OF the six new players recruited by Celtic during the last transfer window, only one can be regarded as an unqualified success.
Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk’s performance levels have been consistent and impressive enough to see him linked with Arsenal and Manchester City this month.
The jury is still very much out on four of Neil Lennon’s summer signings, with midfielder Nir Biton, winger Derk Boerrigter and strikers Teemu Pukki and Amido Balde yet to make significant or sustained contributions for the champions. But, in the case of the remaining newcomer, it has hardly been possible to form any opinion whatsoever. Steven Mouyokolo had barely started his Celtic career when he suffered a serious Achilles tendon injury in training at the start of September.
For the French defender, who spent 17 months on the sidelines recovering from cruciate knee ligament surgery before signing a one-year contract with Celtic last July, it was another stroke of horribly cruel misfortune. But there is at last some light at the end of what Mouyokolo admits has been a very dark tunnel. The former Hull City and Wolves player, who will celebrate his 27th birthday later this month, has returned to training with the Celtic first-team squad during their mid-season break in Turkey this week.
Mouyokolo is poised to be back in action quicker than was initially anticipated as he looks to play a part in Celtic’s bid to win a second successive league and Scottish Cup double this season. “I have had a lot of disappointments in my life,” reflected Mouyokolo, “but this injury was one of the hardest ones to take, as I worked really hard to come back before it and felt really good and fit and I was enjoying myself.
“It happened a week before the Champions League, which everyone dreams about playing in. But this is life and you have to be positive – everything that happens, you always have to see the positive part.
“The injury is getting much better now. It’s been a while as it happened in September one week before the Milan game, and now I’m quite ahead of schedule and should be back jogging in ten or 12 days. The physios and fitness coaches have helped me a lot and I’ve recovered quite quickly. I’d like to thank everyone for all their support. The fans have been amazing, asking me in the street when I was going to be back, wishing me all the best and telling me to be strong. That was really good.”
Mouyokolo made an impressive first-team debut for Celtic in their 2-0 Premiership win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie in August, before being part of a far less convincing team display as they lost 2-0 to Shakhter Karagandy in the first leg of the Champions League play-off tie in Kazakhstan. He found himself as an unused substitute for the next few weeks before his injury scuppered his hopes of mounting a challenge to Lennon’s now established central defensive pairing of Van Dijk and Efe Ambrose.
Mouyokolo has become very much Celtic’s forgotten man since then and he initially took himself away from the club’s Lennoxtown training ground as he struggled to come to terms with the situation.
“I went to France to the rehab centre to take my head away from this environment as it’s quite frustrating when you are watching training and knowing you are not going to come back soon,” he told Celtic TV.
“But now it’s getting closer and closer and it just makes me more excited. Efe and Virgil are two very good defenders, and, although it’s also about the team, we have worked really hard in training on the defensive part and I hope we carry on.
“It’s good for everyone that we are not conceding goals which means we are at least going to get a draw or a win so, hopefully, we can carry on to the end of the season.”