Celtic’s new recruit Amido Baldé perfectly fits the profile of a number 9, something the club has been craving for a while. The absence of such a figure has been particularly noted in European games, where a target man who can hold the ball up is a valuable asset for any team, but especially those who may find themselves pegged back for large periods.
Baldé has all the physical attributes to play this role. Strong and towering at 6ft 4in, he thrives on aerial balls and physical duels. He also knows how to use his physique and can protect the ball well. His technique might not be the best, and he can appear somewhat ungainly at times, but – to reluctantly paraphrase a cliché – he has decent feet for a man of his size.
His work rate is another quality that was appreciated at Vitória Guimarães, where he was part of a talented young team. Two of his former teammates (Ricardito and Tiago Rodrigues) have recently been snapped up by FC Porto, while another (Soudani) escaped Celtic’s advances to sign for Dinamo Zagreb. Between them, Baldé and Soudani scored half of Vitória Guimarães’ Liga goals in 2012/13 with nine apiece. When contextualised in this manner, Baldé’s goal tally, which many Celtic fans have scoffed at, appears more impressive.
Another gripe Celtic fans have had with Baldé relates to the infamous ‘Gary Hoo?’ headline in a Scottish tabloid. It might put their minds at ease to know that Baldé later told the Portuguese media that he had never spoken to the British press. Indeed, allegations of arrogance would come as a surprise to Guimarães fans, who at the Taça de Portugal (Portuguese Cup) final had a banner praising the joy and humility with which he represented their club.
Furthermore, in comments made to Portuguese reporters before departing for Glasgow, Baldé came across as ambitious yet grounded, and as a family man who is truly grateful for the opportunities he has had thus far in his short career, but hugely determined to make a lot more of himself.
Potential is the key word with Baldé, as it is in the case of many of Celtic’s signings in the last few years. Herein lies the risk and excitement of a transfer policy that allows the club to be financially self-sufficient and equipped to deal with missing out on Champions League football, while simultaneously trying to build a squad that can compete in it. It is a perpetual balancing act that requires calculated risk-taking.
Baldé is a gamble. Of course he is. He is just 22 years old and has really only had one successful season as a professional. This past year at Guimarães has seen his stock rise exponentially, evidenced by the fact that last summer Sporting Clube de Portugal let him join the Minho club in return for nothing more than 10% of a future transfer fee. This was despite Sporting being short of cover for first-choice centre forward Ricky Van Wolfswinkel.
Celtic will naturally hope that the former Portugal youth international continues to progress; the player himself is certainly determined to do so and has designs on a place in the senior national team. If he achieves that dream then Celtic will be sure to make a tidy profit on their outlay of circa €2 million.
Baldé’s talent has been recognised by Portuguese online football journal Maisfutebol who named him in their 2012/13 XI of promising under-23 players in the Liga. Celtic, who have watched him various times over the course of the season, obviously saw something too and have done well to get the transfer wrapped up early. It’s smart business, regardless of what competition they may or may not have faced for the Guinea-Bissau-born forward’s signature.
Talk of advances from English Premier League clubs may have been little more than a ploy by Baldé’s agent Paulo Rodrigues, and reported attention from Hamburg never materialised into anything more concrete, but that’s not to say that other clubs wouldn’t have soon become interested or pursed the striker later in the summer. Incidentally, Rodrigues’ failed tactic to entice overtures from Newcastle was to post a video of his client to the club’s official Facebook page – is that how agents work these days?
Speaking of tactics, Celtic fans might be wondering how to get the best out of their new centre forward. At Guimarães he played as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but the aforementioned Soudani, nominally a left winger, tended to play close to Baldé to bring more mobility to the attack. What Neil Lennon has in mind for his new forward remains to be seen, but he could be used in a front two, providing the foil for a goalscorer like Anthony Stokes, or as the focal point of the attack with a second striker playing off him, or a number 10, such as Kris Commons, playing just behind.
Baldé will undoubtedly offer a big threat from set pieces and be a real handful for defenders. His manager while he was on loan at Cercle Brugge, Bob Peeters, has tipped him to do well in British football and likened his style to that of Lukaku. The player himself, meanwhile, suggested Adebayor as a point of reference, and he has also been compared to Braga’s Éder.
We shouldn’t read too much into these comparisons, but they do serve as an indication of what we already know, namely that Celtic have acquired a powerful striker. It’s important that he is allowed to settle and adapt in Scotland, but, given the right service, Amido Baldé could thrive at Celtic. He will certainly bring a dimension to the Bhoys’ attack that has been missing for some time.