For many in the Celtic squad, they’ll be well used to the ruthlessness of pre-season. But for Armstrong Oko-Flex, this season granted him his first ever pre-season training camp as a professional footballer.
Neil Lennon wasn’t scared to put his faith in the youth players towards the end of last season. Once again, he chose to give plenty even more opportunities to impress for the trip to Austria and Switzerland too. The likes of Oko-Flex, Karamoko Dembele, Jack Aitchison, and Liam Morrison were all on the flight as they geared up for the season ahead.
But just what was it like for a player as inexperienced as Oko-Flex to be prepping hard with the first-team Bhoys? Well, speaking in the Celtic View (Volume 55, Issue 1, page 30), the young attacker opened up on his thoughts on the experience.
“The summer training camp was great, it was really intensive. Honestly, it was crazy how hot it was out there. It was so hot, and it was hard to breathe out there at times. You might not consider Austria as one of the hotter countries, I didn’t before we went out, but we were out there in hear over 30 degrees and there was no wind.
“Even a simple passing drill becomes harder when the conditions are like that, but that only makes you raise your game higher than ever. But every training session is also a chance for me to show the manager what I’ve got. It’s a chance to show that I deserve to be in the mix and I’ve got to push on.
“The boys coming back from internationals meant we had a full first-team squad, which was great for us young ones – training with the likes of James Forrest, Callum McGregorr, Nir Bitton, all of those guys – and we learnt from them every single day. The younger boys coming up know that we need to work hard and perform at their level.”
Armstrong Oko-Flex set for a big individual season?
Oko-Flex can be seriously proud of his pre-season efforts this term. He managed to bag a half against Pinkafeld, and grabbed his first Celtic goal in the process. It was humble surroundings for a talent of his level, but he rose to the challenge.
But that’s all very well and good doing it in pre-season. Now, it remains to be seen as to when Lennon gives Oko-Flex his first competitive game for the Hoops. Brendan Rodgers selected him for the bench against Kilmarnock back in February. He’s yet to actually make an appearance in a meaningful game.
That should change this season, although throwing too much at him too quickly will likely be avoided. A few appearances here and there and Oko-Flex can consider it a successful campaign.
One of the big question marks going on in his mind should be about what’s happening with the reserves/development team, however. Celtic’s Head of Youth Development Chris McCart has already confirmed we won’t be competing in the Reserve League next season (The Scotsman). Plans for next season haven’t yet been touched upon to the supporters.
The development squad is still likely to be Oko-Flex’s main port of call this season. But after an impressive pre-season run with the first-team, hopefully, he can start making a small impact with the senior boys here and there.