Celtic are currently unbeaten in the Premiership, yet the humbling manner of their Champions League elimination has served only to reinforce the feeling that the club hierarchy did not do enough in the summer to improve the team following the departures of key players Gary Hooper, Kelvin Wilson and Victor Wanyama.
The Scottish champions saved around £12 million more than the £9.5 million they spent during the summer transfer window, so presumably there is money available. The question is: Will they spend it now that they're out of Europe?
Recent trends suggest that the most the club will part with for a single player is around £3 million. Not since July 2009, when Marc-Antoine Fortune arrived from AS Nancy for £3.8 million, have the Hoops spent over that amount on one player.
So, what can Celtic add to augment their current squad this January?
A Creative Midfielder
For too long now the Hoops have placed the burden of midfield creativity squarely on the shoulders of Kris Commons.
The former Scotland international virtually carries the team domestically at times, with his mountain of goals from midfield (17 already this season) and sizeable number of assists making him Celtic's standout player of the past three years.
He does struggle in Europe, however, and Celtic have been crying out for a player with genuine flair and creative qualities since Shunsuke Nakamura departed for Espanyol in 2010.
Nakamura was a £3.7 million find from then-Serie A side Reggina in 2006. If someone with even close to the Japanese superstar's technical ability was to be brought in, then the club would surely reap the benefits in one of the areas they are most found lacking in Europe: their ability to keep the ball in the final third.
Anthony Stokes' goal away at St Mirren on Sunday marked only the fourth time an out-and-out striker has scored for Celtic since the end of October.
With four strikers currently active in the senior squad—Stokes, Teemu Pukki, Amido Balde and Bahrudin Atajic—as well as two out on loan in Mohamed Bangura and Tony Watt, the addition of another will probably necessitate one or more being let go first.
None of these players, however, have suggested this season that they are able to fill the goalscoring gap left by Hooper.
Icelandic under-21 international Holmbert Fridjonsson has still to appear for the Hoops, having only become available on January 1—yet the signing of the 20-year-old is similar to the roles of Balde, Watt and Atajic in that he is viewed as "one for the future."
Prolific Heerenveen striker Alfred Finnbogason has been a potential target for the champions since the summer, with the Daily Record reporting as recently as Christmas time that Neil Lennon travelled to the Netherlands to scout the Iceland international. With a host of clubs around Europe interested, however, it'd take a substantial amount of money to secure his signature.
A Defensive Midfielder
Celtic have plenty of central midfielders; even with the suggestion of Joe Ledley's departure as contract discussions drag on, they are well-stocked in that area of the field.
What they don't have is Wanyama.
The big Kenyan was a colossus for the Parkhead side in Europe last season, and he's arguably been missed on that stage more than Hooper.
Scott Brown and Ledley are both capable, at times standout, players, but they are a different breed to the youngster. The captain and the Welshman can be characterised as box-to-box players, while Wanyama—although certainly capable of that role—distinguished himself in defensive midfield during Celtic's Champions League campaign last season; everything went through him at the heart of the team's play, and he chipped in with important goals as well.
The signing of Nir Biton hasn't worked out yet and Beram Kayal continues to be but a pale imitation of his former self, meaning Charlie Mulgrew has been shifted to the defensive midfield position at times this term. The Scot may have performed admirably there, but he is no Wanyama.
Not as shocking as it first sounds.
No team wants to lose their best players, even those with a buy-to-sell policy such as Celtic. And anyway—the 25-year-old has already told the Daily Record he doesn't want to leave this month.
Nevertheless, with Forster's star still rising, several top clubs lurking and an England call-up for the World Cup this summer increasingly likely, it is no longer a question of "if," but "when," they sell their No. 1.
The argument for letting him go this month is surprisingly strong: An inflated January market for desperate, underperforming teams could bank the club cash to strengthen early for the impending Champions League qualifiers in the summer.
Bringing a new goalkeeper in now would also allow the player time to settle, and time for Lennon to bed him into the squad before the qualifiers, eliminating the chance of getting caught cold in that department if Forster departs after the World Cup.
Likewise, the case for waiting is just as convincing—another five months of a solid, familiar presence between the sticks is something a lot of clubs covet. Moreover, if Forster is included in the England World Cup squad, his value could soar, earning the club more money.
Ultimately what the board, and the fans, must ask themselves is this: Would they rather hold on to the big goalie for a few more months, in the hope that when he does leave it is after the World Cup and his value has risen? Or let him leave earlier, for potentially less money, but in doing so allow themselves the time to bed in a new keeper for the Champions League qualifiers?