It seemed bemusing at the time – why wouldn’t you let Stephen Welsh go out on loan?
Yes, he had made a solid debut against Hamilton Accies back in February, but the summer looked like being the right time to get him more regular minutes.
Not because he isn’t good enough to make an impact at Celtic this season, but because of the competition he’s up against. He was the sixth-choice centre-back after Shane Duffy’s arrival, sitting behind him, Kris Ajer, Hatem Elhamed, Nir Bitton, and Chris Jullien in the pecking order.
His chances looked limited. Consistent minutes at a rival Premiership club or even a higher-level Championship side looked like the next step in his development.
It’s early days, but already it looks like Celtic have proven us wrong by keeping the young centre-back tied to Parkhead.
Had Welsh been allowed to leave in the summer, Celtic would’ve had absolutely no third-choice centre-back for the game against Rangers on Saturday. Instead, we would’ve had to change the system to a back four and give up width higher up the pitch.
Having Welsh available allowed Celtic to get a taste of playing a three at the back against a higher quality of team. It’s exactly what we needed to continue developing the system. It also allowed the likes of Jeremie Frimpong and Diego Laxalt to push forward, and will continue to do so.
Covid has provided Welsh with his big opening
In addition to that, Covid has shown just how easily it can rip through a position. With Jullien injured for the foreseeable future, Bitton and Elhamed are also still out having tested positive for the virus.
Welsh may be the last resort given his inexperience, but he could be needed a lot more as the campaign goes on. And even if Covid doesn’t strike any of our defenders between now and the end of the season, Celtic have already been proven to be correct in keeping him as a precaution.
Celtic fans are already seeing very quickly that Welsh, a product of the Lennoxtown academy, is good enough to play more regularly this season. If he can get some first-team experience under his belt as the season goes on, it’ll be vital for his development.
Yes, he may feature more consistently over the course of the season at another club, but by staying at Parkhead Welsh is going to get games and be given the chance to seriously bolster his reputation in the eyes of the Hoops support.
He really did answer the call well against Rangers on Saturday. Sure, there were one or two mistakes positionally at times, but he didn’t look out of place. That’s the key point here. He’s adding such vital depth and is clearly capable of competing at this level.
Had Welsh gone down to the Championship, Lennon would have a bit of a defensive crisis on his hands ahead of Milan and Aberdeen. Now, he knows he can keep his preferred system in place whilst giving one of his best young talents opportunities.
Things may change as the season rolls on, but right now you have to say the club have made a fine decision in not allowing Welsh to head off.