Celtic prospect Conor Hazard and his new contract allows club to explore bold options next season
So, Celtic youngster Conor Hazard agreed a new deal earlier this month.
That’s very good news. Hazard has proven his ability in flashes during Celtic’s ongoing goalkeeping crisis. Thrown in under the cloud of Barkas/Bain debate, his potential as a shot-stopper and commanding presence has been visible to anyone watching.
Yes, there’s still a heck of a lot Hazard needs to improve upon. Defending aerial balls has been an issue, as displayed in the Scottish Cup Final [BBC]. It seems incredibly harsh to criticise him for that match. After all, he became a significant part of Celtic history by helping the Bhoys to complete a Quadruple Treble. His penalty saves were colossal.
But there’s a solid argument in suggesting that if Hazard had shown more command of his area against Hearts, we wouldn’t have needed penalties. Still very young by goalkeeping standards, Hazard has, again, much work to do.
However, it’s enormously encouraging that he signed a new deal. Supporters have watched youngsters like Cameron Harper agree Bosman moves elsewhere. Hazard bucked a worrying trend, and should be at the club for years to come. He is, though, at a crossroads, and the summer will be an enormous moment for him.
That’s because he needs to decide whether to battle for the number 1 jersey under a new manager, or build upon his fledgling reputation elsewhere.
Conor Hazard doesn’t know Celtic role with rebuild ahead
The goalkeeping situation at Celtic has been bizarre. We all know this, but it’s worth looking at again.
Even though Hazard’s heroics helped Celtic to the Quadruple Treble, Neil Lennon seemed to almost instantly lose faith in the Irish keeper. With Barkas’ situation causing similar confusion, Scott Bain has largely been preferred since the turn of the year.
Bain isn’t the most popular man amongst the Celtic support. At the weekend, he kept a clean sheet against Dundee United. His most notable save utilised his face, resulting in a bloody nose but a 0-0 scoreline. Bain is decent, sure, but it’s incredibly unlikely that he’ll be the club’s number 1 going forward.
So where does that leave Conor Hazard? It’s incredibly hard to tell.
On merit, he deserves another chance this season. John Kennedy is still figuring out his best XI, but has shown faith in Scotts Brown and Bain, much to the confusion of supporters. With a rebuild surely on the way, it’s important for Hazard to know right away what kind of role he’ll have next season.
Obviously, without a Director of Football in place, that’s tricky. Add in the departure of Peter Lawwell, and his situation becomes even more unclear.
At this point, it seems unlikely that he’ll be Celtic’s number 1 next season. So, that leaves a big decision to be made.
On the road again?
Hazard has already enjoyed loan spells elsewhere. There’s an ongoing situation that would be absolutely perfect for him, and it involves Israeli international Ofir Marciano.
Marciano is going to leave Edinburgh in the summer, but is settled in Scotland. That’s led to very obvious and reasonable speculation regarding a Celtic move for the shot-stopper, who’s been solid for club and country in 20-21. With Hibs facing a goalkeeping crisis of their own, they may well look to bring in Hazard.
And that’s absolutely the right move for the Irish keeper. Under Jack Ross, he’ll no doubt garner much-needed experience. In the Premiership, Hibs concede a whopping 11.3 shots per game [WhoScored?]. Even with defensive talents like Josh Doig and Ryan Porteous, the club challenging for third give a lot of opportunities away.
If there’s a more perfect scenario for Hazard to develop in the top-tier of Scottish football, we’re yet to see it. Equally, Dundee United face uncertainty over Benjamin Siegrist. The Terriers will face plenty of shots provided they continue in the Scottish Premiership next season.
So, if Celtic decide to loan out Hazard, it’s probably a wise choice. That’s provided the cards fall Hazard’s way, and he’s presented with the best possible opportunity to develop. He’ll be fighting for a long-term berth but a goalkeeper’s career is long. He has plenty of time.
For now, his challenge is supersede Scott Bain. If John Kennedy is looking to Celtic’s future, he’d do well to give the youngster another go for the time being.
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