When Jack Hendry departed for a season-long loan deal with Oostende over the summer, there was barely a murmur.
After all, this was a defender who had played just once for Celtic last season, enduring a torrid campaign where he eventually ended up on loan in Australia before suffering knee ligament damage.
Evidently out of Neil Lennon’s plans, a temporary spell to Oostende in Belgium followed at the start of the current season and so far, Hendry is reaping the rewards.
Signed for just £1.5m in 2018, he’s only made 27 appearances in the famous green and white but he could be leaving permanently in the summer.
That’s because his loan club have ambitions of signing him permanently. Unfortunately for Nick Hammond, they have an option to buy the player so staying at Celtic seems unlikely for the time being.
Of course, plenty could change between now and the summer, so for Neil Lennon, he must be hoping and praying that Hendry remains at Parkhead.
But why is that the case? Well, with Kristoffer Ajer’s future in Glasgow also uncertain amid links to Milan, Hendry could save the Hoops millions in the transfer market should they need to find a replacement for the Norwegian colossus.
Improving the backline is of utmost importance, therefore, and Hammond has clearly recognised that. They have been linked with a switch for centre-back Filip Benkovic while Preston’s Ben Davies has also been touted with a move to the Bhoys.
However, with Hendry, they could forget all about signing someone new because they already have their ideal Ajer replacement right under their nose.
The 25-year-old has been a pillar of solidity in Belgium this season and has earned wonderful reviews for his displays. Manager Alexander Blessin said: “He’s a great talker in defence. He makes the people he’s playing with better. You can see them listening to him. He’s been a tower of experience for us.”
Blessin continued: “Jack’s the most important member of the team this season and he’s one of the best defenders in the league. He can defend, he’s fast and he’s also a useful weapon at attacks because of his height.”
Does that remind you of anyone? It sounds a lot like Ajer. The Norwegian is a valuable leader and not only can he defend but he’s also a threat from set plays and can bring the ball out of defence.
Ajer typifies a ball-playing centre-half and in Hendry, Lennon can be assured of keeping that quality at the heart of his defence.
For instance, the Oostende loanee has completed 86.5% of his passes this season. Ajer, meanwhile, has been successful with 88% of his passes. For further comparison, there are just two inches in height between the two centre-backs.
It’s clear there are huge similarities between the two players and if Ajer does indeed leave, Celtic must hope that Hendry stays at Parkhead. If he does, unleashing him next season simply has to happen. The defender has more than proven he’s capable.