WHILE player recruitment is high on Celtic’s agenda ahead of the potentially perilous qualification route to the Champions League, assistant manager John Collins feels they already have two ‘new’ players in their midst.
The return to full fitness of Charlie Mulgrew after missing six months of last season and a similarly healthy Mikael Lustig, who has missed nearly 12 months in the past two seasons, is a massive boost going into the new campaign and could save Celtic a fortune.
Mulgrew made a significant return at the end of last season by playing for Scotland in the 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland in Dublin as he played left centre back – a position which may become his permanent role at Parkhead if Virgil van Dijk is granted his wish and is sold to the Barclays Premier League.
He will team up with new signing Dedryck Boyata at St Mirren Park tonight when Celtic begin their pre-season schedule with a friendly against Dutch second tier side Den Bosch.
Lustig will also feature as the serious business begins for Celtic, who need to be ready for their second qualifying round tie with Icelandic side Stjarnan on 14 and 22 July.
Collins said: “It’s fantastic Charlie is back and it was good news that he got the games for Scotland. That was important for him and us. He has come back fresh and it’s another character in the dressing room and on the pitch – a good talker, a leader, so it is like a new signing.
“We missed him for six months last season; a long time for him and for us. He is so versatile, can play a number of positions and is very valuable to us. I think there’s every chance we will try him at the back. Virgil is suspended for the first Champions League game so someone will be playing left beside Dedryck. Charlie has a chance of playing there. As with Scotland, he can play left central defence.
“Mikael’s been back since the first day and has trained really well. He’s looking sharp and is a big player for us as well as a big character in the dressing room. He had a difficult time last year with injuries, but he’s looking fresh. It’s great news. Mikael proved how important he was to us last season when he did play and it’s good to have him back.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing Dedryck out there. I’ve really enjoyed working with him on the training pitch and he’s a quality player. I think the Celtic supporters will enjoy watching him. He’s very composed and technically very good.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him and I think he’s similar to Jason Denayer in that he’s very good on the ball and a good defender. But unlike Jason, who was quiet, he is very vocal, which is so important when you play at the back and you have midfielders in front of you, full-backs right and left, you need to guide them.”
Collins was also quick to allay fears about the fitness of Kris Commons, although he did confirm that he did break his small toe when he dropped a wardrobe door on it at home two weeks ago. There is still a doubt that he will be ready for the Stjarnan games, but Collins is hopeful that a player who has been pivotal in previous European nights can be ready.
He said: “Kris is getting better every day. Perhaps in another couple of days he’ll get back on to the grass and get his boots on. It’s his small toe, so too painful to put a boot on. It was a fracture, so you have to let it heal.
“We’re hoping that he will be able to train again in the next couple of days. He’s been working in the gym on the bike, so he’s keeping his fitness up.
“Accidents happen. Football players do the same things as everyone else when they go home. He’s a big-match player who scores goals, so fingers crossed we can get him back quickly.”