Why it didn't work for Diego Laxalt and Jonjoe Kenny at Celtic

By Euan Davidson

May 18, 2021

On-loan Celtic full-backs Diego Laxalt and Jonjoe Kenny have left the club.

Their loan deals expired at the conclusion of our meaningless draw with Hibernian at the weekend. Both, you could argue, showed us the folly of judging a player by their debut. What’s inarguable is that, despite some promising early form, neither were a particular success.

There was some exotic appeal with Diego Laxalt at least. Our first Uruguayan international, Laxalt is an AC Milan player, one who’s been to a World Cup. With his distinctive hairstyle and pedigree, it seemed a coup for the Bhoys at the time. Some strong early showings made him a mainstay, but he fell away in the latter part of the season.

Jonjoe Kenny, meanwhile, seemed another shrewd move. Unheralded in the Premier League, the Everton right-back needed opportunities. Anything to wash the taste of a spell at Schalke from a player’s palette, really [Bundesliga]. Again, his start was promising, but his crossing was wayward, his tackling suspect and in the end, few if any of the Celtic support will mourn him returning to Merseyside.

Still, these were two players who, on paper at least, should’ve succeeded at Celtic? What happened, and why didn’t it go right?

Fortnite fan, footballer: Diego Laxalt / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Diego Laxalt: it should’ve worked at Celtic

What’s clear is that Diego Laxalt was brought to Celtic under very different circumstances to those he left. With Neil Lennon desiring a 3-5-2, the Uruguayan would’ve been sold on the idea of patrolling the left flank, starting on the left of midfield, but using his stamina and guile to defend and attack.

To a degree, it worked early on. He was decent in his first Glasgow Derby, and there were some encouraging signs of link-up play with Odsonne Edouard. However, Laxalt just never showed the required chops from a defensive or attacking standpoint.

In the Premiership, he attempted 2.5 tackles per 90, but only connected on 1.7 [WhoScored?]. His reading of the game left much to be desired, too, only average 1.1 interceptions a game. That’s not particularly good, even if Laxalt is more of a natural midfielder than he is a left-back.

Going further up, Laxalt averaged nearly 3 inaccurate long-balls and 6.5 short passes. Simply put, you just can’t give the ball away that frequently and not expect to be punished for it. At Celtic, he didn’t set up a single goal, which is woeful.

However, he was a good system fit, and based on history, you can understand why Lenny plumped for the now 28-year-old. It’s just that, when you change someone’s starting position so frequently, or shoe-horn someone into a role that doesn’t suit them, it’s going to cause problems.

Jonjoe Kenny / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Jonjoe Kenny: a confusing, short spell

By the way, it’s worth mentioning that neither of these guys played in front of Celtic supporters. Only a select few will be able to ever say that. What strange times we live in.

Perhaps though, for Jonjoe Kenny, that was a blessing. Even with nobody there, the pressure seemed to get to the Liverpudlian. His wayward back-passing caused problems, not least in the 1-1 Glasgow Derby [BBC] that we really ought to have won.

Similarly, Kenny caused Barkas some issues in the 4-0 win over St Johnstone [Herald]. Whether it’s a concentration issue, or just a need to work on short passing, there are very obvious areas for improvement there.

But more than that, Kenny wasn’t getting into the right positions. He seemed to lack some of the stamina to continue an overlap, and when he delivered the ball from wide areas, his crosses were wayward. Again, looking at accurate/inaccurate passing statistics on WhoScored? paints its own picture. Of the long passes Kenny made, 2.5 were accurate, but 2.2 weren’t. His short passing wasn’t particularly outstanding either, failing to connect with over 7 short passes a match.

Never likely to be a long-term answer, Kenny commands a considerable wage at Everton. However, he barely looks like an upgrade on Anthony Ralston.

Bad scouting, bad tactics, or bad luck for Diego Laxalt and Jonjoe Kenny?

There are a few things we could say about Laxalt and Kenny. The foremost is that they aren’t good enough to play for Celtic. However, I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case.

The club’s scouting department (which we’re assured exists) could point to both players and say that they were worthy candidates to plug two significant gaps in the side. The quick turnaround of the Kenny deal implies that it was on the cards for a while, certainly. And there was enough in either player’s CV to suggest they would’ve thrived in the Scottish Premiership. It’s just that… well, they didn’t.

Neither looked entirely sure of their responsibilities. Celtic often just couldn’t keep a straight defensive line, so rarely catching anyone offside and often creating problems for itself with a lack of co-ordination. That isn’t just down to Laxalt and Kenny.

Going forward, Laxalt seemed to have a better understanding, but he was there for longer. Kenny, though, rarely seemed that enthusiastic about joining the attacking build-up or providing an out-ball. In the stodgy midfield diamond, Kenny was relatively anonymous as a passing outlet. Whether that’s through his own reluctance, or tactical confusion, is your own call to make.

Maybe it’s just bad luck. Nothing went right this season, generally speaking. Laxalt and Kenny were brought into a difficult situation and maybe they tried to make the best of it.

Either way, nobody will be too sad to see the back of either full-back. And that’s a shame, because there was every chance of both being a success in the Hoops.

READ MORE: Celtic just need to sit back, here.