Olivier Ntcham: A missed opportunity for Celtic on and off the pitch

By John McGinley

February 4, 2021

This article was written by Ryan Brown, a freelance sports journalist and passionate Celtic fan. You can follow him on Twitter @rbrown_99.

In the summer of 2017, you’d be laughing if I told you new signing, 21-year-old Olivier Ntcham from Manchester City would net Celtic a grand old profit of nothing.

Signed under the stewardship of Brendan Rodgers for £4.5 million [BBC], eyed by the blasé figure of Lee Congerton, Ntcham was the second piece of the Frenchman connection after Moussa Dembele joined a year previously before Odsonne Edouard joined on loan at the end of the summer window.

Speaking of profits, it’s a good place to start with my somewhat disappointment around the midfielder’s departure.

Let’s kick off with his fellow countryman Dembele. Signed for £500k from Fulham in 2016, he was moved on for around £20 million two years later [BBC]. Although after 51 goals in 94 appearances you wouldn’t have been too ambitious to have wanted more, it’s still 40 times what Celtic paid for him.

Then there’s the outgoing Jeremie Frimpong who swapped Glasgow for Leverkusen. Again, perhaps we could have seen more on the pitch, and in the bank, for the full-back but if you take the fee paid to Manchester City of around £300k that’s over 30 times what was made in the sale to the German side, although discounting the hefty sell-on clause [BBC].

The aforementioned Edouard was signed at a much higher price point, £9 million, but although the Hoops have probably missed the boat on his maximum value, they should at least triple that when he does inevitably leave in the summer.

If you want to talk midfielders, Stuart Armstrong left Celtic at a similar age to Ntcham, but was brought in for much less at well under £1 million and moved on for £7 million [Daily Record].

You get the gist, it’s almost unfathomable how the club have only managed to break even on an asset such as Ntcham.

This is all, of course, depending on whether Marseille take up their option-to-buy at the end of the campaign but if the start of Ntcham’s return to France is anything to go by, nothing is certain.

The joys of badly run football clubs, eh?

Celtic midfielder Olivier Ntcham / (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Now would be a good point to look back at that failed bid from Porto of £13.5 million just a year into his Celtic career [The Scotsman].

The comments of Neil Lennon are important here, as well as distressing. In his last press conference [Glasgow Live] he claimed Ntcham had been eyeing a move away for ‘two years’… sorry what?

Just think about that for a second – another issue at this club that probably isn’t a Neil Lennon one.

But anyway, the question is, are we as fans right to dismiss any chance of him leaving over past windows, only to now say he should have been sold much earlier? For me, yes.

Firstly, as fans we aren’t paid to deal with the responsibilities of recruitment and transfers, any club, not just Celtic, should have that down to a tee, we weren’t to know the ins and outs and what’s going on behind the scenes.

To be fair to Ntcham he never really downed tools as such, but if you know a player doesn’t want to be there, you are never getting 100 per cent and when these types of offers come in, who knows there weren’t more, at some point you have to say enough is enough.

Secondly and quite rightly as fans, we had no confidence in Celtic adequately replacing him and again this should never be an issue at a ‘selling club’ like this one, they should always be one step ahead.

As for on the pitch, well the stats reveal not a bad opening season.

Thinking back to that sumptuous pass through for Kieran Tierney in Anderlecht, as well as that low drive in the showpiece at Hampden to secure the double treble, he at times excelled with Scott Brown next to him, Tom Rogic ahead, Callum McGregor coming off the left, James Forrest on the right and Dembele leading the line, good times.

Personally, I’ll never forget his second goal in a Celtic shirt, albeit a defected one, as the defence crumbled in Astana at 4-1 before that man stopped the bleed and eased the near heart attacks going on 4,000 miles away.

Remember when we used to get to the Champions League?

Celtic midfielder Olivier Ntcham / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

There were 48 starts for him in that campaign where he averaged a goal or assist every 234 minutes.

The following year, despite that winner at home to Rangers in a flowing move with Edouard replacing Dembele in the above attacking force, he perhaps didn’t hit the heights that on his day, that we all know he can. With 37 starts it took 362 minutes for him to find a goal or assist.

In the curtailed 2019/20 season the stats suggest it was his most productive campaign with a goal involvement every 188 minutes and 39 starts as Neil Lennon stumbled across the 3-5-2.

In fact, in that period at the start of 2020, he made seven consecutive league starts but looking back, he never really found that run of successive games again.

Obviously, these kind of numbers aren’t the be-all-and-end-all but you’re wanting your Celtic number eight to be getting involved in the final third.

In comparison, although slightly different players, Callum McGregor comfortably outscores him in all apart last season where the two are pretty closely matched and he never really had that outstanding year such as Armstrong in 16/17, he never grabbed that concrete starting place.

Olivier Ntcham celebrates his Celtic goal in Rome / (Photo by Tullio Puglia – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

In his final few months at the club, after many were desperate to see him in the team, he failed to deliver, like a lot of others mind you.

With just one goal coming against Motherwell at Fir Park, that being his last, his final start came in the San Siro as Celtic were overpowered.

Finally, we will always have that moment in Rome. The mistake in the Lazio defence, the heavy touch, the dinked finish over Thomas Strakosha, the bedlam in the stands.

It was good, but it could have been so much more.

Our thanks to Ryan Brown for contributing a guest article. Again, you can follow him on Twitter @rbrown_99. If you want to submit a guest article or blog, get in touch with us via Twitter or our forum.

In other news, the date and time of the upcoming Celtic vs Rangers fixture has been confirmed.