Celtic are about to complete a £600,000 deal for 24-year-old left-back Emilio Izaguirre. The Honduran represented his country for two of their three World Cup 2010 games, thankless losses to Chile and Spain.
Superficially, the signing looks a bit pointless – Charlie Mulgrew recently completed his return to Parkhead on a free transfer, and started for Celtic at left-back in the opening day win at Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
However, Neil Lennon seems to be aligning with supporter opinion that the freebie from Aberdeen isn’t of the calibre required for first-team duties at the Glasgow club.
Left-back has proved a troublesome role to fill and perform over the past year at Celtic. 2009/10 saw six different players take on the mantle, and now, better late than never, chairman John Reid & co. are finally reacting – a deal with Izaguirre’s club C.D. Motagua is now imminent.
Danny Fox made the spot his own after a £1.5 million summer 2009 transfer, but then left for Burnley in January. Celtic made £300,000 on Fox, but he never scored, and appeared susceptible to pace.
In and around Fox’s tenure, Lee Naylor flitted in and out of the team. However, the Englishman was never good enough for a side harbouring title and European ambitions, and was released over the summer (no takers, as yet).
Before on-loan Edson Braafheid earned and then lost the role, Darren O’Dea and Paul Caddis had a crack. The former is now on the verge of joining Ipswich Town, while Caddis left a few weeks ago for League One’s Swindon.
Despite Dutch international Braafheid commanding the position between February and March, erratic form saw Lee Naylor briefly revisited, before Bayern’s Braafheid was recalled for the season closer at Tynecastle.
Last but not least was Mark Wilson’s one-game-stint at left-back. The 26-year-old right-back, impressive in the centre last season too, played there in the 3-3 Europa League away draw at Rapid Vienna.
Positionally suspect for two of the goals as the Austrians raced into a 3-0 lead, Wilson made partial amends by sending in the left-footed inswinger that assisted Celtic on their way to a draw.
Supposedly, foresight-filled deal-makers at the SPL outfit resolved all this drama by acquiring Czech Republic rookie Milan Mišůn in January 2009.
The 20-year-old has done nothing but impress in performances for the reserve team and Celtic sides during pre-season, looking the part both physically and mentally.
However, the tall, pacy defender’s strong showings have come at centre-back, and Lennon will be loathe to lose such a valuable option in that equally problematic rearguard spot.
Perhaps Mišůn will remain at the heart of the defence, but immediate competition comes from fellow foreigners in Holland’s Jos Hooiveld, Norwegian Thomas Rogne and Swedish left-sider Daniel Majstorović.
The man Celtic thwarted AC Milan to purchase isn’t the only one vying to fill the left-back position for years to come either – Polish 17-year-old Filip Twardzik played there in pre-season, melding huge promise with positional lapses.
I watched Izaguirre at close-quarters during the recent World Cup, and Celtic fans can be thankful no-one of Alexis Sánchez’s quality plays in Scotland.
When the Udinese right-winger wasn’t breezing by his marker, his very presence caused Izaguirre to find himself in two minds.
On one of the rare occasions he took action and halted the dazzling, dancing legs of Chile’s star player, his attempt to shield the ball for a goal-kick saw him outmuscled, and forced into conceding a corner.
Despite his small stature (5ft. 9in.), Izaguirre was thrust into the opposition’s box to attack outswinging corners. Alas, neither the starting or finishing positions of he and his colleagues were particularly penetrative.
Somewhat absolvingly, the 44-cap man was part of a backline that lacked quality individually and as a unit. They set up in a tidy zonal marking system to defend set-pieces, yet went to pieces when the clearance was returned.
After that tough test versus Chile, only the small matter of a wound-licking Spain were next. Izaguirre was up against Jesus Navas, Vicente Del Bosque seeking to overcome the narrowness that plagued the Switzerland defeat.
Honduras and their left-back acquitted themselves better when not in possession, one example being when a Navas attempt to knock the ball by his man and retrieve it behind him was met by a bullish shield and guard.
Unfortunately, Honduras were woeful in their use of the ball – periods of play that often began from a defence pressed suffocatingly high.
Nevertheless, Izaguirre displayed attacking enterprise, darting infield on dummy runs that granted Roger Espinoza time on the left wing against Sergio Ramos.
That aforementioned hastiness led to further problems; the Spaniards dropped shoulders and slalomed past the early-lunging left-back who got himself booked when a rake on Fernando Torres preceded his getting tight to and hauling of Navas.
Such ugliness resurfaced later in the same game too when the Honduran stamped on David Villa. Incidents like this were shameful because Izaguirre showed in isolated periods that he was positivity-laden, playing one-twos with the man in front of him.
For Honduras’ final game, coach Reinaldo Rueda made changes to a side all but on the plane home. Finally playing with the handbrake off, his Izaguirre-free team held the Swiss to a 0-0 draw.
Assessing the Central American’s chances of success in the SPL using two games against world class opponents obviously isn’t fully conclusive.
However, you’d like to think such stern tests have prepared him for the step-up in quality he’ll face having spent the duration of his short career in the Honduran domestic league.