Middle class working hard to be Celtic aristocrats

WHEN you get two starkly contrasting views, it's all got to be down to perspective.

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The likes of Liam Henderson are already providing stiff competition for Beram Kayl in Celtic's midfield
The likes of Liam Henderson are already providing stiff competition for Beram Kayl in Celtic's midfield

From the other side of the world, Tom Rogic believes the technical skills he has encountered since joining Celtic 14 months ago have blown his mind.

From within Lennoxtown -and, more importantly, perhaps, the dugout at Parkhead - Beram Kayal has declared Scottish football lacks technique and is played at breakneck speed, with power and intensity the main tenet of the game.

It's sure to fire up debate within the Hoops camp, not least among the coaching team who work every day to try to improve the ability of every player at the club.

Despite the wide-eyed opinion of Aussie starlet Rogic - currently on loan at Melbourne Victory to try and gain the game time he was missing out on at Celtic - no one would suggest the highest quality football in the world is to be found in the SPFL.

And, while Celtic have again proved to be far and away the best team in the country, their struggle to remain competitive throughout a Champions League group stage campaign has shown Lennon and his staff are correct to consider there is much work still be done to knock the rough edges off the raw talent they have assembled to form a team.

But, by the same token, Kayal's blunt assertion that it is all about effort with no semblance of ability has to be seen for what it is: The jaundiced opinion of a man who has failed to produce the skill he undoubtedly has for reasons that abide in his mind and his backbone.

The truth is that Kayal has been overtaken by the new breed of midfield players at the club, including Nir Biton and Stefan Johansen, which, to a man who is still only 25 should be a real concern and cause to be searching his soul, not seeking the exit door.

Sure, Kayal has been dogged by injuries during his four years at Celtic, including ankle ligament damage, a broken wrist and, most recently, a broken foot bone sustained in the Champions League tie against AC Milan in November.

But the greatest damage appears to have been done to Kayal's will, so a parting of the ways might be best for all concerned.

Certainly, there are replacements queueing up to fill the void, the aforementioned Biton and Johansen joined by young Liam Henderson in challenging midfield centre-pins, Scott Brown and Charlie Mulgrew, for starting places.

That's before any fresh intake in the summer when Lennon again plans to add more quality to his squad.

Bubbling nicely underneath are the kids who want to join 17-year-old Henderson and last weekend's debut Bhoy, 18-year-old Eoghan O'Connell, in making the step up.

The final few weeks of the season will see more of them given their chance.

Assistant boss Johan Mjallby concedes that, while a clutch of regulars will welcome the chance to step aside and enjoy an early break, there are others who just want to keep going to the very end of another title-winning campaign.

The former defender said: "A lot of the guys still want to play the games. As footballers, that's the most important thing. You want to play because, now and then, maybe training can become a bit boring."

However, having wrapped up the title in record time, Mjallby accepts the management have to use this opportunity to see what they have in reserve before the buying season begins.

He said: "It's going to be a good chance for us to have a look at the young boys.

"A few of them have already been in the squad. Darnell Fisher has broken through. Then you have got Eoghan O'Connell, and, of course, there's Liam Henderson, and Filip Twardzik is coming back from long-term injury.

"It is definitely a chance for them to make their mark and say, 'I'm here and willing to compete and want to be in the first team.'"

Kayal take note.

Having the right men in place to help the emerging talent adapt to the demands of playing in the first team is a very important part of this development.

They can make them feel they deserve to be there, and use their experience to allay any fears which may travel with them from the under-20s.

For Mjallby, the way Fisher has been absorbed into the fabric of the first team this season - the 19-year-old stepping in as a more-than-able replacement for Mikael Lustig and Adam Matthews before himself picking up a knee injury which might require surgery - is the perfect example of close-range mentoring at its best.

Coaches on the sidelines do their bit, but it is the education the youngsters are receiving from the men standing alongside them on the training pitch and on match days that has the greatest impact.

"You can train every day for eight hours, but it doesn't really work that way that you are going to pick things up," Mjallby told Celtic TV.

"It's probably more important for you, as a player, to get a few tips and a word here and there in your ear about what to think about."

He went on: "Defensively, Darnell has been great, and he's got pace and a great attitude. He is also strong in his body. But good advice is for him to have a look at Mikael and Adam, how they drive the game.

"We want our full-backs to go forward a lot and be attack-minded. I think Darnell has done brilliantly when he has come in and has done a great job for us.

"It's good for him now to try to progress further and become an even better full-back. And for that, it's important to have a word here and there.

"As an old centre-back myself, I know a little bit about how to defend. But maybe I wasn't the player who was going to go forward all of the time, so it is probably better for the rest of the guys to give Darnell advice."

Football

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