Olivier Ntcham is ready to embrace his status as Celtic’s most expensive player of the past decade as he looks to swap the toil of Serie A relegation battles for the thrill of Champions League football.
The French midfielder yesterday completed his move to the Scottish champions from Manchester City, signing a four-year contract at his new club.
Although not formally disclosed, Ntcham’s transfer fee is understood to be £4.5 million with the possibility of another £2m in add-ons over the duration of his time with Celtic.
It is the biggest outlay Celtic have made on a player since current captain Scott Brown was recruited from Hibs for £4.4m back in 2007.
Ntcham, who spent the last two seasons on loan at Italian club Genoa, is relaxed about the level of expectation his price tag will place on him.
“The money does not put pressure on me,” said the 21-year-old. “For me, it makes me happy because the club is showing a lot of faith in me. When you buy a player, you buy him because he can do big things on the pitch. I hope this is what I can show for Celtic. The money is not a problem. It is a challenge and I am looking forward to it.”
Ntcham joined Manchester City from French club Le Havre when he was just 16, rejecting interest at the time from Arsenal, Inter Milan and Juventus. While City tied him to a long-term contract, they decided his development would be best served by his temporary move to Italian football.
Ntcham made 37 appearances in Serie A, scoring three goals for a Genoa side which finished mid-table in his first campaign with them and then avoided relegation by just four points last season. As appreciative as Ntcham was of the first-team experience his time in Italy brought him, he is eager to vindicate his new manager Brendan Rodgers’ belief that Celtic offer him a better vehicle for his skills.
“He spoke to me and told me that the Italian league did not suit my style of football,” added Ntcham. “He felt that it was not the right fit for me because it was more tactical and everything was different. The manager believes that I would be best suited to the Scottish game and the way Celtic play.
“I am a box-to-box midfielder. I always play like that. That is what the manager wants from me. I am a strong, physical player. I like to play higher up the pitch if possible, but I can play all of the central midfield positions – 8, 6 or 10. I learned a lot of tactical stuff in Italy. It has made me a better tactical player because in terms of tactics, Italy is the best football place in the world. But we did run in Italian football – a lot!
“When you play for Genoa, you know you are not going to finish in first position in the league. The big clubs with the big money finish in that position. You don’t really think you are going to win something. The main thing is to fight to stay in the league every season.
“But, here at Celtic, you want to win every single thing you play in. You are expected to win and I like that attitude. It is a very exciting challenge to join a club who were unbeatable last season in the domestic competitions here. I hope and I think we can do it again this season.”
Some familiar faces greeted Ntcham at Celtic’s training centre – his French under-21 international compatriot Moussa Dembele and his former Manchester City team-mate Dedryck Boyata.
“I spoke to both of them before I joined the club,” he said. “They told me it was great to win everything and they were very happy here. Moussa also told me about the games against Rangers and how unbelievable they are. I played in the Genoa derby, against Sampdoria, which is a great atmosphere but I am looking forward to the experience here. But the Champions League was the biggest factor for me. Not every player can play in the Champions League and that is why I came here.”
Ntcham goes straight into Celtic’s squad list for the Champions League qualifiers but does not expect to make his debut against Linfield in Belfast tomorrow.
“My body weight is good but I don’t think I’m fit enough yet,” he added. “I need to wait.”