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Danny Stewart: Barkas could have been a star at Celtic, but the keeper just got into the wrong movie

© SNS GroupVasilis Barkas has had a troubled time at Celtic
Vasilis Barkas has had a troubled time at Celtic

As busy as he is, it is tempting to imagine the Postecoglou family sticking Ange on the weekly shopping run.

If the Celtic manager’s success in the transfer market is anything to go by, the strategy could see them dining royally off even the most-staple ingredients.

The credit earned by Kyogo Furuhashi’s startling success since joining the Hoops in the summer was boosted last Tuesday night by Reo Hatate’s Man-of-the-Match debut against Hibs.

With fellow debutants Daizen Maeda – a scorer after just four minutes in the 2-0 win – and Yosuke Ideguchi also making a smooth introduction, the Australian is in danger of making the signing of decent players look easy.

Which, of course, it is not.

Giorgos Giakoumakis, another of Postecoglou’s recruitments, has had a more difficult time of things since joining from VVV Venlo for £2.5-million in the summer.

However, his struggles pale into insignificance when compared to those of the striker’s club-mate and fellow Greek internationalist, Vasilis Barkas.

Signed by Postecoglou’s predecessor, Neil Lennon, for £4.5m in the summer of 2020, he was given a four-year deal worth around £20,000-a-week.

Hefty rewards carry serious expectations and, in this case, the departures of Fraser Forster, back to Southampton at the end of his loan, and Craig Gordon to Hearts had left him with big gloves to fill.

Barkas spoke then of not feeling under any price-tag pressure because: “It is normal for prices to go up and up”.

Since when, of course, his has gone down and down.

One of the men culpable in the car crash that was Celtic’s 2020-21 campaign, he played just 15 games last season, and has managed just two competitive appearances under the current manager.

A Champions League qualifier against Midtjylland looked the ideal platform to push his claims – but he again looked suspect at the Danes’ goal and was an unused sub for the return.

His display in a friendly against West Ham was similarly underwhelming. He had conceded three goals by the time Scott Bain replaced him at half-time, and the Greek’s chance was blown.

Since then, Barkas’ only turn has been on Boxing Day in the 3-1 win against St Johnstone.

That came in the midst of a hectic run of fixtures. So it is likely Postecoglou lifted him out of the “reduced” section of the supermarket, but ready to shift him out the door – all reasonable offers considered.

Last Monday, back-up Bain was awarded a contract extension that will keep him at Celtic Park until 2024.

And with Joe Hart first choice, Conor Hazard on loan in Finland to gain experience and 18-year-old, Tobi Oluwayemi, brought in to train with the first-team, it is time for Barkas to move on.

It all looked very different when he was recruited, looking the dictionary definition of a good-bet-to-succeed.

Netherlands-born, he had made a strong impression on his 10 international appearances for Greece, and at club level boasted more than 100 games for AEK Athens, with whom he won the title.

Yet while he looked the part – on paper and in person – he completely failed to inspire confidence, with his performances on the pitch, looking nervous and uncertain.

One game – away to Ross County in September, 2020, a couple of months after he was signed – lingers in the memory as evidence things could have worked out differently.

The Hoops ran out 5-0 winners that afternoon, a scoreline that was, bizarrely, no reflection on the run of play. And part of the reason for that was the string of saves pulled off by the visiting keeper.

So why did it go wrong for Barkas?

Without doubt, not all players possess the mental strength and character to succeed at the Old Firm.

The degree of scrutiny is so much higher than at anything they will have experienced before and, in the majority of cases, are likely to encounter again.

That is in normal times. Throw in the additional stresses of trying to make an impression with a new club in a new country in the middle of the pandemic, and it is clear the pressure on Barkas approached unsustainable levels.

Postecoglou has made the point himself, with high wages no shield against the mental-health challenges his players have had to deal with.

It is no coincidence more and more clubs are appointing well-being officers, charged with looking after players at all levels.

As impressive as successes, such as Furuhashi, are, it is the failures that are likely to lead to changes in the way new players are looked after.

With the latest variant of the coronavirus on the decline, the thought some valuable lessons can be learned from a time of lockdown, closed-door games and life in a bubble is a positive one.

Likewise, in years to come, Barkas may be remembered less as an expensive flop, and more as a man temporarily in the wrong movie.