As the transfer window in Scotland draws to a close, Celtic‘s business has left many fans – and indeed managed Brendan Rodgers – underwhelmed.
The Hoops have broken their transfer record to secure Odsonne Édouard from Paris Saint-Germain, but the striker spent last season on loan at Parkhead, so the £9million fee was effectively money spent stand still.
And Celtic’s last-gasp signing of free agent Youssouf Mulumbu has done little to inspire confidence that the Glasgow side have made significant strides this summer.
But, while Mulumbu, who spent last season with Kilmarnock and was not retained by the Scottish Premiership side, may not be the most glamorous signing in Celtic’s illustrious history, there is a reason to believe his arrival could help get the best out of one of the most talented players at Rodgers’ disposal.
Gifted French midfielder Olivier Ntcham, 22, arrived from Manchester City last summer for £4.5million. Since then, he has shown regular flashes of the skills that have made him an under-21 International for France, but few would doubt the young playmaker, who scored nine times in 47 all-competitions games last term, has room for significant improvement.
There were rumours that Ntcham would agitate for a move away from Glasgow’s East End after the Bhoys failed to qualify for the Champions League group stage, but, recognising the young player’s value and potential, it now appears Celtic are set to offer him a bumper new deal to ward off interest.
Many Celtic fans were disappointed to see the club miss out on signing John McGinn from Hibernian, with Aston Villa swooping for the midfielder while the Scottish champions haggled with their SPL rivals.
But, while McGinn is a more gifted passer of the ball, Mulumbu, a defensive midfielder by trade, could impact the Celtic squad in the way many hoped the Scotland international would.
At 33, captain Scott Brown is approaching the twilight of his career, and while his passion and drive remain unrelenting, the veteran enforcer’s mobility is beginning to wane.
However, with Mulumbu alongside him, the pair would bring new levels of steel to the Celtic midfield, protecting the backline – which was hit by an early-season crisis at centre-half thanks to injuries, suspensions and the mood of wantaway Dedryck Boyata.
This would free Ntcham of some of his defensive responsibilities, allowing the young Frenchman to focus on the creative aspects of his game which make him such a highly touted prospect.
Whether as a No.10 in a 4-2-3-1 system or the recently used 3-4-1-2, or operating in a free role within a midfield three, Ntcham would benefit from the assuredness provided by a double pivot of Brown and Mulumbu.
With greater freedom to express himself, Ntcham could become even more of a direct goal threat too, softening the blow of striker Moussa Dembélé’s exit, should the former Fulham striker be granted his desired move to Lyon on deadline day.
Mulumbu’s Celtic arrival does not offer much excitement in itself, but it might just be the key to unleashing the full potential of one of the side’s most gifted young stars in Ntcham.