Celtic’s Boli Bolingoli admits ‘I’m still learning to defend’

Boli Bolingoli tussles with Hibs' Josh Vela last Saturday. Picture: SNS.
Boli Bolingoli tussles with Hibs' Josh Vela last Saturday. Picture: SNS.
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Boli Bolingoli has had his critics since he arrived at Celtic Park from Rapid Vienna this summer and the 24-year-old would not disagree with any of them.

He has been pilloried by pundits and punters alike for his lack of positional sense and defensive nous but the Belgian is the first to admit that he has a lot to learn in those departments, pointing out that he is a fairly recent convert to rearguard action.

Bolingoli is an attacker by nature and nurture and admits that he is still learning to prioritise keeping a clean sheet ahead of claiming a goal or an assist at the other end.

“I’ve been working on that; even at Rapid Vienna, I was working on that,” he said. “I’m a born offensive player but they made me a left-back and I’m progressing as a player in that position. I started as a left-winger but the coach who converted me was Juan Carlos Garrido at Bruges.

“When I went up to the first team in my first game he played me as a left-winger then he told me my career in that position was over! After that I started as a left-back. You have to accept it because it’s always good for a coach to have a player who can play in a few positions and it’s a plus point for a player to have that.

“It took me a little while to accept it but now I’m working hard on the defensive side of my game, thinking defensively. Sometimes I still think like a winger and I have to click back. I’m trying to focus like a defender; after that, the offensive part will come.”

Bolingoli was under pressure from the start because he was replacing a fans’ favourite in Kieran Tierney but he is responding positively and his performances have undergone a significant 
improvement. “I know my qualities and I wanted to show them,” he said.

“Every player is different. I know Kieran was a big player at Celtic and to replace him is a big honour for me. I want to emulate Kieran and the things he did for the club.”

Bolingoli suffered the ignominy of not only being dropped but watching midfielder Callum McGregor fill his left-back slot when CFR Cluj won 4-3 at Celtic Park last month to end the hosts’ hopes of competing in Europe’s premier club tournament. The Romanians return to Glasgow on Thursday on Europa League duty and Bolingoli believes the outcome will be different this time.

“Of course, we have a chance of revenge against Cluj,” he said. “We’re at home and it’s a big game for us so we have to show Cluj who we really are this time.

“For me the disappointment wasn’t that I wasn’t playing against them but that we were knocked out of the Champions League. I was on the bench that night but I really, really wanted us to qualify for that competition.

“However, with the squad and the quality we have, I believe we can be successful in this tournament.”