Matt O’Riley – plenty of interest, more money on offer elsewhere, and the meeting of minds between the player and the Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou…
New Celtic signing Matt O’Riley was certainly a man in demand this season after being an ever present in his MK Dons side and chipping in with seven goals and five assists in 26 games, and according to The Athletic, Celtic, who came late to the Matt O’Riley party, after missing out on Riley McGree, were far from favourites to sign the player as little as a few days ago.
However, a personal deep dive into the players abilities by Ange Postecoglou, followed by a personal phone call from the manager, eventually saw Celtic win the race for a player whose statistical analysis had even piqued the interest of Liverpool.
‘Clubs from all over Europe enquired about the 21-year-old’s availability. From Antwerp in Belgium, to Bordeaux in France, PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands and the trio of Torino, Sassuolo and Venezia in Italy’s Serie A, the list of clubs was long. His statistics were so impressive that they kept flagging up attention at Liverpool. Their fellow Premier League sides Burnley and Newcastle United were also thought to have considered a move for O’Riley.
The extent of that demand, which also included Championship sides Blackburn Rovers and Swansea City, meant a transfer somewhere this month felt almost certain’.
And it seems, as with the players decision to reject a contract offer with Fulham at 19 years old and train on a public park in West London with his dad, football and not money was the only factor in his decision, with The Athletic also stating that an 11th hour attempt to gazump Celtic came with an offer of better financial recompense than the player will be getting at Celtic.
O’Riley v McGree ? One chose career development at a massive club, the other chose £s. It appears WBA offered our new bhoy a better contract, but he snubbed it, for football reasons. Whereas, @ the 11th hr, McGree snubbed us for the smell of money ? Have we got the right player ?
— Celtic Symphony (@DM8883) January 21, 2022
‘That focus on a best fit is why he chose Celtic and why a late swoop this week from West Bromwich Albion, who are thought likely to have offered him a better contract to join their Premier League promotion bid, was unlikely to succeed. With O’Riley, it is career progression that mattered most.’
It appears West Brom and a multitude of other clubs’ loss will ultimately be Celtic’s gain. O’Riley may seem a young project signing when you look at the fee and his age but there is little chance O’Riley himself will see it that way. There is a self-assuredness, without any cockiness, to this player and if he transfers the strengths of his game from League 1 English football to Scotland, it seems it will be difficult for Ange Postecoglou to leave the player out his starting eleven.
Statistically according to SmarterScout O’Riley looks a strong player. With excellent figures for ball recoveries, interceptions and disrupting opposition moves, he seems an ideal fit for Postecoglou’s high pressing game. Meanwhile his spread of passing across medium to long range is also impressive, as are his crossing statistics, although his figures for shorter passes are considerably less.
O’Riley also scores high for his link up play and progressive passes, and when it comes to both carrying the ball and dribbling again the player scores well. Indeed, alongside his lesser figures on short passes, O’Riley’s only other areas of concern come from a low volume of shots taken, winning the ball in the opposition box and ariel duels.
For a 21-year-old playing in lower English League football his statistics explain just why so many clubs were interested in him, however the intangibles of attitude, self-belief and a drive to develop further may have been as important, if not more so, for Ange Postecoglou, who appears to put a lot of weight behind the character of his signing as he does by any of their more easily measurable metrics.
Celtic it appears were a late addition to the race for Matt O’Riley, but when they joined, they found a player ideal for an Ange Postecoglou system, and one had it not been for the collapse of the Riley McGree deal, we may not even have considered.
It appears a meeting of minds between manager and player, where football, and the style in which it is played, trumps everything else, led to Matt O’Riley signing on at Celtic and rejecting more lucrative offers elsewhere. If nothing else that means Celtic have signed a player who wants to play for Celtic and that is as good a starting point as any in a game where the bottom line so often appears the priority.