Just what is going on with Conor Hazard’s Celtic contract as we close in on the end of the season?
The Northern Irishman looked like he was breaking into the team as the new number one back in December. He managed a run of five consecutive starts towards the end of last year. Three of them ended in clean sheets whilst another was a 3-2 win vs Lille. The other was his heroic Scottish Cup final performance against Hearts where he saved two penalties in the shootout.
It had been reported in mid-December that he was closing in on a bumper new contract [Scottish Sun]. This seemed sensible. Hazard had shown up well and looked to be first-choice all of a sudden.
Yet, randomly, Lennon dropped him for Vasilis Barkas before the derby at Ibrox. Barkas made three appearances before then being dropped for Scott Bain. Lennon’s goalkeeping merry-go-round was one of the real frustrations supporters had this season.
But all of a sudden, Hazard’s contract talks appeared to have halted. There has been no update since the December report, and all for a player who’s out of contract this summer. He could, if he chose, leave the club tomorrow.
Hazard’s last game was a clean sheet against Livingston. However, he has shown a potential Achilles heel in dealing with cross-balls. Goals for both Hearts and Hibernian in recent months have come from set-pieces that Hazard failed to claim.
Conor Hazard’s contract progress appears to have halted
But it’s absolutely vital that Celtic stand by their youngsters when they make these errors. Yes, Hazard is 22, but that’s an incredibly early age for a goalkeeper. He could have around 20 more years at the top level. There’s plenty of potential there still to be developed, and he’s already been capped at international level for Northern Ireland.
There will be major interest in him even as I type this. He now has first-team experience with the likes of Falkirk, Partick Thistle, Dundee, and now Celtic.
With a new manager likely to come in this summer, Celtic should use that as a carrot to keep Hazard. A chance to prove himself to a new boss in pre-season and make himself the undisputed number one.
Because make no mistake, there’s no guarantee Hazard will accept new terms. Not with him still being back-up. Back in September, he spoke about his need to find regular first-team football in order to reach his international aspirations [Belfast Telegraph]. And that came after he had reportedly turned down a new deal in the summer due to a lack of opportunities [The Courier].
If he feels there’s a major barrier in his road to first-team football at Parkhead that’s unbreachable, there’s nothing to suggest he’ll sign again. But Celtic should be doing all they can to wrap this deal up. Hazard still has incredible potential and has shown already that he’s a fine shot-stopper.
This contract mystery, however, doesn’t seem to have a resolution on the way anytime soon.