Are Celtic youngsters about to be much more involved in the first-team? The headline on the official website today screams “Ange Postecoglou: Academy Bhoys can be key to Celtic’s future success”.
It’s quite the bold statement considering the last couple of seasons at the club under Neil Lennon.
Youth development hasn’t exactly been high on the agenda. That was even true this season when it became clear our season was effectively over in February.
John Kennedy only improved things in the very closing stages of the season but even after a bit of excitement from Adam Montgomery and Karamoko Dembele, they were right back on the bench.
From the start, it seems that Postecoglou will be intent on improving the young players we already have at Lennoxtown.
He said today: “I’m a big believer that, if you can produce homegrown talent and players who have come through the club, there’s extra meaning to represent that football club for the player. For the supporters, they see one of their own out there and I think that’s very important.
“The first step of that is to make sure the talent is being produced and nurtured at the club. I want to get really involved in the Academy process and see where they’re at. They’ve produced some fantastic footballers in recent times.
“My job is to give those footballers an opportunity and make them realise their potential. For me, age is irrelevant, it’s about players who are really ambitious and want to produce something special. Our careers all come to an end at some stage, but if you can produce something that lasts well beyond your career then it makes everything you’ve done worthwhile.”
So, who could be involved in the first-team from the off? Who can make a big impact this summer and live up to Postecoglou’s bold promise?
Leo Hjelde a good example of youngsters at Celtic
The hype building around Hjelde kicked into high gear when his loan manager, and former Celtic man, John Hughes compared him to Virgil van Dijk.
That’s a lot to put on a 17-year-old’s shoulders, but in fairness to Hughes and Hjelde, he didn’t disappoint in the Highlands.
He performed well over 12 appearances in all competitions last season. It’s a vital experience ahead of a first-team tilt this summer.
That’s something Hughes thinks he is capable of too. He also said he won’t be far away from our senior side next season.
With Kristoffer Ajer heading out the door and Hjelde of capable of playing both centrally and on the left flank of defence, big opportunities await under a manager giving youth a chance.
Karamoko Dembele’s chance to live up to the hype
13-year-old Karamoko Dembele having a bit of craic with his teammates before making his debut for Celtic U20s. pic.twitter.com/isJgcD6qqw
— Liam O'Hare (@Liam_O_Hare) October 3, 2016
It’s likely he’s even already on the radar of a knowledgable manager such as Ange Postecoglou.
Dembele is already on the fringes of the first-team. He even scored his first senior professional goal for the club against St Johnstone last month.
Again, like Hjelde, he plays in a position where Celtic are already weak. Postecoglou doesn’t have a mountain of wide attacking players to choose from heading into the new season.
If he’s intent on giving teenagers such as Dembele a chance, he has a massive opportunity ahead of him. It may well be the thing that keeps him at Celtic, with just a year left on his contract.
Free Luca Connell
Connell hasn’t even made a competitive debut for Celtic, yet already has his supporters. From the fleeting glimpses we’ve had during friendlies and his loan spell at Queen’s Park, he’s a player that looks to possess composure, creativity and wicked set-piece delivery.
The Republic of Ireland youth international is hungry for more opportunities. He’s even been told by his national team coaches that he has to find a place that will give him regular week-to-week football.
That’ll be difficult at Celtic of course. Our central options are multiple, or, at least were. Scott Brown has already left and Olivier Ntcham will no doubt be joining him soon.
With Ryan Christie also edging towards the exit door, giving Connell a look doesn’t seem like the worst idea.
Scott Robertson perhaps best placed of all Celtic youngsters
Of all our youngsters who were sent out on loan last season, it seemed that Robertson had the most productive time.
Playing regularly in English League One, the FA Cup and League Cup, Robertson got the kind of experience at Gillingham and Doncaster Rovers that served Callum McGregor so well at Notts County before his Celtic breakthrough.
Now 19, he is well placed to compete for a spot in the senior squad next term.
Celtic’s pathway from academy to first-team hasn’t been great recently but it always felt like they at least had a long-term plan for Robertson.
If that’s the case then he could well be the first in line for a chance under our new manager.