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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

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Mowbray adopts scorched-earth transfer policy

Tony Mowbray is clearly determined to stand or fall on his own choices while he is in charge of Celtic. All through January, Mowbray has operated a whirling-door policy at the club, to the extent that his personnel changes have started to resemble the line-up of Spinal Tap.

As the clock ticked down to the end of the transfer window on Monday, the movement carried on. Diomansy Kamara and Edson Braafheid arrived, both on loan, from Fulham and Bayern Munich respectively, while teenaged Motherwell midfielder Paul Slane has signed a four-year deal, which, though it wasn't entirely surprising, has drawn an angry reaction from the Fir Park chairman, John Boyle.

However, the cherry on the parfait, delivered at the 11th hour, came with the news that Tottenham's talismanic striker, Robbie Keane, has elected to join Mowbray's side for the remainder of the season. This has provoked a delighted reaction from Celtic supporters, who will be hoping that he rather fares better for the Hoops than his namesake, Roy, who linked up with the Glasgow club towards the end of his career.

In the opposite direction, meanwhile, Danny Fox has moved to Burnley, Stephen McManus and Scott McDonald have joined Middlesbrough, goalkeeper Mark Brown has gone to Hibs, and Graham Carey has been signed on a temporary transfer by St Mirren.

Given this incessant whirl of activity and the fact that, even before these developments, six of Mowbray's signings started for Celtic against Hamilton at New Douglas Park on Saturday - with a seventh, Morten Rasmussen, coming on and scoring the winning goal in the 67th minute - we can deduce that the Celtic boss isn't going to hang around to exorcise the memory of his predecessor, Gordon Strachan, and that if he doesn't rate a particular player - with the emphasis principally on McDonald - he is not going to be swayed in his judgments by anything they might do on the pitch.

It could be interpreted as firm leadership, and the smack of sound governance, as he strives to patch up a defence that had been leaking like a sieve in the first half of the SPL season. Or it could be that Mowbray is indulging in a bout of panic buying. Time will tell.

A couple of issues need addressing, though, and the first is whether the Englishman has already sub-consciously written off this year's title bid and is planning for the longer term. Naturally, he won't admit this in public, and for as long as the gap between Celtic and Rangers remains only seven points - if the Hoops win their game in hand - Mowbray will argue that his Glasgow rivals can be overhauled in the months ahead, particularly considering that the Old Firm still have to meet twice in the SPL.

Yet such is the scale of the rebuilding programme he has undertaken that it is difficult to envisage all these new players gelling as he would desire immediately, or even in the space of two or three weeks. He hasn't just tinkered with his squad: he has effectively torn up his team sheet and pulled out a fresh piece of paper, and it's hard to recall an instance where similar wholesale reconstruction didn't create some initial teething problems.

On a positive note, though, the recruitment of an international-class striker such as Keane, alongside such extrovert individuals as Dutch central defender Jos Hooiveld and the imposing Rasmussen, should inject some much-needed pizzazz into the SPL. It might be stretching credibility to suggest that these individuals will be able to flick a switch and erase the memory of all Celtic's travails in the last six months, but Rangers supporters ought to be worried by the splurge of transfer activity, which contrasted starkly with the absence of anything positive emanating from Ibrox as the deadline beckoned. However, questions remain. Fox's departure seems puzzling - he has only been at Celtic for half a season and had performed with sufficient distinction to consider himself part of the future, but now he has gone. Slane is the opposite - he might well develop into an accomplished, international-class player, and, at 18, has attracted a number of positive reviews, but there are other Motherwell squad members, most notably Jim O'Brien, Ross Forbes and Tom Hateley, who have consistently gained higher plaudits this season.

None of this is designed to denigrate Mowbray's transfer policies, but merely to observe that his scorched-earth strategy carries significant risks. For instance, he has been forced to patch up his defence in recent weeks, during which time Josh Thompson has made a favourable impression, while few Celtic aficionados will lament the exit of McManus and Gary Caldwell. Yet Celtic face a difficult series of matches in February and, if they slip up even once before meeting Rangers on the final day of the month, the title could already be out of their reach.

In which light, one has to wonder whether Mowbray might not have exhibited more patience. As it is, he still has plenty of imponderables: who will he perm from Rasmussen, Georgios Samaras and Marc-Antoine Fortune, particularly now that Keane has entered the equation? Where will Slane fit into a midfield with the likes of Aiden McGeady, Landry N'Guemo and Ki Sung Yueng already scrapping for berths in the centre? And, although the 'hands off' message has worked in preventing anybody from snapping up McGeady this month, will that continue to be the case when the next transfer window opens at the end of the season?

Some of these might be pleasant problems for any manager to grapple with and Keane's acquisition is a genuine coup, at least when one considers his reputation. But Mowbray appreciates better than most that patience tends to be in short supply around the Old Firm. At the start of the SPL season, I thought that Celtic would sweep to the title and wrote as much, whereupon I was accused of having an anti-Rangers bias. Now, having voiced reservations over some of Mowbray's signings, the bile has been flowing in my direction from the Parkhead faithful. Such is life amidst these two Glasgow behemoths. But that applies to managers just as much as it does to journalists.

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