get their, however in the games watched there was one instance in which he rushed out late and was caught out leading to an opposition goal. In one-on-one situations he made himself big and was able to pull off some impressive saves in these scenarios. I was also impressed with his ability to catch and contain the ball, rarely spilling the ball and was able to deal with powerful long shots well.
I think Kovacevic would fit Celtic pretty well with decent distribution, awareness and shot-stopping ability. He is the type of goalkeeper that keeps you in games and pulls of saves at vital moments, something lacking at the higher level of competitions in recent years. Also the way he commands his defence at corners and his confidence to come and claim the ball would really be an upgrade for us as we have really struggled to defend set pieces in recent years.
I think Kovacevic should be considered as a serious, alternative option to become Celtic’s next long term goalkeeper. He has played a lot of high level football, keeps a lot of clean sheets and at the age of 25 he is still to enter his prime and could continue to develop. His contract at Raków runs until 2026 and they would be hesitant to let him go due to his importance to the team however a deal might be more affordable and achievable than for the others mentioned.
Having watched a lot of the options identified, I’d be happy if Celtic signed any of the three goalkeepers; all would appear to fit our style well and in my opinion would improve our team drastically. Andriy Lunin would definitely be the best of the three but It’s looking likely that he will have contract significant offers from La Liga and Serie A teams so we may struggle to compete with those clubs in terms of wages and opportunities offered.
Kelleher would definitely be a good option for Celtic and I have no doubt that he would improve the current situation however we may need to be patient and be prepared for him to make the odd mistake now and then as he adjusts to playing regularly but in the medium to long term I think he would be excellent.
Kovacevic is the most intriguing option for me personally, he has played over 200 professional games at the age of 25 and has kept an impressive 97 clean sheets. He has won numerous trophies in both Bosnia and Poland and has been key to Rakóws success over the past couple of seasons. I also think he would be a more affordable option and could have an instant impact at the club. It will be interesting to see the profile of goalkeeper the club target over the next six months.