Celtic man Olivier Ntcham was once tipped for stardom; what happened?

By Euan Davidson

June 5, 2021

You might laugh, Celtic fans, especially those who are keen to see the back of Olivier Ntcham.

But back in 2015, there was talk of Olivier Ntcham being a legitimate star. After squaring off against Paul Pogba for Genoa, the Guardian asked if Man City had their own superstar under their noses.

In their gushing praise for the Frenchman, the Guardian wrote:

“Despite still being a teenager he already appears a powerhouse, a quality that is balanced by mobility, the ability to play the simple or clever ball, and a natural instinct to ghost into the penalty area at the right time to score.”

It wasn’t just the broadsheets, though. Genoa president Enrico Preziosi claimed [Guardian]: “I’ve been in the world of football 26 years and I’ve never seen a similar player at his age. He has an unlimited potential, and is really a fantastic talent.”

Back in 2012, when Ntcham joined Manchester City, Bleacher Report claimed he might be one of the most promising talents in world football. At £4.5m [BBC], it seemed like Olivier Ntcham was a bargain, a real player for the future. And for the most part, he delivered. In his first two seasons, big performances in massive games marked him out as a key player. Vital contributions against Rangers, and in the Scottish Cup Final against Motherwell [BBC], made him a fan favourite.

But oh, what a fall he’s had.

Ntcham had a nightmare in Marseille / (Photo by ROMAIN PERROCHEAU / AFP) (Photo by ROMAIN PERROCHEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

Many Celtic fans would happily never see Olivier Ntcham play again

Arguably, up until the 20-21 season, Ntcham justified his fee. While he was never the most prolific, in terms of goals and assists, his general output was impressive. If you’re into the advanced stats, like key passes, then Ntcham was absolutely your man.

At times, his vision was frightening. He was an important cog in a successful Celtic midfield, working well in tandem with Callum McGregor and Scott Brown. It was a trio that absolutely worked at times, with Ntcham’s reading of the game getting the best out our wingers in Scott Sinclair and James Forrest, or Patrick Roberts. And when it counted, the French midfielder would make himself known.

But in “less important” matches, Ntcham could go missing. When he was motivated and productive, he looked happy. Other times, it could be argued his face could trip him up. That was an issue, and by the summer of 2019, it appeared his head had been turned after interest from Porto. He told L’Equipe he was “disappointed” a move didn’t materialise.

That didn’t stop him scoring that goal against Lazio or performing in other games, of course. But something seemed askew, and it set the precedent for his current predicament.

Once loved by the Celtic support / (Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images)

Is AEK Athens really Ntcham’s next port of call?

None of this is to say Celtic squandered his immense talents. Because truthfully, we don’t know the ins and outs of how he was coached at Lennoxtown. Suffice it to say, less-hyped players have been part of the same sessions and succeeded.

After a dismal start to the 20-21 campaign, and his horrific Marseille stint, Ntcham finds himself in a predicament. AEK Athens are seemingly keen, but with no disrespect intended towards Greek football, did the former Genoa man really see himself mulling over a bid like that in 2021?

It’s hard to imagine he did. And it’s a sad story, in truth. We’ll maybe never fully understand what bothers footballers, what goes on in their head when it becomes clear that big names are interested. Players will say speculation doesn’t affect them, and to some, maybe that’s true.

However, Olivier Ntcham clearly was affected. Now, the “next Paul Pogba” has a summer he probably wasn’t prepared for.

READ MORE: AC Milan cool their interest