Mouyokolo is in the recovery position for Celtic

STEVEN MOUYOKOLO is facing the most crucial few months of his short, but troubled, career.

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Steven Mouyokolo was part of the travelling party which flew over to Turkey last week
Steven Mouyokolo was part of the travelling party which flew over to Turkey last week

After just two appearances in the Hoops, his future as a Celtic player is on the line.

The defender aims to defy medical science and be back pushing for a first-team place - and a new contract - within the next four weeks.

Mouyokolo suffered a sickening rupture of an Achilles tendon during a routine training game in mid-September, and required major surgery to repair the damage.

The initial prognosis was he would be out for several months, effectively ruling him out for the remainder of the season.

Having been handed just a one-year contract after impressing in trials at the end of last season and the beginning of this, the Frenchman - who will turn 27 next week - recognised his Celtic career was in serious danger of ending before it had the chance to begin.

But, following the success of his surgery, and months of committed rehab, Mouyokolo can see an early end to his agony.

The intention is to get back into the first team and convince Neil Lennon he is worth another deal.

Given his difficult history with injury, which has travelled with him through a career with Boulogne, Hull City, Sochaux and to Wolves - where he cut short his contract 12 months ago to return to France to engage in the specific rehab he believed he needed after rupturing a cruciate ligament - it is clear he has not been blessed by good fortune.

However, his grit and determination not to let anything beat him is one of the main qualities which endeared him to Lennon when he first came looking to impress last season.

It is this inner strength which Mouyokolo is once again drawing upon to get back on to the pitch, and into negotiations for another contract.

"I've had a lot of disappointments in my life," he reflected.

"But this was one of the hardest to take, as I worked really hard to come back and felt really good and fit and I was enjoying myself.

"It happened one week before the Champions League, which everyone dreams about playing in.

"But this is life. Everything that happens, you always have to see the positive part."

On this occasion, that has been the help and encouragement he has received from everyone at a club where he was still very much a new Bhoy when misfortune struck.

Ever-mindful of this, the mannerly Mouyokolo said: "I'd like to thank everyone for all their support. The fans have been amazing, asking me in the street when I'm going to be back, wishing me all the best and telling me to be strong.

"That was really good."

In his absence, Virgil van Dijk - another summer arrival - has formed a strong pairing with Efe Ambrose at the heart of the Hoops defence.

Breaking into that will be every bit as tough as fighting back from this injury.

But Mouyokolo is undaunted. And his inclusion in the party which travelled to Turkey last week - even if it was just a change of scenery for him as the others trained and played the Antalya Cup games - was a reminder he is on his way back.

Lennon is on record as admitting he wants to add to his defensive cover in this window.

Teenagers Marcus Fraser and Eoghan O'Connell confirmed in Sunday's final against Galatasaray that they are making great strides towards being considered viable options.

But if Mouyokolo continues to eat up the miles on the road to recovery, he could save the manager looking beyond the boundaries of the first-team squad he already has.

Finally, after receiving treatment on both sides of the channel, there is light at the end of this very long tunnel.

Mouyokolo explained: "I went to France to the rehab centre to take my head away from this environment as it's quite frustrating.

"But now it's getting closer and closer and it just makes me more excited."

He is experienced enough to know he can't afford to risk pushing too hard, too soon, tempting though it is.

Within the next fortnight, he expects to move out of the gym and treatment room and resume running round the pitches at Lennoxtown.

While that might not be the most appealing prospect to most others, as the bitter January wind whips around the training complex next to the Campsie Hills, for Mouyokolo, it will be cause for celebration.

He will continue to listen to what his body is telling him, and also to the expert advice on offer from the medical and training staff at the club.

"I'm quite ahead of schedule," he said, with no little relief. "The physios and the fitness coaches have helped me a lot."

When he does return, Mouyokolo hopes Celtic are still extending the domestic shut-out record they have been putting together since conceding in the 3-1 win over Aberdeen on November 23.

He knows just how tough it is to maintain this level of frugality, and is happy to heap praise on those involved.

Mouyokolo told Celtic TV: "Efe and Virgil are two very good defenders. And, although it's also about the team, we have worked really hard in training on the defensive part.

"It's good for everyone we're not conceding goals which means we're at least going to get a draw or a win.

"Hopefully we can carry on to the end of the season."

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