"It’s really rare"; English coach details the underrated value that led to Celtic's interest in key performer

By Lewis Laird

January 5, 2023

Former MK Dons boss Liam Manning has stated that Matt O’Riley’s leadership role was a contributing factor in the midfielder joining Celtic.

The 22-year-old has now been at Parkhead for around a year, after joining the Hoops from the English League One side last January.

O’Riley has quickly blossomed into a key contributor under Ange Postecoglou and is arguably one of the first names on the teamsheet.

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It is easy for supporters to see the quality that the Danish under-21 internationalist possesses, with his ability on the ball and how much he contributes to the Celtic midfield three.

However, according to former MK Dons boss Liam Manning, it was O’Riley’s leadership qualities that attracted the Bhoys transfer interest.

The English coach explained how at a young age the former Fulham displayed leadership skills beyond his years, as he praised O’Riley for the responsibility he took in games.

He said [Daily Record]: “One of Matt’s biggest attributes is his confidence, his self-belief. Matt is in love with the game which is so refreshing as 22.

“He is obsessed by it and will continue doing what he does. One hundred per cent he has the character to play his way through any little blip The challenge that he’s set himself by setting the bar so high .. he will get back up there no problem. Matt’s blips are seven out of 10.

“A lot of players go their whole careers where 80 per cent of their games are seven out of 10s. But with Matt, he has had so many eights and nines that it stands out if he drops to a seven. The team is still doing really well which is ultimately the most important thing.”

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He continued: “For his age, Matt took on real leadership roles and took more responsibility than most in games.

“A leader isn’t someone that necessarily wears the armband, it’s someone who takes responsibility. Matt would go and seek the ball in tight areas, under real pressure and look to get on it no matter if it was after a mistake. He would drive the team on by trying to get on the ball and move forward.

“That’s what attracted Celtic. It’s really rare in someone so young. But his character, he was really driven to improve.

“I used to sit and do a lot of video work with him. He always wanted to do more of it in terms of seeing his game, learning the game, seeing his own strengths and weaknesses.

“We always knew he was going to get better and better because of that attitude. We did a lot of work with him twisting and turning out of possession.

“A lot of one v ones because he is so tall we worked on getting him into a better position so he could change direction quicker and things like that. Also bits of positional understanding.

“When we moved him to play lower as a six he had it in his head he couldn’t join in attacks whereas we were actually looking for him to do both – so long as he got cover inside when he was doing it. He progressively got better at his understanding and when to join in attacks from deep.

“His numbers were higher in terms of goals and assists by playing lower than when he’d been playing as a 10. Matt just loves having the football so giving him the freedom to join attacks but also a pivotal role in build-up was something he relished.

“I wasn’t surprised to see how seamlessly he fitted into the Celtic style. You can talk about tactics, but Matt is just a very good footballer, simple as that.

“I was gutted when he left. You can’t replace that quality, or it’s very difficult to replace it in League One. But I watched him in the Champions League this year, and it’s a massively rewarding thing when you work with someone, and they progress to that level.

“I couldn’t have worked with a better character, a better lad. Seeing him achieve what he has and hopefully what he does this season – it’s a special moment for everyone involved.”

Matt O’Riley’s underrated leadership qualities have been on display at Celtic this season.

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It is easy to forget that Matt O’Riley is one of the younger members of this squad, and is continuing to develop his game.

The midfielder has been a mainstay in the starting 11 since his arrival and his performances are alawsy incredibly consistent.

Of course, he has had his off games this season and that is expected for any player. But it just goes to show the incredibly high standards he keeps, as pointed out by Manning.

Ths season, the leadership qualities highlighted by the former MK Dons boss have been on display for all to say, after he filled in for Callum McGregor during his time out injured.

Personally, I am excited to see how he continues his development as part of Ange Postecoglou’s squad and I am sure he will be keen to improve all aspects of his game.

In other news, Why patience is required as Celtic gear up for third winter arrival at Lennoxtown.