Vasilis Barkas proves Celtic are in safe hands

Greek keeper comes good in rout of Ross County with vital saves that suggest he will emerge from shadow cast by Fraser Forster’s brilliance last season
Vasilis Barkas in action for Celtic against Ross County. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS GroupVasilis Barkas in action for Celtic against Ross County. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS Group
Vasilis Barkas in action for Celtic against Ross County. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS Group

The curiosity of Celtic’s 5-0 rout at the weekend is that the nil in the goals- against column may prove more significant than the figure in the goals-for ledger that was the work of five different players.

The whispers questioning the endeavours of Vasilis Barkas for the Scottish champions since the Greek goalkeeper joined in a £4.5 million deal from AEK Athens had been rising in volume ahead of the club’s trip to Dingwall.

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Sky pundit Andy Walker spoke for many when he put it out there that he had never witnessed the 26-year-old making “a big save” for the club in five outings. He has rarely had cause to do so with three of those games bringing clean sheets . However, as Celtic demonstrated a defensive laxness – in which new signing Shane Duffy could be firmly implicated – Barkas came good.

His instincts were feline-like as he pulled off impressive reflex stops from Ross Stewart either side of the break to allow Celtic to ultimately go on to win at a canter.

Barkas is an honest, laidback big fella. He appeared to recognise that he needed a signature performance to emerge from the shadow cast by Fraser Forster’s brilliance last season.

“I enjoyed the game against Ross County a lot. After the international break we hadn’t played together for a while, so it was good to play again with my new team-mates and it felt good [to make a big contribution]. I always feel good when I do my job and my job is to keep clean sheets. So, when I manage to do that, it makes me feel as though I am helping the team.

“It was not so easy for me [before the break] because I was coming from another country and the football here is different. I tried to find what the coach wanted from me and I tried to find what my team-mates want from me and, with every game, I start to feel better and better,
game by game, I feel that it gets better, but I’m sure I need more time to see what Scottish football wants from me.”

That is true of the starting XI Neil Lennon configured into a 3-5-2 formation, to allow Duffy to figure alongside Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer. For all that the pair have been criticised, it was the Republic of Ireland captain that appeared the most vulnerable member of the backline. Yet, the leap he made to the clouds to thunder in a headed goal 59 minutes in to his debut ensured that the Brighton loanee’s first outing for his beloved club will be remembered for the right reasons.

Barkas didn’t shy away from the fact that Celtic are a work in progress. More fine tuning is required as they head to Paisley on Wednesday to face St Mirren in the club’s re-arranged fixture.

While Barkas has not been short of game-time in recent months for AEK, the same is not true of Duffy and other new man in striker Albian Ajeti. The £4.5m purchase from West Ham showed his ability to sniff out opportunities by pouncing lethally to claim a third Celtic goal. He still looks as if he has conditioning work to do, hardly surprising when he hadn’t made a start in seven months before the weekend.

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Moreover, the County contest was his first real opportunity to develop an understanding in attack with Odsonne Edouard, the club’s talismanic striker who was yesterday reported to be interesting Arsenal.

Building understandings at the other end of the pitch won’t necessarily be an instant process when Barkas, a Greek, has an Irishman, Norwegian and Frenchman in front of him. The keeper appreciates that fact.

“We have to work on that game by game. We will do that. We are all different people, so we will need to find ourselves and I believe our communication is not so bad. For sure, after games, we can talk about how we can make this part of the game better. All of my team-mates are feeling very good and feeling as though we can win wherever we go and whatever match we go into.

“That is the way it has to be at Celtic and we’re going to become better the more we find ourselves on the field and get used to each other. We are waiting to have a lot of wins and take the championship again.

“We need to have some time [to push on]. We are 11 different people who started. Maybe some of the other players who were involved have played together 
in the past, but not all of us at the same time. That’s why I say game by game, we will become better.

“All of my team-mates are very good players and I am very happy for this because when you go into a big club, you like to see big players with big talent. At the same time, they all work so hard in training each day and you can then see that in the games.”

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