Stirring defence offered of new Celtic man after criticism pile-on

The pile-on from all quarters James McCarthy suffered following his ragged display in Celtic’s 1-0 defeat at Livingston that marked the 30-year-old’s first start with his boyhood club doesn’t sit easily with Stiliyan Petrov.

Celtic's James McCarthy may be down, but Stiliyan Petrov says he shouldn't be counted out, with understandable reasons for his poor showing in his first start that ended with a 1-0 loss for Ange Postecoglou's men in Livingston. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

The Bulgarian is sympathetic to the Republic of Ireland international’s plight. And perhaps his petitions for harsh judgements to be reserved are borne out of personal experience. Rashly, Petrov failed to be spared these in the wake of his arrival at Parkhead in a £2.2m deal from CSKA Sofia to play under the John Barnes-Kenny Dalglish axis. He didn’t immediately settle, with a clamour for Celtic to cut their losses on him before subsequently becoming a stellar performer under Martin O’Neill.

The former Aston Villa midfielder is in no doubt McCarthy can find his feet. But he believes it cannot be easy for any new player to settle in an environment where Celtic have so few stalwarts to guide them through, his early struggles coming the club then boasting such big personalities and powerful performers as Henrik Larsson, Paul Lambert, Tom Boyd, Johan Mjallby and Jackie McNamara.

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Complicating McCarthy’s assimilation - a major talking point following a third straight away league loss for Postecoglou’s men - is the fact he had no proper pre-season and then missed almost three weeks training after contracting Covid-19. Petrov believes that McCarthy, and the entire Ange Postecoglou project that requires the Australian to integrate an entire team of new summer signings, can’t be rushed.

“It’s very difficult for any player coming in who hasn’t played in a long time,” the 42-year-old said. “You need to be at full strength too so it’s been hard for him to hit the ground running. It’s going to take him time to build his fitness. We know he’s a good player. He’s played a lot of games in the top league in England, so we know he’s got it. But in football these days you have to run. It’s difficult if you are not match fit, but I’m sure the team behind Ange are working hard to get him up to speed.

“When I first came in I played with very experienced team. I was surrounded by characters, international players who’d played at high levels. This is a brand new team with a lot of young players. You look at [Liel] Abada, Jota, Kyogo [Furuhashi] they are good players but they haven’t played a lot on the big stage. When I played I had people around me telling me what to do and pushing me on.

“This is a young, inexperienced team that will take time to gel. They have played well at times but they are inconsistent. I think we have to expect it. There was a lot happening last season with Neil [Lennon] leaving and everyone knew the club would have to go through a transition. I think they missed the time when they had to do that and they’ve then had to do it very quickly with the manager and the new players. It’s going to take time for them to be more consistent.”

Stiliyan Petrov was speaking at The John Hartson Foundation Golf Day at Turnberry. The Hartson Foundation supports various cancer charities around the UK.

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