Celtic window options – back in for Ko Itakura, alternatively Wolfsburg’s Micky van de Ven

Ange Postecoglou’s apparent targeting of a ball playing centre half has seen links with Japanese defender Ko Itakura resurface in the last couple of days. None of those links are based on fresh transfer rumours it must be said, merely an opinion that the Japanese central defender would be an option worth revisiting, after the player made a loan move to Schalke in the German second tier last season from parent club Manchester City, and Celtic were said to have been an interested party at the time.

With Itakura now having gained promotion, Schalke find themselves with obligations to buy for three players, and an option to buy – the tune of £5m – for Itakura. With Schalke having to move players on before they can free up the funds to make Itakura’s loan move a permanent arrangement, Schalke may well struggle to complete the deal, as such the links back to Celtic were always going to resurface.

The player would certainly fit the bill as a left sided central defender with a fine range of passing and a solid defender, and if Celtic aren’t keeping an eye on developments they certainly should be. However, with expensive deals for Cameron Carter-Vickers and Jota hopefully to be completed, perhaps a deal for Itakura at £5m may be a little rich, particularly with other areas of the squad also needing addressed.

One player who would fit the left sided central defensive option is a player who won the Eerste Divisie, Best Talent award in season 20/21, and one who, after an impressive season with FC Volendam, whom he was already captaining, made the jump from Holland’s second tier to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg. He also made the 2020 list as one of Holland’s most exciting talents.

Micky van de Ven at 20 years old is a superbly talented defender and one for now is one who isn’t playing too much football.

Under the guidance of ex-boss Wim Jonk, Van de Ven stood out at FC Volendam, and in normal circumstances he may have stayed there. However, after missing out on promotion, it was always likely he’d move on to ensure he stepped up a level. Wolfsburg won the race but there is an argument to say an intermediate step at a top flight club and one with European football, may have been a steadier incline than heading straight to the Bundesliga where every point is a prisoner and where gradual progression isn’t always possible.

In Scotland, Micky van de Ven could have made that step. He could have been facing opponents less refined in Scotland. He could have been toughened up against opposition fast and physical as opposed the cultured approach in Holland, and from there he could have bridged the gap from second tier Dutch football before joining one of the big four leagues. Now however he’s in limbo, with only five appearances to his name this season, but no less promise.

For Celtic an opportunity lies there to pick up a player out the picture at Wolfsburg but one who could solve Celtic’s balance issues in central defence. A loan deal would likely suit both teams and an option, rather than obligation to buy, could ensure the security both sides may need, should the agreement be worded to suit both Celtic and Wolfsburg.

IMAGO / Christian SchroedterMicky van de Ven (VfL Wolfsburg,5) – 

So, what of the players strength and weaknesses?

Well Micky van de Ven ticks a lot of boxes for an Ange system. He has the height at 6ft 3 and he’s also an athletic and agile player – and left footed. He’s one that likes to engage early with opponents and win the ball back immediately when possession is lost.

Van de Ven also has good acceleration over shorter distances and can vary his pace effectively. He also utilises his long stride to cover the ground, making him an ideal defender for a team playing a high defensive line. He also has the ability to progress the ball into the opposition half and is comfortable with the ball at his feet.

As such the missing Kris Ajer approach may assist in breaking lines and disrupting low block defensive and midfield lines, and much like Ajer his shielding of the ball and physicality makes it difficult for opponents to engage successfully.

Of course, as with any player there are downsides to Micky van de Ven.

At 21 years old and with only 54 games under his belt, and all but five in the Dutch second division, you can argue there is inexperience to contend with. And as with any young central defender technical proficiency still has to come with gametime.

The timing of when to engage and when to sit off is also very much a work in progress. However, it should be said in a Postecoglou system the option to sit off appears to be redundant as the manager prefers early engagement when possession is lost, something Carl Starfelt could benefit from with a little leniency in that regard.

26th December 2021; McDiarmid Park, Perth, Scotland; Scottish Premier League football, St Johnstone versus Celtic; Carl Starfelt of Celtic on the ball

The technical abilities of Micky van de Ven however far outweigh anything negatives the player may suffer from. Indeed, anything negative at all can simply be put down to his current stage of footballing development and the naivety of youth.

When Van de Ven moved to Wolfsburg it was too good an opportunity for the player to decline, but it seems the near level playing field of the Bundesliga is hampering his chances. The manager may well rate his abilities, but the jump from the Eerste Divisie may weigh heavy in his thoughts when choosing his team, but such reticence could be to Celtic’s advantage.

Come to Celtic and the gap between his history and his ceiling becomes more manageable and come on loan initially and neither side have anything to lose.

IMAGO / Christian Schroedter. Micky van de Ven (VfL Wolfsburg,5) 

Should the player succeed however, then an element of doubt remains with Wolfsburg as to whether that progression in the Scottish Premiership, or even the Europa Conference league, as Europe’s third tier competition, remains enough to justify a starting position in a Bundesliga side. If that doubt does remain and Celtic are happy with what they get, a permanent deal may well be possible.

As such for Celtic a move, initially on loan, could and should be of the no brainer variety when it comes to Micky van de Ven. There is simply nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain.

Celtic however need to ask that question of Wolfsburg in this window, as it’s likely to be now or never when it comes to Micky van de Ven, because once he gets his chance play consistently, he’ll likely take it at Wolfsburg and the door for Celtic will likely close for good.

Ko Itakura would of course be a fantastic signing, but it is likely the player will wait it out to see if Schalke can make the player sales required to afford his set transfer fee. With Ange Postecoglou keen to have his transfer deals completed early that’s not a wait Celtic are likely to consider.

In the case of Micky van de Ven however, that question could be asked now and a loan deal agreed. And much like the Cameron-Carter Vickers try before you buy approach, Celtic could kick the can down the road when it comes to shelling out a transfer fee and see if the player works out. The promise is certainly there with van de Ven, he’s certainly a player well worth considering, and the timing for all concerned could be perfect.

Niall J

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As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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