Celtic striker Jonathan Afolabi facing tough Bhoys return after disappointing loan move

By David Walton

May 27, 2021

Celtic striker Jonathan Afolabi ended his Dundee spell with promotion to the Premiership, but it’s been anything but a success for him.

Indeed, when the Republic of Ireland under-21 international moved to Dens Park, it looked as though it was the right move for him. A chance for him to develop in Scotland’s second tier with all the pressures of a promotion push was set to bring.

Celtic will have been looking for a big season from him. Remember, after signing from Southampton back in 2019, former manager Neil Lennon provided him with a massive confidence boost. He claimed that Afolabi was “on the cusp” of first-team action for Celtic [Irish Times]. It seemed that it wasn’t going to be long before we saw the striker competing for a spot.

His first loan spell with Dunfermline back in January 2020 provided some promise. Two goals in six games had him off to a productive start before Covid struck. All of a sudden Jonathan’s chance was ripped from him and another loan beckoned this term.

He got a season-long switch to Dens Park. Not much has been said about it, but it’s been a hugely disappointing spell for him. Afolabi has managed to play 22 games this season, but only five have come from the starting line-up. No surprises then that he’s also only managed to net four goals in the whole campaign [Transfermarkt].

Afolabi wasn’t even used by Dundee in any of their playoff games. For three of them he wasn’t even in the matchday squad. Instead, the likes of Jason Cummings, Danny Mullen, and Osman Sow have all been ahead of him in the pecking order.

Celtic striker Jonathan Afolabi has had his chances on loan

That wasn’t the plan when he moved to Dens. The idea was that he’d be one of the main men. That he would set the Championship alight and come back a more confident and rounded footballer.

Instead, we’re now just about two years into Afolabi’s Celtic career with minimal progression. Sure, you can say the same about Luca Connell and Lee O’Connor. And that probably says plenty about how Celtic manage their development talent more than anything.

However, O’Connor has made the most of his loan spells and done well with Tranmere Rovers this season. Connell, meanwhile, is widely acknowledged by fans as a player who deserves an opportunity.

Celtic striker Jonathan Afolabi / (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Afolabi isn’t in either of those brackets. He simply hasn’t developed enough and there will be nobody screaming for him to get an opportunity in pre-season. At 21, we really need to start seeing what the big Irishman is all about.

What does next season hold in store for him? Most likely another temporary Parkhead exit, but don’t be surprised if the club listens to permanent offers. This hasn’t gone how either party would’ve liked, with no signs of substantial progression anytime soon.

In other news, the latest on Ben Davies and his Liverpool future.