Grading centre backs will always be much more of a challenge than grading attackers. They…
Tomorrow Celtic will take on Rosenborg in what feels like the fifth or sixth time these two clubs have met on the road to the Champions League group stages. Brendan Rodgers will have to do without an injured Moussa Dembele and the returning Mikael Lustig may not be up to scratch, but the player he’ll really miss is one that has had to deal with more ridicule than just about any other in this Celtic team.
I’m of course talking about Dedryck Boyata. Due to his World Cup commitments with Belgium, the towering central defender hasn’t yet returned from his extended break and in his stead most fans and critics alike have perhaps grown to appreciate the gentle giant.
Utter surprise was how many greeted the news when the Celtic defender was called up to Roberto Martinez’s side this summer and further shock showered down on Scotland when the former Everton manager actually turned to the central defender to step in for the injured captain, Vincent Kompany. Suddenly the source of every rival fan’s delight was now at the heart of one of the most exciting teams in Russia.
And for many eagle-eyed followers of the Scottish champions, it made perfect sense. Sure, Boyata’s tendency to let out the odd brain fart – most notably in the 3-2 win over Rangers at Ibrox in March – was still evident, but under Rodgers’ tutelage the young defender excelled for the vast majority of his playing time last season. And the stats certainly back that up.
In last season’s Scottish Premiership campaign, no Celtic central defender won more headers on average than Boyata, no Celtic central defender averaged more interceptions than the Belgian international and with 0.4 blocks per 90 minutes the 27-year old got in front of more shots heading towards Craig Gordon’s goal than any of his peers at the centre of Rodgers’ defence.
Despite his reputation for giving the ball away, Boyata was also second only to Jozo Simunovic when it came to pass completion rates for Celtic last season. And among Celtic’s central defenders, the accuracy of his long passes up the park where second to none. Only Kristoffer Ajer has a higher accuracy rate when it comes to passes in to the final third.
In Boyata, Rodgers has a defender that is better in the air than any of his counterparts, makes more interceptions, blocks more shots and is at least on a par with the apparently more technically superior defenders within the squad. Of course, the Belgian international isn’t perfect but he certainly seems to tick all of the boxes most of the time.
It’s with this in mind that Celtic will have to approach negotiations with the player – due to take place once he returns to Glasgow – with an astute level of care, accuracy and perhaps most importantly supreme necessity.
On top of an impressive season with the Scottish champions, Boyata’s stock has risen dramatically since his performances at the World Cup and with just one year left on his current contract, the Celtic central defender has suddenly become an enticing prospect for a number of clubs around Europe. In recent weeks Fulham’s interest has been joined by attention from Lyon as well as Lazio in Italy. And each time another club shows a genuine interest in the player his desire for more money or indeed a move away from Celtic becomes more and more resolute.
Suddenly, the defender nobody wanted has become the flavour of the month. And, unfortunately for Celtic, it has coincided with their plans to tie him down to a new deal. Rodgers and the club will remain confident of doing exactly that, but after an impressive season and good showing at the World Cup any new deal should perhaps coincide with a refreshed look at the player himself. Boyata isn’t the error-prone, weak link in Celtic’s team. He’s developed in to one of their most vital players and it only took a World Cup to show that.