"Wasn't signed to be a Franz Beckenbauer"; Mjallby's bang-on Celtic defence of Carl Starfelt

By David Walton

March 29, 2022

Former Celtic star Johan Mjallby has delivered a superb defence of much-maligned Hoops centre-back Carl Starfelt.

Starfelt has had a fine debut season at Parkhead after his summer move from Ruben Kazan. The Swedish international finds himself back in the national team fold under Janne Andersson and has impressed with some terrific defence performances.

Carl has been part of, statistically speaking, the best defence in Scotland this season. Yet despite his fine form, he’s been unfairly criticised by pundits ever since arriving. Starfelt had a poor start to life in Glasgow and since then stubborn media figures have refused to change their opinion of him as they ignore his class upturn.

Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

But speaking to 67HailHail, Mjallby has moved to defend his countryman and has put the narrative right on the improvement he’s shown this term.

“I thought he had a wee bit of a rough start I have to say and it surprised me a wee bit. You always need to give players time to gel and get the atmosphere and all that but he’s the one who probably wasn’t signed to be a Franz Beckenbauer. To be a ball-playing centre-half – that’s not his game.

“His game is to defend, to win his challenges, to win his headers and be really solid defensively. At the start of the season he didn’t really do that. He looked a wee bit shaky and didn’t really get it going. So I was a wee bit worried for a while. But here is where you have to give the manager so much credit because it could’ve been easy to bring him out for 2 or 3 games. He didn’t. He gave him confidence to play him and after a while I think he’s been really solid lately.

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“I think he’s got a great partnership with CCV. Now he’s doing what he should do. Pass the ball, yes do that but don’t do anything spectacular. But defend, be solid defensively, and if you are you will always play.

“Martin O’Neill told me one good thing because obviously when you’re playing well and you have a good couple of games you get a bit cocky. I started dribbling with the ball from the back now and then and Martin really simplified my game which obviously made it quite easy for me to understand this is what I have to do to play. He said: ‘Johan, don’t dribble with the ball, just give it to the better players. Just give it to the guys who can play and take players on. But defend with your own life in your penalty box. Block everything, head everything. If you do that you will always play for me.”

Carl Starfelt has shown improvement – others are refusing to see it

There’s no denying that Starfelt struggled at the beginning. It’s the reason so many pundits initially formed such negative opinions of him. He wasn’t confident playing out from the back and this was having a domino effect on his overall defending.

It was highly frustrating at the time. And yes, many Celtic supporters were left wondering for a period whether Starfelt was indeed the man to partner Cameron Carter-Vickers.

But things have long since changed. It’s not even as if Carl has only been performing for the last few weeks or months either. You could go all the way back to September. He had a slow start, and ever since it’s been used to beat him over the head with.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Now, any mistake Carl makes is magnified. Much more than if the mistake comes from anyone else in the Celtic squad. It does the player a huge disservice.

We’re 3 points clear at the top of the Premiership having only conceded 18 goals in 31 games. You can’t say that’s been done in spite of Starfelt. In spite of one of our main centre-backs. He’s covered tremendously well and kept it simple. The reason there have been no mistakes for weeks is because Starfelt is keeping his concentration levels so high.

Hopefully, he takes a lot from the love he receives from the Celtic support and these particular comments from Mjallby. He’s had a fine debut campaign and nothing can take that away from them.

In other news, Reo Hatate opens up on settling in at Celtic; highlights 2 things he misses from Japan