Despite there still being plenty of games left to play in the current Scottish Premiership season, Celtic undoubtedly will already have one eye on the next campaign.
Neil Lennon’s side are in the midst of their worst period in recent history, seeing their ten-in-a-row hopes go up in smoke and having to watch Rangers run away with the title.
But ahead of their Scottish Premiership clash against Kilmarnock tonight, the Hoops could take an important step to realising a brighter future by giving one of their stand-out young talents a chance to shine: Stephen Welsh.
The 21-year-old has played just 218 minutes of league football this season, and has hardly put a foot wrong, including a fine display in the Old Firm clash against Rangers – speaking on A Celtic State of Mind podcast, Paul John Dykes thought he had an “excellent game” against Steven Gerrard’s men.
Writing in a post-match Q&A for The Athletic last year, Kieran Devlin described him as a “very intelligent and modern defender, not just a bruiser”.
The Hoops have had to bear witness to Shane Duffy taking to the old-fashioned approach a bit too much this season, showing little poise on the ball and invariably hoofing it into row Z or trying to play it long – his total of 3.8 long balls per game ranks him fourth in the entire Celtic squad, whilst his pass accuracy is the worst of any centre-back.
It’s no surprise that many Celtic fans have been frustrated with Lennon’s refusal to give Welsh a genuine chance in the first-team, instead sticking with Duffy through his woeful performances, and shoehorning Bitton – a natural midfielder – into the centre of defence.
The 6 foot 3 Welsh is the man Lennon should be building Celtic’s future around, whether he remains the club’s manager for the long-term or not.
The rebuild needs to start here, and it needs to be centred around players who could form the spine of this Hoops team for the next several years.
Welsh falls into that category, just like the 22-year-old Ismaila Soro. The latter’s already made his mark on this side and ousted Scott Brown.
Now it’s surely time for Welsh to be given the same opportunity, starting with a game against Kilmarnock tonight.