Celtic are running away with another Scottish Premiership title this season and may start next season as heavy favourites too, but they cannot afford to take their eye off the ball.
One thing which is crucial in achieving their goals is not just signing the right people, but also retaining the key personnel they already have. It looks like they are fighting a losing battle to keep hold of Moussa Dembele beyond this summer. but another key member of their squad is former Dundee United man Stuart Armstrong whose contract has just one more year left to run.
11 goals and 7 assists in only 23 Premiership appearances this season is a tremendous record for a midfield player. It underlines his importance to the team domestically. However, this record would compare to nothing across the board in European football.
Even if it transpires that he’s not going to set Europe alight, Celtic must do all they can to keep their domestic rivals at bay and Armstrong should surely be a key part of that plan. One day, Rangers will undoubtedly close the gap on Celtic and losing Armstrong to another club, as well as losing Scott Brown to an inevitable retirement some day will leave huge gaps in the middle of the park.
The man from Inverness is only 25 and as a midfielder is just barely reaching his peak right now. This is pinpointed by his attacking stats – 7 goals in 35 games two years ago, 4 in 25 last season and now 11 in 23 – showing obvious improvement in that department. This is key not just in what he can produce for Celtic, but also because part of the strategy for Scottish Premiership clubs these days is to be able to sell players on for a profit.
To do that, they need to ensure they sell the players at peak price. Too early and they aren’t valuable enough, too late and they could be over the hill and of no use to anyone. Should Celtic lose Armstrong now, they will likely bring in a couple of million but it’s clear that in another two seasons, he will be worth a fair bit more than what he is now.
Clubs around the world in Celtic’s position have one danger in common; complacency. Should the board not do enough to tie Armstrong down, they will be losing one of the better midfielders they’ve had in recent years with no guarantee of a quality replacement. For their part, Rangers will do all they can to bring in better quality players each season. The minimum that Celtic must do is to keep hold of their current stars.