Lifelong Celtic fan and English lower league veteran manager Steve Evans has offered some insight into new signing Matt O’Riley. And as you’d expect from the outspoken Evans, he’s not one for simply blowing smoke up the backsides of his fellow Celtic supporters when it comes to assessing a player he’s had first-hand experience of when it comes to mitigating the players undoubted talents.
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) January 20, 2022
Having managed League 1 side Gillingham Evans until recently, speaking to Scottish Sun, has had a good view of Matt O’Riley, having been on the end of a fine O’Riley performance in a 4-1 win for MK Dons over his Gill’s side, before shacking the player in a goalless encounter just three weeks ago, and thinks the midfielder has just the attributes needed to play at Celtic but also will need to adapt the ferocious pace of the Scottish game.
“The boy was very highly regarded as a young player at Fulham and I remember seeing him in seven or eight games for their development team. O’Riley stood out back then and he’d later get a number of first-team appearances.
“They offered him a new deal and he refused it before leaving. Then months later he turned up at MK Dons. He did very well last season and I was impressed with him when he played against us. But this season there’s no doubt he’s gone up a level and I know Celtic have beaten off strong interest in the kid, albeit at Championship level.
“O’Riley’s got a great left foot. He can put the ball on a toadstool from 70 yards, don’t worry about that. He’ll pass it all over the pitch. But the day we got a 0-0 against MK Dons a few weeks back we kept him out of the game. I made sure we had a couple of boys around him quickly and he couldn’t shake off those shackles.
“In the days before the game I prepared in training for dealing with him. The last thing I wanted was for him to have time and space. Our tactics worked a treat. They created very little and that was largely because we managed to keep O’Riley quiet.
“I can see him doing well at Celtic — a team that controls the ball in virtually every game. Celtic, of course, also play in Europe and I couldn’t say for sure how he’ll find that level. I’ve only really seen him play League One. However, no one can question his ability.
“Constructively, he’ll need to adapt to close attention up there. If he tries to take the time on the ball he’s often had down here then he’ll be stampeded. I’ll be interested to see how he deals with close attention. I look at Ross County, for instance, and I think big Malky Mackay’s feeding his players raw meat — right now they’re running through brick walls.
“But, overall, I believe Celtic have got a very good player.”
Steve Evans as a manager has never exactly been renowned for producing creative football teams, but when it comes to hard work and organisation, you’ll rarely fins his teams wanting. As such his constructive assessment of the players abilities make for interesting reading.
It’s clear Evans feels the player is a fine footballer and a good fit for Celtic but he’s honest enough to admit there are a few unknowns when it comes to O’Riley adapting to Scottish football.
Honoured to be joining @CelticFC
Huge club which I’m truly grateful to be part of! Really thankful to everyone who made it possible. Looking forward to playing in front of such an incredible fan base & can’t wait to meet you all🍀 pic.twitter.com/5E0X8AXIKj
— Matt O’Riley (@mattoriley8) January 20, 2022
To be fair that’s to be expected, O’Riley has stood out at League 1 level but it is of course a jump to play first team football for Celtic, cope with the pressure and the daily demands. Yet when a player rejects the offer of a contract extension at a club the size of Fulham, trains on his own for six months at the start of a pandemic and eventually wins a move to a team who will offer him first team football and in the position he wanted to play, you do get the impression of a player with immense self-belief.
When you consider, within a matter of months, O’Riley was MK Dons captain at 20 years of age, then should he exhibit those levels of self-assuredness at Celtic, you’d certainly be confident the player will handle the pace of Scottish football and the scrutiny of a club like Celtic.