As one of the stand out performers in Celtics recent pre-season friendly with Hibernian, Luca Connell caught the eye.
Since signing from Bolton Wanderers last summer the former Irish Under 19 International has yet to make a first team appearance for the club. With a year having passed without competitive football Connell can ill afford another season on the side-lines. This is especially prevalent when you consider the availability of opposition for Celtic’s second string may well be impacted by other club’s cost cutting at youth and reserve team level.
Clearly a talented player but one who would prefer to play in central midfield, opportunities will be limited in an area of the squad where Lennon is very much spoiled for choice.
In defensive midfield it would appear both Scott Brown and Ismail Soro would be ahead of the youngster while Callum McGregor operates in the other position Connell would be expected to play. In the most competitive of areas of the squad, Connell is also up against two players Neil Lennon classes as un-droppable. It’s a tough ask.
Connell however does have experience in playing a position Neil Lennon may very much be looking to fill going forward this season. Despite being a central midfielder by choice during his time with Bolton Wanderers, Connell was also used as a left wing back and left back.
Given that Celtic are likely to be looking to offload Boli Bolingoli following his much-publicised trip to Spain and subsequent ban, it may mean that an opportunity arises for young Connell to get valuable first team experience at a time when a loan deal perhaps looked his best option.
Greg Taylor is clearly the first choice left back yet it is clear that Celtic cannot go through a condensed football calendar without Taylor having some much-needed support and indeed competition in the full back role. Celtic don’t appear to be making much in the way of moves in the transfer market to address this area of the field and with a switch to 3-5-2 on the cards following the signature of Shane Duffy, a supporting role as a left wing back could be in the offing for Connell.
Neil Lennon would probably prefer to enter the transfer market and find either a loan deal or a project player to supply some cover at least – that would also explain long standing links with Hearts Aaron Hickey – but if Celtic intend to enter the market alongside the reported interest from Bologna, they are leaving it late, the fact that there appears to have been no concrete offer from Celtic so far possibly indicates that the interest is more historical than current and that perhaps Lennon is inclined to look within the squad to fill the gap created by Bolingoli’s lack of thought.
Could that player be Luca Connell?
Finances are now somewhat diminished following Celtic’s Champions League exit at the hands of Ferencvaros, therefore opportunity could knock for Connell to supply Greg Taylor with that much needed competition, get some games under his belt and impress his manager.
In pre-season we already saw Kerr McInroy operate at left back and although he performed admirably, you wouldn’t think McInroy is really viewed by Lennon as a full back. With Connell however there is a versatility already evidenced from his time at Bolton.
It may well be that Lennon has a plan for Luca Connell and it could be that involves more appearances on the subs bench as the extra substitute rule develops as the season progresses.
However with such a congested midfield – and you’d imagine little appetite for Boli Bolingoli to have a back door opportunity to return to first team football after his suspension, there could be merit in giving young Connell a chance to see what he can offer in a role he is already familiar with and keep him fit enough to be able to take his opportunity in central midfield as and when the moment materialises.