Ask any Celtic fan what positions we most need to strengthen ahead of the new season and they’re likely to say a creative midfielder and a centre forward. But, with such a promising youth set-up, is it necessary to spend big on improving these areas of the side? I believe in Dylan McGeouch, Tom Rogic and Tony Watt we could have the answers to some of our problems staring us in the face already.
When McGeouch was brought back to paradise from across the city it was reported as a real coup for Celtic, with Neil Lennon personally visiting him and his family to convince him to come home. He was described as a wonderkid who was the Ibrox side’s most promising prospect and despite Walter Smith’s pleads for him to stay, he knew where he belonged. However, two years on and with fewer than 20 league appearances to his name, it’s fair to say we’ve yet to see the best from young Dylan. Injuries have been a constant disruption for him, none more so than in the pre-season friendly vs Real Madrid last season. What seemed an innocuous clash became a horror injury which left him lying unconscious on the field for several minutes after shining as arguably Celtic’s best player against the superstars of Madrid. We have of course seen other glimpses of his talent such as his superb solo goal against St Mirren, but at the age of 20 and with Celtic hopefully competing on domestic and European fronts this season it could be time for Dylan to star. If Neil Lennon can fit him into his preferred role in the middle of the park, especially in the cup competitions or Scottish Premiership (not a fan of this rebranding!) games where the squad is rotated then I believe this could be a real breakthrough season for Dylan to showcase his ability to the fans.
Tony Watt will always be remembered for one thing. It almost doesn’t need a mention, but after latching onto an incredible mistake by Xavi to rifle past Valdes, Tony Watt sent Celtic fans across the world into disbelief. That moment could well turn out to be the highlight of Tony’s career, however that is no bad thing as some would have you believe. How many 18 year olds score a winner against one of the best teams ever, on their clubs 125thanniversary, in a packed out stadium, in the Champions League? Not many, that’s for sure. That night is something for Tony Watt to cherish but also to spur him on to greatness. The ability is definitely there. Tony is quick, strong, skilful and is a very good finisher. The expectations after that night may have weighed on his shoulders for the remainder of last season, with his performances not reaching those heady heights again. But, if given a run in the side and allowed the time to progress by the fans, we could see a big year ahead for Watt. I think his personal aim for the year will be anywhere between 10-15 league goals which is definitely achievable and would be a great return for a 19/20 year old striker at a club like Celtic. His debut, the Barcelona performance, and his goal scoring record for Scotland under-21s have shown us all that the potential is there and now, with Hooper gone, it could be time for Tony Watt to stake his claim as Celtic’s top centre forward for years to come.
X-factor style football competitions such as Football’s Next Star have, ironically, yet to discover any real talents, but in Nike’s The Chance there appeared to be much more hope of unearthing something special. With their reputation as a global sports brand, Nike scoured the corners of the Earth in search of a new star and found Australia’s Tom Rogic. After a couple of years showcasing his skill in Oz Neil Lennon gave Rogic his big break in European football with a move to Celtic in January. Joining a new side midway through the season can always be a struggle for a player, none more so than a twenty year old travelling across the globe to settle in a new country. Now though, after 6 months in Glasgow and with a handful of first team appearances to his name, including a man of the match debut up in Inverness, Tom is ready and raring to show everyone what he can do. With a style of play not dissimilar to Moussa Dembele, Tom Rogic appears to have that rare ability to glide past players effortlessly. Only Nakamura has come close to replicating the skill and vision of Lubo Moravcik in recent years, and now if he can fulfil his potential we could be looking at the new creative talisman of our side for a long time to come. I believe we will see massive strides of improvement from Tom throughout the season and if he can cement a place in the team I predict him to be a real standout player this year.
Players between the ages of 18-22 frequently struggle to maintain a high level of form throughout the campaign, especially if their season is disrupted by injuries as is so often the case. But if given enough game time without too much pressure applied to them we could be about to see big things from these three youngsters. Signings will, of course, still be necessary. As I said too much pressure and expectations can be a massive hindrance on a young footballer, but with Celtic, hopefully, about to be competing on four fronts again this season, the squad will need to be rotated, and cup matches or home games against lower table sides could give these bhoys the perfect platform to showcase their talents and stake their claim for a permanent place in the side.
Even with the loss of Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper, it is an exciting time ahead for Celtic, and after a brief off season I am eagerly awaiting the new campaign getting into full swing.