When Tommy Burns arrived at Celtic he saw great promise in a young Simon Donnelly. Up to that point the man previous manager Lou Macari had weighed down the player with lofty comparisons to Kenny Dalglish.
Macari blooded ‘Sid’ as a centre forward. It didn’t stop him showing promise in his striking role, but Tommy had other ideas for the player.
Burns saw potential in Donnelly, but not through the middle. Instead he moved him wide right alongside Jackie McNamara, a promising player having signed from Dunfermline for £600k – at a time when signing footballers from Scottish clubs came without the immediate criticism we get today – and one of the best partnerships in Scottish football grew under the tutoring of the late, great Tommy Burns. And what a partnership they were.
There haven’t been as many genuinely intuitive pairings in Celtic sides as Simon Donnelly and the almost telepathic understanding he had with the overlapping Jackie on Celtic’s right flank. The truth is, it wasn’t simply a natural fit. It was borne of hard work and lots of it. Hours on the training ground with Burns paid off. Celtic fans saw the benefit and opposition sides chased shadows.
The arrival of Paulo Di Canio broke up the partnership somewhat. You can’t blame Tommy Burns of course, it’s not every day someone like Di Canio becomes available but you can’t help but wonder what might have been had that partnership between Donnelly and McNamara been allowed to develop further.
Now, it is of course difficult to read in to pre-season much more than fitness, however on the opposite flank to Sid and Jackie there may be the modern equivalent emerging.
When Celtic sold Kieran Tierney hearts were broken. Not just by the loss of a player the fans connected with but also the realisation hit home that we’d sold the left sided equivalent of Danny McGrain, before we’d been allowed to see the potential of the player fully develop.
In his place came Boli Bolingoli from Rapid Vienna, and just before the transfer window closed a young Greg Taylor from Kilmarnock. Not so much two for the price for one, more two for a fraction of the cost with the rest distributed in shareholder dividends.
Bolingoli was the first to be given his head as a first team footballer and flitted between the sublime and the ridiculous as a Celtic defender. As he did so young Taylor had to bide his time.
Rumour had it Taylor’s fitness wasn’t quite up to a Celtic level. Indeed at times he found himself behind Jonny Hayes in the pecking order for Celtic’s left back, or wing back berth, depending on which formation Neil Lennon decided to go with.
Eventually, after a simply woeful Glasgow derby, Bolingoli was dropped out of the squad and Greg Taylor stepped up. He took a bit of time, and perhaps as a player without the technical ability of Boli he took a while to convince. He did at least showed heart, willingness and an ability to carry out instructions as well as learn from mistakes, something Bolingoli hadn’t quite managed.
Indeed the dedication to the cause was clearly something Lennon held dear as Boli called up his Uber app and made a quick exit from Rugby Park,unhappy at not making a match day squad and has since been placed in cold storage, until this pre-season.
From January Greg Taylor has made himself Celtic’s left sided full back, and one who makes incremental improvements in the role. Ahead of him a returning Moi Elyounoussi could be the man to eke out the extra improvement and provide Celtic with the left sided equivalent of Sid and Jackie.
Much like the two wide men from Celtic’s stopping of the 10, there appears an immediate understanding between Elyounoussi and Taylor. It is of course early days, however pre-season has seen a comfortable exchange between attacking and defensive duties between the two, one that raised hopes that at long last the Tierney exit could be suitably covered.
For Tierney and Sinclair there is hope Moi and Taylor could now have that relationship that good teams crave. After all it is rarely about individuals in football it is more often than not partnerships that develop within the eleven players chosen on any given day.
There is no doubt Moi has been a superb bit of business –indeed the only one to date – for Celtic. His experience can only help develop Taylor, and speaking to Celtic TV https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNqxrqFNABQ this week Taylor echoed just that:
“Moi’s movement is top-class. I think he’ll play a massive part this season and be a massive player for us. I certainly enjoy having him in front of me and I think the boys certainly enjoy having him in the team. He scored again the other night and hopefully he can continue doing that.”
Moi himself will be looking to hit the ground running. He is the one player, despite not being contracted to Celtic, returned to training the fittest of the group, no doubt confirming Lennon’s very public wish to employ the classy Norwegian for another year.
Elyounoussi played 20 times last season in a year cruelly interrupted by injury, he scored seven and added six assists and there are few fans who didn’t see merit in his return. His link up play with Taylor adds another dimension to Celtic’s left side.
As this season progresses there are interesting battles and partnerships emerging. Moi and Taylor look one of those ready to come to the fore. There’s something reminiscent of Jackie and Sid. Let’s hope it develops as well as that pairing did. The early signs are more than encouraging.