Celtic's young options should consider loan moves: here's who and why
Celtic manager Neil Lennon is under all kind of pressure.
A dismal run, which has seen Celtic win twice in 12 games, has left Lennon on the brink as his team continue to underperform. During that time, a regular cast of misfiring Bhoys have become undroppable to Lennon, for whatever reason.
Despite varying degrees of performance in 20-21, Scott Brown, Kristoffer Ajer and Callum McGregor seemed nailed-on for starts in every game Celtic play at the moment. While their reputations are solid, they’ve been patchy at best so far this season.
Brown, particularly, has struggled. Yet, Ismaila Soro and David Turnbull warm the bench.
Further down the pecking order, there are Celtic youngsters crying out for opportunities. Here’s who the club should loan out, and where they should go.
The criteria here are ‘likelihood’, ‘chance of first team minutes’ and ‘development’. Fine; it’s not scientific.
Our picks: Dunfermline Athletic, Raith Rovers
Cameron Harper is an exciting talent. The Sacramento-born Celtic youngster is nominally a winger, but as his goalscoring exploits show (Glasgow Live), he’s a dynamic wide player who can cut inside and take chances.
Harper has been nearing the first-team squad, making the bench and impressing fans with his enterprising attacking play. He scored twice against Rangers in The Glasgow Cup on Monday.
While there are shouts for him to make the first team, especially with wide players like Mikey Johnston and James Forrest missing, it’d be brilliant to see Harper make the step up. With his in-house development on track by all accounts, he’s nearly ready.
However, I don’t get the sense that Lennon would risk starting the US youth player any time soon. A loan spell in the Championship for the second half of the season might do him the world of good.
Sure, he might attract bottom six teams in the top tier, but for me, holding down in a place for a promotion battler a step down the pyramid would be just what Harper needs. He’d have a litany of goalscoring opportunities, and be part of a winning culture immediately.
That’s why Dunfermline Athletic and Raith Rovers fit the bill. Going into the New Year, the two look likely to remain in the top 4 behind Hearts, and Harper getting the chance to secure a historic promotion would do his reputation and confidence the world of good.
He’s clearly a player with enormous potential, and Celtic would probably benefit from having him around. That said, I don’t see that happening. Let him get some first-team football at a good level under his belt, and next season we could have a player who’s ready for the big occasions.
Position: central midfielder
Our picks: Preston North End, Birmingham City
Luca Connell is another Celtic youngster who has lit up Colt games in recent weeks. Signed from Bolton Wanderers for “substantially more than the financial obligations in Luca’s contract” (Daily Record), there was a real sense of anticipation in the support when he signed.
The Liverpudlian Irish international plays predominantly as a central or defensive midfielder, but also has experience on the left-side of the pitch.
Connell has not been able to break into the first team, and his position is perhaps the most competitive at the club. Immediately ahead of him are Ewan Henderson, Ismaila Soro, David Turnbull, Olivier Ntcham, Scott Brown and Callum McGregor.
Therefore, it’s unlikely Connell’s development can be aided at Celtic in the near future, in terms of first-team football. He’s a quality player in the making though, so a temporary return to England might do the trick.
With experience in the Championship (Transfermarkt), the 19-year-old could battle for a place at one of Preston North End or Birmingham City.
Both clubs occupy bottom-half places in the league, with Birmingham City struggling to replace the creativity of BVB starlet Jude Bellingham.
Preston, meanwhile, would benefit from improved service to Tom Barkhuizen and former Bhoy Scott Sinclair on the wings. Their assist leader so far this season is Daniel Johnson, with a whopping 2 goals created (WhoScored?).
Connell could immediately improve both sides, and lay a claim to a first-team berth at Celtic going forward. Helping two historic English clubs secure a more impressive finish in the second-tier would do his international selection chances a great deal of help, too.
Position: central midfielder
Our picks: Greenock Morton, Partick Thistle
Weirdly, there aren’t any pictures of Ewan Otoo on Getty Images. Maybe that’s an argument in itself for a loan move.
Ewan Otoo is another central midfielder who continues to impress in the Celtic academy. The Ghanaian-born Scotland youngster is only contracted until the summer, and a loan spell away from Lennoxtown would surely help him secure an extension with the Bhoys.
Another youth product who has impressed for the Celtic Colts this season, Otoo is a good passer of the ball. He can dictate the tempo of a match through his reading of the game, and needs more chances to shine.
Therefore, we think he’d thrive at either Greenock Morton in the Championship, or at Partick Thistle in the tier below. A local-ish move for the young midfielder would mean he might still be available for Celtic Colts/Reserve matches, and two games a week would hasten his development to no end.
At Greenock Morton, he would be looking to maintain the side’s status in the league. Morton are on their own bad run of form, having last picked up a win against Ayr United on Hallowe’en (WhoScored?).
Alternatively, a team like Partick Thistle, who are attempting to restore their damaged reputation, would see Otoo battling Stuart Bannigan and Blair Spittal for minutes in Maryhill. Either option would represent good business for club and player.
As discussed, it’s a contract year for Otoo. There aren’t any prevailing signs that the youngster will be let go, but a spell away from Lennoxtown to play first-team football while being within driving distance of the facilities at Celtic would really help the midfielder.