FOR a player who started only one top-tier fixture in the season just ended (a 4-1 stroll against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in December), Dedryck Boyata is certainly not short of confidence.
The 24-year-old, signed from Manchester City for £1.5 million, was unveiled at Celtic Park yesterday as the Scottish champions’ first summer signing and immediately targeted a place in the Belgium squad for next year’s European Championship finals.
Boyata suggested that playing regularly for Ronny Deila’s side in the Premiership and in Europe should be sufficient to persuade national team coach Marc Wilmots to select him.
He has been encouraged by the success Jason Denayer enjoyed in Glasgow. Boyata was his mentor when his countryman first arrived at the Etihad but the pupil has quickly overtaken the teacher.
The 19-year-old, who had no previous first-team experience prior to his time on loan at Parkhead, not only won two trophies – and the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year award – with Celtic but also made his full international debut in a vital 1-0 victory away to Israel on 31 March.
Boyata’s solitary cap came against Austria five years ago and he admits his representative career has been hampered by his peripheral status at City.
“I spoke mostly to John Guidetti. He told me good things about the club”Dedryck Boyata
He is, however, convinced that he will have added to that total by the time of the festival of football in France next summer.
“I have been in the national team before,” he said. “After that it was about playing games. When I wasn’t playing for Manchester City I couldn’t say I was able to play for the national team – even though I was at a big club.
“So I think from the moment I start playing my games I am going to give a reason to the manager to pick me for the Euros in 2016.” Oddly, Denayer was not among those whose opinion Boyata sought before agreeing a four-year deal with Celtic.
“It was all about the opportunity to play for a big team,” he claimed. “I have been in Britain for seven or eight years now and know how big Celtic is.
“From the first minute I heard I would have a chance of moving here I spoke to my agent and everybody was happy with that.
“I know some players who played here as well. I spoke and asked questions and heard really good things. I didn’t really have to think too much.
“[However], I didn’t speak to Jason. I spoke most of the time to John Guidetti.
He told me good things about the club.
“Jason and I went through the ranks in different ways. I know Jason from when he came through the reserves and I was the one helping him a lot.
“From the moment he moved here, I was looking at him all the time and I was really happy to see he had a good season here.
“When you see you have this opportunity to play games – especially because that is what I need – it was a really good opportunity to move on.”
His move north should also provide Boyata with the chance to increase his medal haul. He was an FA Cup winner with City in 2011, although he was an unused substitute in the 1-0 victory over Stoke at Wembley.
More appealing, however, was the prospect of finally being able to compete in club football’s most prestigious tournament.
Seven of his 35 appearances for City came in the Europa League – he twice came up against Alessandro del Piero with Juventus and his only goal for his former club came in a 2-0 home win over Romanians FCU Poli.
He also played a further three times in the competition while on loan to FC Twente two years ago, but he has set his sights on hearing Zadok the Priest on a regular basis.
“I’ve never had the chance to play in the Champions League,” he said. “I’ve been on the bench for City five or six times.
“This was very frustrating for me because, as a young boy, you dream about playing in those games. You see yourself next to the line but you can’t get over it.”
After making his debut under Roberto Mancini in January, 2010, Boyata had to contend with international stars such as Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis, Eliaquim Mangala, Joleon Lescott, Matija Nastasic, Kolo Toure, Micah Richards and Jerome Boateng vying for a place in his position.
“They had players with quality but I think I’m good enough to play at that level,” he said. “But the manager is the one who takes the decisions and it was frustrating for me.
“Hopefully, this year it will be a chance for me to live my dream. I always told myself in my head I was good enough to play where I was.
“I had my opportunities but, if you are at my stage, you are not going to play all the time. That was the issue.
“I thought that, by showing my qualities, I would show the people at City I could play every week. But, obviously, that wasn’t the case.
“There is a point where you need to think and say to yourself: ‘I need to go somewhere to play games’.”
Even so, Boyata’s quality was recognised as he toiled on the sidelines and he had offers from elsewhere for 2015-16. “I could have stayed in England or gone to France or Spain,” he said.
Fortunately for Celtic, Deila was able to convince Boyata that he would thrive in the Premiership.
“I saw the manager twice in Manchester, once after training and then another time he came to see me,” he said. “For me, It was good that they came to see me – from that moment I had it in my head about coming to play for Celtic.
“He’s told me the plan for me and, because of what he’s done with Jason, it was not a hard decision.
“I’ve seen Celtic in the Champions League before and they are a big club. I see them being able to be in it again. If we can qualify then that would be a really good thing and I think it is possible.”