With Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic tenure now over and the search for a new manager seemingly narrowed down to one man, Brendan Rodgers, we are close to embarking on another new era at the club.
The appointment of a new manager generally brings with it new staff, new players, and a clean slate for existing players who may otherwise have been deemed surplus to requirements.
Towards the end of last season, Celtic’s performances took a bit of a nose dive in comparison to the high standards we had come to expect under Ange. The Aussie chose to use the post-split games to rotate the side heavily. As a result, the team looked disjointed as players who had not featured very often during the season came into the side and looked very much off the pace.
With a change in management coming soon, players whom fans may have written off will be handed a second chance to prove their worth in a make-or-break pre-season. Brendan Rodgers’ re-appointment is expected soon, and we have picked out three 3 players who will need to their game over the summer if they are to prove their worth to the new manager.
The young Argentine came to Celtic Park with high expectations. Not just because of his price tag of over £3.5 million, but also because he was expected to provide a stern challenge to Greg Taylor for the starting berth at left-back.
The Argentine made 15 appearances in his debut season for Celtic but, it is fair to say, he rarely set the heather alight with his performances. While there were glimpses of quality going forward, Bernabei’s lack of defensive acumen and his difficulty adapting to the inverted full-back role led to major concerns being raised by a large section of the Celtic support.
It did not help Bernabei’s case that Taylor had the season of his career meaning that the 22-year-old Correa native found regular and consistent minutes hard to come by. This, combined with a court appearance, a language barrier, and welcoming a baby girl into the world all added up to a stressful first 12 months at Celtic Park.
However, with Rodgers’ return potentially seeing Celtic veer away from playing with inverted full-backs and looking at more of an emphasis on hitting the byline, Bernabei could be in for a second chance at Celtic Park. If he wants to succeed at the club, he needs to grab every opportunity he gets.
The Montenegrin has split opinion among Celtic fans. He has delighted with flashes of brilliant technical ability and dribbling skills, while also frustrating fans by seeing too many games pass him by.
Appearances from the bench have been where Hakšabanović has performed to the peak of his powers, but in games where he starts, he has often gone missing. If the 24-year-old is to succeed at Celtic, and step into Liel Abada’s first-team place should the Israeli move on, then he needs to turn these flashes of brilliance into consistent performances.
Like Bernabei, Hakšabanović struggled to get a consistent run in the side due to the form of those ahead of him in the queue. His versatility in being able to operate anywhere across the frontline may also have worked against him as, despite spending a full season at the club, there is still some uncertainty over what his strongest position actually is.
It could be that a change of manager and a change of position into a more central role could give Haksabanovic’s Celtic career the jumpstart it needs.
Perhaps unfairly on this short list, perhaps not, the Japanese defender joined the club only 7 months ago, but fans are already questioning whether he has the tools to make the grade at Celtic.
Signed as a ball-playing centre-back, Kobayashi has looked nervous when he has played, even alongside the composed presence that is Cameron Carter-Vickers. Poor performances against Hibernian and Rangers at the tail end of the season are performances that fans won’t forget and were performances that ultimately cost him a Cup final place.
Having been bullied by the likes of Lawrence Shankland and Kevin Nisbet, and proven himself a liability defending set-pieces, a summer of bulking up could be of benefit for the 22-year-old.
Described by Kevin Graham as one of those players who needs a pre-season with Ange before we’ll see the best of him, Kobayashi may already be facing a crossroads in his fledgling Celtic career with the Australian no longer there to support him.
The next couple of months will certainly be interesting ones at Celtic Park once the new manager is installed and stamps his mark on the playing squad. Undoubtedly there will be comings and goings, but so long as Celtic emerges stronger come the end of the summer, then nothing else really matters.
But for the three players identified in this article, pre-season is their opportunity to impress the new manager and turn their careers around at Celtic. It will be crucial for them to show significant improvements in their respective areas to secure a place in the team and contribute to the club’s success.
James McKenzie / Kevin McCluskie