Celtic youngster Luca Connell is still something of an unknown at the club despite signing last summer.
Part of a raft of development players brought in by Neil Lennon and Nick Hammond, Connell has been slowly biding his time at the Hoops and waiting for his big opportunity in the first-team.
That’s not been given to him in competitive action but he now appears to be on the verge of making that debut.
Yesterday, against Hibernian in a closed-doors friendly at Celtic Park, the Republic of Ireland youth international came off the bench at half-time to show that he is capable of competing at Scottish Premiership level.
He was one of the stand-out performers in the second half, looking composed on the ball and unafraid to get stuck into a tackle. Perhaps most impressively, the 19-year-old demonstrated a range and accuracy of passing that could be dynamite in the Celtic midfield.
Potential and professionalism
Connell arrived from Bolton in 2019, where had already made a first-team breakthrough in the Championship, winning plaudits for his first professional appearances.
Former teammate Remi Matthews told The Glasgow Times prior to the teenager’s arrival at Celtic Park: “From day one, he has been sensational. I didn’t really know too much about him really until about two weeks before his debut, because he hadn’t really been training with the first team.
“Then, all of a sudden, he appeared one day, and you could tell straight away that there was something there. Within a couple of weeks, the manager had no choice really but to throw him into the team, because he had acquitted himself so well.”
That potential and professionalism are exactly the attributes we what we want to see from players coming through at Celtic and after a year of training at Lennoxtown, his status is now rising within Lennon’s squad.
Having been part of the first-team pre-season training group throughout the summer, Connell’s Celtic career will surely now go one of two ways.
Either he becomes involved in the competition for places in Lennon’s match squads or he is sent out on loan to prove himself elsewhere.
It seems clear to me there is not much scope for Connell improvement if he remains on the fringes of the squad and only gets match practice in development friendlies and youth cup games.
A loan could well be the best thing for his progress and Lennon even stated in January it was on the cards.
As quoted by the42.ie, the manager said: “It might be good for him to get out and get some game time. He had a thigh injury which kept him out for a couple of months and now he is playing very well in the development team.”
Whichever route he takes this season, he has the ability to become Celtic’s next big breakout star.
Right now Celtic’s midfield is a difficult area of the team to make an impression.
If it’s not captain Scott Brown taking up one of the spots it’s the ever-impressive Callum McGregor or French talent Olivier Ntcham. Now Ismaila Soro is on the scene too and showing improvement himself.
However, when you look at the long-term it’s a different scene.
Brown is in the twilight of his career and nobody is really expecting Ntcham to commit his peak years to the club.
Those two moving on at some point over the next couple of years immediately makes room for a player like Connell, potentially saving the club millions of pounds in the transfer market.
Darren O’Dea described pre-season friendlies as potentially life-changing for emerging talents on Celtic TV yesterday.
Time will tell if the Hibs game was a defining moment in young Connell’s Celtic career, but at the very least he’s taken his chance and created a bit of excitement.