Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers revealed last night that the Premiership champions had succeeded where Champions League holders Real Madrid had failed in persuading Chelsea to part with Belgian Under-21 midfielder Charly Musonda.
The Spanish giants had been so impressed by Musonda’s display against them for Real Betis during a loan spell in La Liga two years ago that coach Zinedine Zidane wanted to add him to his squad of Galacticos.
Fortunately for Celtic, the London club refused to sell. However, he is now at the stage in his development where regular competitive action is required if he is to progress and, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, N’Golo Kante, Ross Barkley, Willian, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko currently blocking his way, opportunities for him at Stamford Bridge are limited.
Injuries to key players such as Patrick Roberts, Tom Rogic, Stuart Armstrong and Moussa Dembele have hampered Celtic this season but Rodgers believes the arrival of Musonda can add some of the verve and vision which has been missing in recent months.
“He is quality,” said the Irishman. “Where we’ve been unfortunate this year – and I’ve tried not to cry too much about it – is in terms of injuries but you only need to look at the players we’ve had out for periods of time to see that we’ve been missing the goal threats and the real creative side of our game.
“I remember talking to Chelsea about him last year and the guys there were telling me that, when he played for Real Betis against Real Madrid, Zidane tried to buy him the following day.
“That’s the talent that he has. He has this remarkable skill and he has speed with it as well. It’s been unfortunate for him because he hasn’t been able to get out on loan. His talent has kept him in and about Chelsea’s squad.
“Eventually, though, at some point he and Chelsea knew that he had to go and play games and this is a great environment for him to come to.
“He’s a young guy and an exciting player. Charly had 24 clubs interested in taking him – and some real prestigious clubs at that.
“We had permission from Chelsea last season for him to speak to us and he came up. The staff at Chelsea know how I work but it’s a great coup for Celtic and for Scottish football that a young kid who was coming off the bench for Chelsea in the Premier League is up here a couple of weeks later. This is a big signing for us.”
Musonda, whose loan deal lasts until May 2019, should make his debut at some stage in tonight’s home game against Hearts, the only domestic opponents to have defeated Celtic during Rodgers’ season-and-a-half in charge.
“This is a young man who’s hungry to play now and who plays with great enjoyment in his game,” said the manager
“He’s one of those ones who excites you. Charly has an intent and a purpose to his game, he tries to be progressive and he carries the ball well. He can dribble and he also has a lovely weight of pass.
“It helps that he’s a very bright, super-intelligent lad. When you speak to him you can sense that through his ability to communicate.
“What we try to do is have an environment here which allows young players to develop. They need to learn the tactical levels of the game while also playing in a certain style.
“The other thing you get when you come here is the expectation. You’re going to be under scrutiny here but it gives you an amazing opportunity to be a winner so that, when he leaves in 18 months’ time, then he’ll hopefully do so having won trophies.
“He’ll have dealt with the pressure of having to win every single game he plays and he’ll also have had European football. He’s eligible for the Europa League this season.”
Celtic failed to match Dundee’s valuation of centre-back Jack Hendry last week but it’s likely an increased offer will be made for the 22-year-old.
“There’s no update as yet; it’s between the clubs really to see what we can organise,” said Rodgers. “There’s nothing else other than Charly, a goalkeeper, and maybe one other. I don’t anticipate anyone else going out at this point.”