He has won the Young Player of the Month award and, while acknowledging the teenager’s oratory weaknesses, his manager is adamant that he is thoroughly deserving of the prize for March.
Few who have seen him turn out for Celtic would disagree. Neither would the player himself. Shy and reticent he may be, but he is not weighed down by self-deprecation. He admitted to being happy but not surprised to pick up the latest accolade. But why would he be? His performances have been as consistent and accomplished as anyone else’s in the green and white hoops this term and both player and manager attribute that to regular first-team action.
The Belgium international has been a major player in the Parkhead side’s ongoing quest for the domestic treble and he and his manager agree he has improved since he joined the league leaders on a season-long loan deal from Manchester City. While Denayer is saying very little, Ronny Deila is more forthcoming on how best to maintain that progress. “He is a very ambitious boy and there is a lot of that when you are young but you have to have the experience [too],” the Celtic manager said. “When they don’t have that, they go for the next challenge and think to play at the highest level and be at the best club is the most important thing. But I think patience is unbelievably important when you are young. You should take it step by step. Here is the first year he has played first-team football and he has played a lot of games. And I think if he does that even for one more year then that would make him more ready for the next stage. If it was me, I would be more patient but I’m not in charge of that.”
Denayer was guarded about where he will be playing next season.
“I want to play at a big club and it’s a dream to play at a big club but for now I just focus on Celtic,” said the defender who still wants to add a league title and a Scottish Cup triumph to the League Cup already won by the club. “Of course I want to help Celtic play in the Champions League [next season] but that decision will be made in the summer. I have one more year at Manchester City after this. I don’t know if I’ll be here next season but moving to Celtic for the first season was the perfect thing for me to improve myself. After that, I don’t know.
“I’m a more mature player and my style of play is also different from when I first arrived. I am much better with aerial duels. When I first came to Celtic I wasn’t at the level that I am now. I’m also much better tactically but playing every week has been a massive benefit. Some of the strikers I come up against in Scotland are big and strong. They are a bit different to what I have been used to but I have improved with every game. That’s what I need to do if I’m to reach the highest level in football.”
There is no doubt that he eventually sees himself playing at a level above the Scottish Premiership but in the short-term he will concentrate his mind on this evening’s league meeting with Kilmarnock as Celtic seek to capitalise on their game in hand and extend their lead at the top of the table over Aberdeen to eight points before switching attention to the Scottish Cup semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Hampden on Sunday.
The uncertainty surrounding the future of manager Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City could impact on Denayer and Celtic and whether the player gets the chance to stake a claim at the Etihad. But regardless of who is in charge, Deila said the defender will be required to show up for training at City following the summer break.
“They want him back for pre-season to see what kind of level he is at and where he stands and maybe he will be loaned out again or he will stay. That is up to Jason and the manager.”
But with Champions League qualifiers to consider, Deila won’t be hanging about. He said he plans to recruit at least one, possibly two, new centre-backs to fill the void come the start of the new campaign. But he would love to call on Denayer again.
“He has done remarkably well,” Deila added. “He has made very few mistakes and has been very consistent. He is a very good footballer and, one v one, he hardly loses a challenge. He is a modern footballer, good on the ball. He is quick but still he can work on his left foot and he could be better at communicating with the players around him. These are things he can work on but he needs to play and that’s what he has been doing here. Hopefully he will stay. That is the best thing for him and it would be a tough jump to go into matches at City.”
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