4 Celtic players we're desperate to see this pre-season

By Euan Davidson

July 3, 2021

The pre-season, whether you’re one of the Celtic players or a pub team, is an exciting time.

It’s a blank canvas, in a lot of respects. A time for a manager to assess their whole playing squad. Youngsters can play against world-renowned stars. Fringe players can find themselves next to automatic starters from the season prior. For managers, players and fans, there’s anticipation, based on performances rather than score lines.

Because, honestly: do you remember (m)any famous results from pre-season? Or, do you remember seeing some Celtic favourites for the first time? Watching Academy prospects you’ve only heard rumours about getting their opportunity, and tactical tweaks being tried and tested?

It’s legitimately very interesting. Whether you’re an anorak, obsessing over stats, or just hungry to see some club football again, there’s something for everyone.

Ah, and: on those players. We’ve had a stinker of a year, while a number of loan players have returned. Some names failed to impress in 20-21, but could become resurgent under new direction. There’s plenty at stake. But who are we keeping a particular eye on? We’re glad you asked.

Lee O’Connor in action for Tranmere against Morecambe / (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

Lee O’Connor; can he build on loan spell during busy Celtic pre-season?

Tranmere supporters were pretty roundly pleased with former Manchester United youngster Lee O’Connor last season. They had plenty of opportunities to be; O’Connor played 42 times for the club in 20-21 [Transfermarkt]. A versatile Irish defender, O’Connor’s main challenge is staking a claim for the right-back berth under Postecoglou.

Tranmere fan Adam Fraser told us:

“He’s been very good when he’s played, plugged a hole at RB which had been a little bit of a problem position for a year or two. [It] took him a little while to get in the team but we were better for it.

“O’Connor seemed fairly decent in defence, and played well in the build up to an attack. He’s very versatile from what I’ve seen, playing at CB when he needs to.”

Luca Connell: in Celtic training / (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group via Getty Images)

Luca Connell; a star in the making

Whenever Luca Connell is on a pitch somewhere, he tends to make a difference. For Bolton, Ireland (at youth level) and more recently, Queen’s Park, he’s been outstanding.

So it’s time to see what he can do for Celtic. Even if it is pre-season, and even though we have plenty of midfielders, Connell has been a justifiably hyped-up name for years now. The Bolton Wanderers youth product spent last season in Mount Florida with Queen’s Park, scoring 3 and setting up 5 in just 11 games [Transfermarkt].

We’ve always felt he could’ve played at a higher level than League Two last season. That’s no disrespect to the Spiders, who got promoted, after all. Yet, he’s shown his pedigree at English Championship level. Our pre-season opponents, including Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End represent a step up from Connell’s most recent opponents.

The guy just oozes class. We need to see him in a Celtic shirt.

Albian Ajeti, scoring for Celtic against Kilmarnock / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Albian Ajeti; one of many Celtic players who needs to improve

Of all the Celtic players who confounded last season, Albian Ajeti might be top of the Most Confusing list. Given that we signed him for £4.5m [BBC], it’s odd that the Swiss striker barely made a dent in the latter half of 20-21.

Whether it was fitness, bad form or not impressing in training, something was up. Under Neil Lennon, despite a strong start, he barely featured. By the time John Kennedy finished his interim period, you’d be forgiven for forgetting about Ajeti entirely.

Supporters, though, have noticed that Ajeti might be a lean, mean, scoring machine. Footage of training suggests he’s slimmed down, and is looking in better shape to adapt to Ange Postecoglou’s methods.

He needs to impress. Another season spent on the bench or out the squad, and it’s a minor disaster for both club and player. We can’t really afford to spend upwards of £4m on a player who can’t do anything for us. The former FC Basel and West Ham man needs a good pre-season more than most Celtic players.

Karamoko Dembele is one of the rising stars at Celtic / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Karamoko Dembele; another of those Celtic players whose situation has confused supporters

There’s no other way to put this – it’s fun watching Karamoko Dembele.

Wingers are inherently entertaining. They just are. From Jinky to Didier Agathe. Heck, even Ross Wallace was a player who got supporters out their seats in his time. In football, there are few sights as glorious as a touchline-hugging wide man running at pace, and taking players on.

Given the years of hype about young Karamoko Dembele, he’ll surely have a chance to make his mark in a busy pre-season. Surely. James Forrest is still missing some match fitness (which may explain his lack of game-time at Euro 2020), and we’re hardly blessed for other options.

Late last season, John Kennedy gave him a couple of opportunities, and he grabbed them with aplomb. A very tidy finish against St Johnstone could be a sign of things to come, in a contract year for the England youth international.

His situation at the club notwithstanding, I can’t be alone in wanting to see Karamoko Dembele play football. His trickery, low centre of gravity and frightening speed make him a can’t-miss player.

READ MORE: How to watch all of Celtic’s pre-season fixtures