With hindsight, it's possible Celtic were too harsh on Boli Bolingoli

By Euan Davidson

February 26, 2021

Celtic left-back Boli Bolingoli has had a difficult year. Some of that is his fault, some isn’t.

When he went on an ill-advised trip to Spain last August, he was correctly hammered by the club at the time. Neil Lennon said it was totally out of order, and that he’d be severely punished in-house [Guardian]. So far, so understandable.

Subsequently, the Belgian defender was loaned out to the reigning Turkish champions İstanbul Başakşehir. His punishment was to play Champions League football for a good team, you could argue. It’s unorthodox, but alright – fair play.

The reaction, however, got a bit silly. Yes, what Bolingoli-Mbombo did was an act of utter stupidity, which put his teammates and opposition at risk. But in November, former Celtic boss Martin O’Neill partially blamed him for much more. O’Neill said [Daily Record]:

“Boli Bolingoli talking himself off for a jaunt to Spain put Celtic in bother because those games in hand aren’t a problem until your rivals are picking up a bit of momentum and then all of a sudden there is a bit of psychology at play.”

Given how Neil Lennon’s Celtic reign unfolded, it’s easier to say with hindsight, but these comments seemed daft at the time. It’s not like Bolingoli was masterminding the end of the consecutive title run. Things became far beyond proportional. I remember reading that the Belgian “deserved” the injury he picked up in Turkey. It got a bit silly.

Why am I bringing this up now? Well…

Celtic man? Boli Bolingoli / (Photo by Paul Ursachi/MB Media/Getty Images)

Celtic Boli Bolingoli situation has parallels

Last night, Nathan Patterson scored for Rangers. Patterson, coming in for the injured James Tavernier, was one of 5 Rangers players caught partying, against lockdown restrictions. They were reprimanded by the club, and their futures at Ibrox called into question.

But instead of being banished to the opposite corner of Europe, Patterson has been lauded. Celtic’s very own Chris Sutton joined the chorus of applause [The Boot Room]:

“There was talk about being banished at Rangers after a breach – but Gerrard put him in the squad and wow did it pay off. What an impact. He’s a young lad, he’s made a mistake, but he is a fine, fine talent.”

That’s a very interesting assessment. So, why are we collectively holding Bolingoli to different standards? There were times last season where he was fantastic for Celtic, yet he was discarded at the first opportunity. Leigh Griffiths also broke Covid protocols [Herald], but Celtic gave Griff opportunities in the team this season.

Now this situation has been compounded by how Rangers’ guilty 5 have been treated, in comparison to Bolingoli. The Celtic defender was treated as an outcast, someone who’d let the club down. He did, admittedly, disappoint Celtic with his actions. But when you consider that Neil Lennon and co. took the entire squad to Dubai, Bolingoli’s rap sheet looks a bit tamer.

Former Celtic man Boli Bolingoli: second chance imminent? / (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

Rangers handling, future for Bolingoli?

For the record, and I may get pelters here, but I think Bolingoli brought more to Celtic than Diego Laxalt ever has. Yes, his positioning could be suspect, he might get caught chasing back now and then. However, what he gave Celtic on both ends of the pitch really opened up options for his teammates.

Diego Laxalt, by comparison, has contributed zero assists. Yes, he started well, but has fizzled out dramatically.

Yet, can you see Celtic giving Boli Bolingoli another chance in the squad? It seems incredibly unlikely. But the scapegoating of the former Rapid Vienna player has been incredibly hypocritical.

Nathan Patterson’s suspiciously quick return for our rivals puts Bolingoli’s case back under the spotlight. And upon review, it seems that Celtic went far, far overboard in punishing the defender.

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