"I want him to play": Celtic boss set to gamble on Saturday

By Euan Davidson

December 31, 2020

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has thrown his weight behind Greek international Vasilis Barkas.

Barkas, who played in yesterday’s win over Dundee United, had been out of the team over recent weeks. In his stead, young Irish goalkeeper Conor Hazard has impressed.

In fact, it was Hazard’s penalty heroics which won Celtic the Quadruple Treble.

Still, Lennon brought the Greece no.1 in for £4.5m for the 20-21 season (BBC), and now he’s placing his faith in the former AEK stopper.

Barkas is yet to convince the Celtic supporters of his qualities. He looked particularly suspect in Celtic’s last Glasgow Derby. He looks like a player very much short on confidence, but there’s little doubt there must be a player there.

We’re going to look at both sides of the argument. Feel free to let us know how you see it.


Vasilis Barkas in action for Celtic vs Dundee United / (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)

From a financial perspective, this makes sense for Celtic

Neil Lennon, Peter Lawwell et al won’t want to give any critics a quarter. If Barkas can still come good, then he’s not a significant waste of money.

The same is true of Albian Ajeti, who is yet to hit top form since his £5m move to Celtic Park.

In Barkas’ case, he could quite easily argue that he was the victim of a shaky defence. A goalkeeper can only do so much when they have to face multiple shots per game. When they have Shane Duffy missing interceptions ahead of them, or Kristoffer Ajer failing to win an aerial duel from a corner.

At 26, Barkas is young for a goalie. He could potentially have another 13 years at the top level. Celtic will be hoping the Greek stopper can turn his form around and be a reliable choice between the sticks.

Yes, it’s harsh on Hazard. But the reality is that Celtic aren’t the type to drop close to £5m on a player without wanting to use them extensively. Much like I’m sure we’ll see more of Albian Ajeti, Barkas should get a proper run in the first team.

Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard saves a penalty vs Hearts / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Very harsh on Conor Hazard

Yet, you can’t help but feel dropping Conor Hazard is extremely harsh. In Lennon’s quotes to the press, the Celtic boss said (Glasgow Live):

“We’ve got big games coming up and I want Vasilis to play in them. He’s come in as number one and I want him to play.

“I think Conor’s done very well, but he’s still very fledgling in his career. It would be a big call to put him into a game of this magnitude at the weekend. So, I want to go back to experience.

“Vasilis hasn’t shown us what he’s all about, but he’s capable of doing that. So I thought it was important to give him a game before the weekend.”

That rings a little hollow; the Scottish Cup Final was a game of enormous magnitude, and Conor Hazard won it for us. Yes, his in-game play was suspect and he still has much to learn, but his penalty saves were vital.

He kept clean sheets against Kilmarnock, Ross County and Hamilton Accies. On paper, it’s hard to argue Hazard doesn’t deserve to keep his place.

Against Rangers, Celtic need to maintain their defensive solidity. Yes, Barkas played last night and also shut out Scottish opposition. But his only real test was against Marc McNulty, and he failed to make himself big for the one-on-one. Christopher Jullien had to make a dramatic clearance, and got himself injured.

This feels like the kind of chopping-and-changing that arrested Celtic’s rhythm throughout much of this season.