Life and soul: The candidates to fill unseen but important Celtic role

By Euan Davidson

May 13, 2021

If you haven’t seen the excellent picture of Celtic players Ismaila Soro with Scott Brown, and accompanying article by my colleague John McGinley, have a look now.

I’ll wait. Should take you a couple of minutes.

Ah, you’re back: sound. That was good, wasn’t it? Broony enjoying a bit of pizza, the wide grin of Ismaila Soro. It looks like, for all the strife of this season, there’s still a hearty dressing room. Make no mistake: they’ll be hurting from how this season went, but to actively wish them a sour working environment seems beyond the pale.

Celtic will be back next season. It’ll be a very different dressing room, granted, but there’ll still be some key characters there. And the word “character”, without getting pure Brendan Rodgers about it, is an important one. Because above all else, Broony’s really funny.

Clearly the kind of guy who likes to dictate the atmosphere behind the scenes, our long-tenured, departing captain was as obvious a dressing room leader as we’ve ever seen. He embodied the spirit of the team through 9IAR success, a Quadruple Treble, and some great European nights.

Who’s next, though? Is there to be a patter vacuum left by Brown’s departure? Or might we see different leadership approaches paying dividends? Not better, or worse, just different?

Let’s have a look at who could step up in Broony’s absence. Not necessarily as captain, but as someone to keep spirits up. Think Mikael Lustig, Charlie Mulgrew, Kieran Tierney; the kind of guys that keep the party going, or know how to lay down the law when performances aren’t good enough.

Callum McGregor: leader / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Callum McGregor – surely the next Celtic captain

Again, we’re not just talking about the captaincy in and of itself, here.

Surely, Callum McGregor will be the next to wear the armband. But does McGregor have the charisma to follow Broony? And does he need to?

Here’s a sentence I never honestly thought I’d write: I spoke to former Celtic captain Jackie McNamara the other day, with Hamish Carton. In a chat that should be up later today, we talked about the kind of captain that Celtic will have next, and I posited that Callum McGregor might be more reminiscent of Tom Boyd.

Certainly, what we’re used to is the shouty, all-guns-blazing type of leader after 10 or so years of Broony being captain. It’s no bad thing to have an altogether calmer influence. There’s more than one type of leadership, after all. Boyd was the more understated type, who led by example, made himself known to everyone at the club, and used his childhood support of Celtic to drive him and the whole team on.

When he won a Treble with Martin O’Neill, it was a long time coming, and something that must’ve felt incredibly sweet. McGregor might be that kind of captain. Mind you, it’s also perhaps the case that McGregor’s less-seen personality will shine through in Brown’s absence.

Ismaila Soro: the People’s Champ / (Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Ismaila Soro

Bear in mind that when Kieran Tierney wasn’t even 20, he could’ve been considered a dressing room leader at Celtic. So, Soro’s tender years are no barrier here.

Beyond his playing talents, which we’ve seen all too little of (not his fault) this season, Soro’s smile is absolutely infectious. His presence in that photo with Broony suggests that the Ivorian midfielder has been taking lessons from his captain, or at the very least, that there’s a really good working relationship there. That stuff matters, ultimately.

Whether or not Soro likes Scooter is, at this moment, unconfirmed. In terms of geeing up the rest of the squad with a massive personality, though, Soro has to be a likely candidate. He even took the bizarre End of Year Awards with incredible grace.

He just seems like a magnetic kind of character, the kind that newbies and veterans alike will enjoy playing with. Certainly, the fans already adore him. If he sticks around for the long run, then all the better.

A Celtic dressing room leader? / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Kristoffer Ajer

This is obviously predicated on Kristoffer Ajer actually staying at the club. While Celtic will be fielding offers in the summer [Chronicle Live], it’s not impossible to think that the lanky Norwegian might want to stay at the club.

Probably the most outwardly emotional of the guaranteed starters at the club, Ajer impressed supporters by celebrating tackles like goals, and his willingness to put himself in the thick of action is an asset. Fine, there are faults in his game and he’s by no means perfect, but he could still develop into our best player with good coaching and patience.

Again, this is if he stays. But he seems to get what Celtic are about. He’s won titles and tasted defeat now, during his tenure, and there’s nothing concrete to suggest he wouldn’t stay to get the Bhoys back on the summit where we belong.

Perhaps he’s the fire to McGregor’s ice, the vinegar to McGregor’s honey. Or, if you don’t like clichés, he can be the enforcer while CalMac leads by example. Ajer must surely know that there are better days ahead at the club if he’s willing to make a commitment.

If he does, it’s impossible to imagine a Celtic dressing room where he isn’t a primary influence. His work with Stephen Welsh has been really positive, as well as his partnership with Christopher Jullien, who we’ll get to very soon.

Celtic defender Christopher Jullien / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Christopher Jullien: a guy who just gets Celtic

Told you.

Look, there are two main things to like about Jullien’s character. The first is that he takes accountability. While any footballer could do the mandatory “disappointing result but we go again [7 emojis]” tweet, Jullien understands his responsibilities, and that’s important.

The other thing is that he seems like a genuinely likeable guy. He’s funny, personable and loves to get right amongst it whether we’re struggling or thriving. The day he comes back to the Celtic defence can’t come quickly enough.

He’s also taken on a lot of media responsibilities, becoming one of the faces of the club since joining from Toulouse. It’d be ridiculous to suggest that being at the forefront of a kit launch means anything, but in terms of being a public ambassador for the club, Jullien is a character that’s clearly liked around Celtic Park.

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