Celtic defender set for rare opportunity tomorrow and it's time to prove a point
Upon Ange Postecoglou’s arrival at Celtic, there wasn’t an area of the squad in more dire need of recruitment than the defence.
The Hoops went into last season’s Champions League qualifiers with a pool of Stephen Welsh, Dane Murray, the converted Nir Bitton, and the newly-arrived Osaze Urhoghide to choose from at centre half.
After Nir Bitton’s red card in Postecoglou’s first competitive game in charge at home to Midtjylland, Celtic travelled to Denmark with Dane Murray thrown in for his start to the club in one of the most important games of the season.
Celtic would lose 2-1 in extra time, eventually qualifying for the Europa League, knocking out Jablonec and AZ Alkmaar along the way, with Welsh and Murray both eventually replaced in the side by the signings of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt.
Whilst Murray clearly still has some developing to do before realistically being a regular option for Celtic’s first team, the time has come for Welsh to stake his claim to be a regular pick. Now 22, the academy graduate must seize his chance of an extended run in the first team in Carl Starfelt’s absence through injury.
A rare opportunity to stake a claim
After making his debut in a crucial 4-1 win away to Hamilton Accies in the curtailed 2019-20 title run-in, Welsh has been used sporadically by the club, appearing in under half of all matches in both of the last two seasons.
He has only started three competitive games since the turn of the year, the last of which came way back in February.
Postecoglou has said previously that centre half is the one outfield area of the team he prefers to remain a constant, with rotation used elsewhere. It was the reason given for Christopher Jullien’s lack of first team opportunities following his return to fitness in the latter third of last season, with Carter-Vickers and Starfelt playing the vast majority of games that both were available for.
The arrival of Moritz Jenz offers further competition, although this could also be compensating in advance for the likely departure of Jullien.
Ultimately, his future at Celtic could likely come down to his ambition – whether he sees himself as merely a stand-in long-term, or he leaves to stake his claim as first choice elsewhere, not least to maintain his ambitions for the national side, for whom he recently served as U21 captain.
He is a raw, at times reckless defender, but he has a clear drive to learn to play in his manager’s preferred style. Even how much Celtic’s rejection of Toulouse’s offer was down to Starfelt’s unavailability is unclear, but if he can shine in this moment then it will go a long way to proving the point he is a viable squad option.
He will almost certainly start tomorrow’s Scottish Premiership opener against Aberdeen, and it would be to the benefit of everyone involved in green and white if he impressed, regardless of where his long-term future lies.