Colin Watt with A Celtic State of Mind – Which Celtic loanee can be the next Callum McGregor?

For Celtic fans, there is nothing better than seeing a young, talented player develop through the youth sides and then establish themselves within the first-team at Celtic Park. In recent years, we have been spoiled with the likes of Kieran Tierney, Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Liam Henderson and, more recently, Ewan Henderson and Mikey Johnston to name a few, breaking into the first-team and making a big impression.

The question to ask, though, is who is next? Who is bubbling under the surface, ready to make that breakthrough? To answer that question, let’s look into the reserve/fringe players at Celtic and check out who was loaned out during season 2018/19.
 
Farming a player out to a lesser team has always been part of a player’s development throughout the game of football. Callum McGregor had a breakthrough season on loan at Notts County before he made the move to the Celtic first XI and even famous footballers such as David Beckham have all gone through a spell playing for a lesser team.

In season 2018/19, Celtic had no fewer than 15 players out on loan, some with more than one loan spell, this article will look at the stories and stats behind these loan deals and see if any of these players are on the cusp of making the first team.

From a quick glance at the table above, there is probably a few talking points that jump out. Kundai Benyu is still at Celtic?
Ross Doohan had a very good record at Ayr United; and when can we get Maryan Shved into the first team?
 
The stats only tell us some of the story, however, and you have to take a look at each of the individual players’ seasons to work out how successful their loan spells have actually been. For example, Regan Hendry has now left the club and signed a two-year deal at Raith Rovers, a signing which has absolutely delighted the Raith fans after his performances last season. Jack Aitchison’s loan spells in season 2018/19 are certainly very interesting to say the least. Starting the season on loan at Dumbarton and finishing fighting relegation with Alloa whilst in that time only scoring the one solitary goal. Looking at those stats, you would be concerned for his development, that’s not the full story though.
 
The striker, who made Celtic history when he became the youngest goal-scorer of all time for Celtic by scoring with his first touch in Ronny Deila’s last game in charge, certainly hasn’t been scoring for fun in the Scottish Championship or League One. But, when you look at his minutes played, you could argue that it would be hard to find a return for two relegation-threatened sides with the opportunities he has had. At Dumbarton, Aitchison managed 90 minutes in 3 of his 4 appearances, in a period in which Dumbarton picked up only 4 out of 12 points. In arguably Aitchison’s best game for Dumbaton, he set up Brad Spencer to open the scoring in a game in which the Sons got a great point away to Airdrie. The loan spell was mutually terminated by Celtic and Dumbarton in October and Jack returned to the Hoops, where he immediately found his form playing for the reserve side and doing what he does best – scoring goals.

Aitchison’s second loan spell, this time at Alloa, consisted of a lot more game time – 10 games in total with Jack starting 6 of them – as Alloa once again defied the odds to stay up on the last day of the season. Mainly playing as the lone striker, Aitchison worked a lot off the ball to find space and generally annoyed defenders, as Alloa managed to go on a four-game winning run, which included victories away from home at Morton and Falkirk. Aitchison’s lone goal of the loan spell came against Partick Thistle in a game in which the Wasps were unlucky to lose. Jack, however, will have returned to the club having played a lot of matches in a full-time league as opposed to his performances for the reserves, which have rightly gained him high acclaim.

Season 2019/20 is very much make-or-break for Jack as he looks to either make a space for himself within the first team or find a loan move, preferably to a Scottish Premiership side, hope that he can develop like Ryan Christie did at Aberdeen, and really make that breakthrough into professional football.
 
Lewis Morgan and Maryan Shved are both players vying for the same position at Celtic and, going back over the stats of both players’ loan deals, the young lad from Gourock might find himself playing second fiddle to the Ukrainian. That’s not to say that Morgan’s loan spell at Sunderland hasn’t progressed him as a player, but the goals that Shved has managed to score would most likely move him ahead of the Scotsman in the pecking order.

Speaking of pecking order, a player whose loan deal could see him make more appearances for Celtic next season is Youssouf Mulumbu. A late signing in the summer transfer window, Mulumbu couldn’t make the breakthrough into the Celtic side and some of his sub appearances left a lot to be desired. The former Killie man was also rumoured at one point to be the ‘leak’ who was talking to Kris Boyd about the atmosphere in the Celtic dressing room. Having listened to what Boyd said, however, it sounds like he never truly had any sort of source. With Scott Brown getting on and Olivier Ntcham potentially moving on, a good preseason could see Mulumbu getting some game time in the final year of his contract under Neil Lennon. His loan spell at Kilmarnock seemed to revitalise his season and his performances against Rangers were stand-outs. If he can manage to replicate this form for Celtic then he could play a key role in the challenge for 9-in-a-row.
 
Finally, let’s take a look at the defenders who were out on loan last season: Calvin Miller, Robbie Deas, Manny Perez and Andrew Gutman.

Miller’s season was certainly an interesting one, with loan spells at Dundee and then Ayr United combining in a total of 29 appearances, which is certainly a good return. Originally a striker as he developed throughout his youth career at Celtic, Miller made 4 appearances for Celtic in season 2017/18 in his newly-adapted position of left-back. It was Brendan Rodgers who changed his position when he took over at the club, hoping to have Miller developing in a similar way to Ryan Bertrand. In truth, Miller never looked very comfortable in this new position and it’s safe to say that the lack of experience in the role was evident. During his spell at Dundee, which was cut short due to Neil McCann’s departure, Miller put in some good performances despite the struggles Dundee were going through, including a very well-taken strike against Aberdeen. His second loan spell found him trying to help Ayr United in their promotion push for the Premiership, where he unfortunately found himself trying to replace the goals of the free-scoring Lawrence Shankland who was out injured. His solitary goal, a strike against champions-elect Ross County wasn’t enough as Ayr ran out of steam and finished 4th before losing to Inverness Caley in the first-round of the Premiership play-offs. Miller is another player who really needs to make a breakthrough in season 2019/20 or he could find himself released from the club as a talent never fully utilised.
 
Manny Perez and Andrew Gutman arrived at the club after plenty of speculation, with their deals being confirmed on deadline day in January. Unfortunately, due to work permit issues, both players had to return to the US to continue their careers before moving to Celtic in January 2020. Perez and Gutman made their moves to the USL league, a league below the top level in America, finding their temporary homes in North Carolina and Charlotte respectively.

Gutman was joined by midfielder Mark Hill and both players have made a good impression as they quickly established themselves as regulars in the side. Perez has also managed to force his way into the North Carolina side with Perez’s team coming up on top when both teams faced back in April with North Carolina winning 3-0. The return match on 5 July will be interesting in the play-off race with North Carolina looking to climb higher than their current 4th place ranking and Charlotte looking to get a run going to push for the play-off spots.
 
Robbie Deas made the headlines for his Glasgow Cup final endeavours, scoring an incredible winning goal in a 3-2 victory over Rangers. This was a game which was not short of stunning goals – check out the highlights on YouTube if you haven’t already seen them. Deas was a solid performer for Cowdenbeath as the Blue Brazil fell short of getting to the League 1 play-offs. It is an interesting note that Deas is the only central defender to be loaned out by Celtic last season, a position in which we really haven’t seen a player come through the ranks and make an impression since Stephen McManus.

Both Deas and Liam Morrison’s performances in the Glasgow and Scottish Youth Cup finals suggest that there is the chance that this trend could soon be bucked and it would be fitting that with McManus now in charge of the under-18 side, he would be the coach to mould the next player to follow in his footsteps.
 
Whether or not any of these players manage to make the breakthrough into the first-team is still unclear but what can be said is that Celtic are still developing and sourcing the best talent from Scotland and beyond as they look to lay the foundations for the future. We can only hope that these players will go on to be the next Kieran Tierney or Callum McGregor and here at ACSOM we will continue to monitor their progress, so look out for updates throughout the 2019/20 season!

Colin Watt

Listen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast

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