Will this season finally be a coming-of-age for Stephen Welsh?

Celtic announced during the summer transfer window that 23-year-old centre-back Stephen Welsh had penned a new four-year contract at the club.

After working hard in training and putting in some impressive displays in pre-season, he clearly caught the eye of manager Brendan Rodgers, who is known for admiring and rewarding hard work and dedication. Welsh was handed the deal following several transfer windows where he was constantly linked with a move away from Glasgow.

Buoyed with the assurances of having a manager who wanted him at the club, Welsh would have been forgiven for believing that the 2023/24 campaign was finally his time to shine. He had broken through during the worst possible season under Neil Lennon, then made only 30 appearances in two years under Ange Postecoglou. Worryingly, he played just 506 minutes during the Australian’s second season.

Few onlookers would have been surprised if Celtic decided to offload the former Scotland Under-21 captain during the pre-season, but Rodgers has identified something he likes in the player. There is, of course, also the added bonus of him helping the club to meet its home-grown quota for European matches.

Almost as soon as Welsh signed his new contract, Rodgers announced that the Academy graduate had picked up a knock in training and he was photographed soon after in a moon-boot. Talk about bad timing?

Had Celtic’s defensive injury curse not struck Welsh, there was a decent chance that he’d have been in the frame for a start against Kilmarnock in the Viaplay Cup. As it happened, Rodgers was forced to throw two new signings together at Rugby Park. The partnership of Nawrocki and Lagerbielke lasted just 90 minutes, however, before the Pole joined Welsh on the treatment table.

With defensive keystone Cameron Carter-Vickers out injured, this could have opened up the opportunity for Welsh to get some vital minutes as a first-team starter and the chance to prove his quality amongst the club’s new centre-back signings.

Speaking after his side’s 3-1 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie, Rodgers mentioned that: “I thought he (Welsh) was excellent when he came in. I like Stephen. I took him with me one pre-season when he was a young player because I really liked him.

“For whatever reason he hasn’t maybe played the games but he’s a Celtic boy who wants to be at the club. I want him to be at the club.

“I said to him, ‘I can’t guarantee you how many games you are going to play. You may play 40 games in the season’.

“I know he is always ready. He trains very hard every day and he came into the game, he played with composure, and he is aggressive. It was really well done from him.”

Just as things were opening up for him, Welsh was out of the picture again in the cruellest of ways. Fringe-man Liam Scales stepped up and perfromed like a warrior against Rangers, whilst Rodgers dipped back into the transfer market for an emergency centre-half in Nat Phillips.

So where will Welsh be in the pecking order when he returns to full fitness? There is no doubt that he’ll refocus and work hard to craft out another opportunity in the first-team. It’s that professionalism and determination that makes a player like Welsh a dream for managers. He is a low maintenance individual who is always ready to step in.

With Rodgers tying down his man, how can this benefit Celtic and Stephen Welsh’s career?

Finally some reassurance

Stephen Welsh’s situation at the club has always been up in the air, with his role and place amongst the team never feeling concrete. His only consistent minutes as a starter came in the attempted ten-in-a-row season and the former Scotland U21 captain was swiftly frozen out under Ange Postecoglou.

Interestingly, whenever offers from other clubs came in for Welsh he always stuck around at the club because of the possibility of breaking into the team. That loyalty has finally paid off for him with a new contract, but he will want to add to that with more game time.

There are weaknesses to his game, but he hasn’t really had a sufficiency of game-time to develop his attributes. With Rodgers promising the first-team minutes to Welsh, hopefully we can see improvements on the clear potential that has always been there. Now that his future is secure, he can focus on establishing himself at Celtic with no distractions or worries of what the next transfer window will bring.

Handy Player to have around the squad

At a team like Celtic, it is impossible to have players of a European calibre that will be willing to sit on the bench week in, week out. Having a player of Welsh’s quality who won’t expect to start every game is invaluable to the club.

He has also deputised at right-back previously and will be classed as one of Celtic’s home-grown players when the European squad is announced.

Despite the early injury setback, Stephen Welsh can use 2023/24 as a springboard to establishing himself as an integral part of Brendan Rodgers’ squad. The manager has belief that Welsh has it in him, and the centre-half has the drive and determination to finally make it happen.


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