Boli Bolingoli – Celtic’s second left back contender

Yesterday I looked at the first of our possibilities to replace the injured Greg Taylor at left back, Josip Juranovic. As we know our manager Ange Postecoglou gave us the news at the weekend that Taylor will be out for the foreseeable future, most likely not returning until the New Year after undergoing shoulder surgery a few weeks ago. This has created an opening in the left back berth in which any number of players will be staking a claim to cement down the position as their own.

In this article I’m going to look at the credentials of the often demonised Boli Bolingoli. The Belgian was signed from Rapid Vienna in the summer of 2019 for somewhere in the region of £3m and although he had a slightly rocky start in the hoops he was playing reasonably regularly. The Celtic fans went out of their way to get behind the player after the mainstream media were up to their usual tricks of singling out a Celtic player to drop an avalanche of negativity on in the hope they crumble (it’s Starfelt’s turn this season).

Photo: Jeff Holmes

In the first half of 19/20 season Bolingoli was pretty much the first pick left back ahead of Johnny Hayes and fellow new signing Greg Taylor, with the club having signed both in the hope one could prove good enough to replace Kieran Tierney. After missing 6 games due to injury when he returned to the team his form had dipped ending in a disappointing performance against theRangers at Celtic Park were we lost and fell behind them in the league standings.

Boli Bolingoli of Celtic challenges Robert Lundstrom of AIK during the UEFA Europa League Play Off First Leg match between Celtic and AIK at Celtic Park on August 22, 2019 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Into 2020 Greg Taylor had now replaced Bolingoli as the first choice left back which continued for the rest of the season and in to the next one. Then came the Covid scandal. In August of that year Bolingoli decided to have a sneaky jolly to Spain, unbeknown to the club or management team. He was then picked in the squad to face Kilmarnock and came on in the last few minutes as a substitute. As he had failed to quarantine on his return from Spain he had not only broke the law but had landed Celtic and the whole of Scottish football in hot water.

Celtic then had their next two games postponed, adding more obstacles in their way of pegging back theRangers who were doing everything to stop Celtic winning ten in a row. This led to a furious backlash from Celtic fans and it was pretty much assumed that he would never put on the famous hoops ever again. He received a 5 game ban from the authorities and was subsequently loaned out to Istanbul Basaksehir in Turkey for the rest of the season.

Boli Bolingoli of Celtic takes on Benjamin Tatar of FC Sarajevo during the UEFA Champions League First Qualifying Round 2nd Leg match between Celtic and FC Sarajevo at Celtic Park Stadium on July 17, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

When Ange Postecoglou took over the reigns this season most expected Bolingoli to be gone. Somehow he remained as the transfer window closed and we assumed he would be playing reserve team football, especially when he was omitted from the Europa League squad, failing to be registered. With young highly rated talent Adam Montgomery and new signing Liam Scales ahead of him in the pecking order, as well as current number one left back Taylor, nobody could have foreseen Bolingoli getting game time this season, never mind starting games.

Due to Taylor’s injury, Montgomery looking raw and inexperienced and seemingly with Scales not impressing the manager enough as of yet, somehow Bolingoli has came back into the reckoning. He started against Livingston earlier in the season in a match where Celtic put in an underwhelming performance going down 1-0 at the Almondvale stadium. Like the rest of the team he struggled in this fixture but was actually one of our better players. He seemed to enjoy playing the inverted full back role and seemed more comfortable going forward than defending where he eventually picked up a yellow card.

 Joe Aribo of Rangers and Boli Bolingoli of Celtic during the Ladbrokes Premiership match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park on December 29, 2019. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

He then showed up again a few weeks ago starting against Motherwell, where we took all 3 points in a 2-0 victory at Fir Park and again Bolingoli was one of our better players. He excelled both in an attacking and defensive sense including getting back and sticking a good block in near the end when Motherwell had a goalscoring chance.

Both games Bolingoli has played this season he has looked more than capable in, and actually seems much improved from the player who was a regular under Neil Lennon in the first half of 2019/20 season. Never did I imagine that before the Fenencvaros game I would actually be annoyed that he wasn’t registered to play in Europe. The only concern I have is that although he has looked good this season against Motherwell and Livingston, how will he perform if given the chance against a higher standard of opponent?

Disregarding the two matches he has played this season, anytime I had previously saw him play for Celtic I have been unimpressed with his defensive capabilities. When playing further up the field he looks a lot more comfortable but, much like young Adam Montgomery, I worry about him defensively. Previously I have been shocked by how bad his positional sense has been often getting caught in two minds about where he should be. His concentration at times can also seem lacking and his first touch often lets him down.

CLUJ-NAPOCA, ROMANIA, CFR CLUJ – CELTIC FC Boli Bolingoli of Celtic FC in action during the UEFA Champions League, Third Round Qualifying Round match between CFR Cluj and Celtic FC on 07 August 2019, Cluj-Napoca, Romania Photo: Alex Nicodim/Imago 

On the other hand he is an attacking threat. He also has pace to burn which under Ange is a bonus as he likes his full backs playing high up but to also give their all to get back when the ball is lost. He has a decent final ball, probably as good if not better than some of his rivals in the left back position.

There is definitely a chance of redemption for Bolingoli under Ange Postecoglou. I think a lot of Celtic fans relationship with Bolingoli got to the point of no return after his Covid shenanigans and that will definitely be a problem for him going forward, especially if he makes mistakes during matches I can’t see the fans being overly forgiving towards him.

So far though anytime he has played this season he has impressed, maybe the style of football played under Ange will help get the best out of him? I think with the performances he’s produced in the two matches he has played so far he definitely warrants another chance. I have a feeling the Boli Bolingoli Celtic story is far from over. Hopefully he can apologise to the Celtic support for previous misdemeanors by showing us all that he can be the type of player we all hoped he would be when the club parted with £3m for him. It’s the least he can do.

In the next article I will be looking at young Adam Montgomery to see if he’s the answer to our left back problems.

Conall McGinty

You ordered the Harry Hood biography yet? It’s out on Monday and for all pre-ordered copies former Celtic Star Tommy Callaghan will join author Matt Corr in personally signing your copy. Link is below…

About Author

Hailing from Cushendall in the North of Ireland my formative years were spent watching Celtic during our barren spell through the 90's which meant I have appreciated our recent trophy-laden spell even more. Favourite matches home and away I've attended has to be beating Man Utd 1-0 at Celtic Park and being with my 2 brothers watching us beat Lazio 2-1 in Rome. Best away day experience? Has to be Munich with friends from Coatbridge...what a few days!

Comments are closed.