How Olivier Ntcham could revitalise Celtic career under a new manager

By Euan Davidson

March 31, 2021

Olivier Ntcham is unlikely to be at Marseille next season – long story short, it hasn’t worked out.

The French midfielder arrived to chaos. In Marseille’s hurry to get business, any business, done before the January window closed, they rushed an ill-advised signing. Under new boss Jorge Sampaoli, things haven’t been any better for the ex-Genoa man.

It’s just all gone wrong for the midfielder. He might’ve even burnt his bridges in Glasgow on his way out. Upon his arrival in Marseille, Ntcham said [RMC]:

“Whether the situation is good or bad, it is Marseille, that cannot be refused.

“It is like when Barça or Real call you, [you don’t] refuse. As a Frenchman, it’s Marseille. I can’t say no to Marseille to stay in Scotland, for example.”

In hindsight, it could’ve been refused. He’s managed just 119 minutes of action in Ligue 1 so far – hardly the first-team action he needed by going on loan.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s not all over at Celtic for Olivier Ntcham. Yes, he’s unpopular with supporters at the moment, but he’s been held in enormous esteem before now. Given the fluctuations in a career playing football, it’s not impossible to imagine a new manager might see him as a key asset.

Olivier Ntcham in action for Marseille / (Photo by ROMAIN PERROCHEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

A possession-based Celtic manager might utilise Olivier Ntcham

The story of Ntcham is a mysterious one. You get the sense that when he’s played in the correct position, and he’s happy, he’s one of our most talented players. His technical ability isn’t in question. Furthermore, he would surely have been punted earlier – for a profit – if he didn’t train well.

The perception around Ntcham is that he’s a sulker, someone who doesn’t put a shift in often enough. I’m normally weary of those kinds of comments, but the Frenchman can go missing in games, to the naked eye.

But surely if we can’t make a profit on him, and Ntcham realises the grass isn’t always greener (as is the case now), it might be worth trying again? A manager who affords some creative freedom to a midfield player like Ntcham could get the best out of him.

He’s not going to be your number 1 tackler, or someone who readily wins the ball back multiple times a match. He’s a creative midfield force, who likes to float around in half-spaces, engineer key passes and when there’s space, open up for a shot. An attacking midfielder, yes, but not necessarily a 10, either.

That’s confusing and it makes Ntcham tricky to utilise effectively. To my view, you would need to base your midfield around both his talents and his deficiencies, and it’s not clear if a manager would want to do that. But we’ve seen how good he can be, especially under Brendan Rodgers and in Lennon’s first season, to some degree.

Would a new manager find Ntcham an exciting challenge? / (Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Getty Images)

Worth another go?

A Lucien Favre type – namely Lucien Favre – might really like what Ntcham brings to a midfield. Like Gio Reyna at BVB, Ntcham is a naturally attacking player who prefers to start deeper and drift into pockets of space. Or, Eddie Howe: the analysis here [Coaches’ Voice] on Phillip Billing’s role at Bournemouth has parallels.

Mercurial talent can be as thrilling as it is frustrating. We’ve had other players with exceptional talent who could be accused of phoning it in. It’s forgotten now, but Shunsuke Nakamura was sometimes criticised for this. Georgios Samaras, as fantastic as he could be, could have us tearing hair out.

The next Celtic manager has a big job to do with this Celtic squad, no question. Don’t completely rule out Ntcham being part of their plans next season.

For a little patience, we could be richly rewarded. You can bet that after his Marseille horror-show, Olivier Ntcham will be motivated to make amends.

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