Five things Celtic fans should know about Olivier Ntcham

Olivier Ntcham celebrates after scoring an injury-time equaliser. Picture: Getty
Olivier Ntcham celebrates after scoring an injury-time equaliser. Picture: Getty
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Celtic are on the verge of signing Manchester City youngster Olivier Ntcham. Here’s everything you need to know about the 21-year-old Frenchman.

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He’s been compared with Paul Pogba and Yaya Toure

As soon as you see him you’ll understand why. Similar to the Manchester midfield superstars, Ntcham is positively Herculean; a burly figure who stands out from the pack even from row Z. As you would therefore expect, strength and power is a significant part of his game. He wins his fair share of battles with opponents and is a real force when he gets the opportunity to drive forward with the football.

Such comparisons were strengthened when he originally went to Genoa and played regularly in the opening months of the 2015-16 season. His performances, and playing time, dropped off soon after and halfway through his second season it looked certain he would return to City six months prematurely. In the end, Ntcham stuck it out and forced his way back into first-team contention, netting two important last minute goals in consecutive games (including this stunner) which won Genoa four vital points in their fight against the drop.

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He likes to shoot from distance

Even though he played less than 1,000 minutes last season, Ntcham still managed 18 shots from distance, an average of 1.8 per game. This number falls below the average of Tom Rogic (2.9 per game) and Stuart Armstrong (2.0) but Genoa struggled to a 16th place finish in Serie A, while the other two starred on the single most dominant team in Scottish football history. Expect Ntcham’s attempts to rise next season.

He’d be a good foil for Brown or Bitton

The two Celtic midfielders, once looked upon as partners at the base of the 4-2-3-1 formation, are no longer considered compatible co-workers, with Callum McGregor or Stuart Armstrong increasingly preferred alongside Scott Brown at the base of the midfield. That’s because Brown and Bitton tend to perform similar roles by each looking to dominate possession and dictate the tempo of the game. While it was expected Bitton would be on his way out of Celtic Park, the Israeli remains and, for the time being, will play the role of back-up to the Celtic skipper.

Ntcham would fit nicely alongside either of the aforementioned pair as he’s someone who tends to work better off the ball rather than demand possession from his team-mates.

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He’s versatile

While he’s strongest position is as a box-to-box midfielder, Ntcham played across the midfield and even in attack over the past two seasons for Genoa. This was especially true of his debut season under the tactically strict Gian Piero Gasperini. The experienced Italian coach had his team drilled to work in a 3-4-3 formation that was built around the system rather than the personnel. As a result, Ntcham featured in the centre, on the wing, and as a False 9 up front.

While some would suggest the lack of regular playing time in a single position has harmed Ntcham’s development in Serie A, his tactical understanding could only have been strengthened by the experience, and Brendan Rodgers should have no qualms about trusting him in the starting XI from the get-go.

He’s had some off-field issues

Reports in Italy claim the player was stopped on five separate occasions for driving without a license and was eventually fined by Italian authorities. These stories conflict with glowing reports of how Ntcham conducts himself on the pitch, with coaches and team-mates describing him as a natural leader, a strength which enabled him to captain the French under-16 side earlier in his career.

Genoa president Enrico Preziosi once said of the player: “I’ve been in the world of football 26 years and I’ve never seen a similar player at his age. He has unlimited potential, and is really a fantastic talent.” Perhaps it’s only natural that a youngster deserving of such effusive praise comes to Scotland with a little bit of baggage.

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