The frailties scarring the Scottish champions’ early season – exposed again with the slapdash goal they gifted Suduva that allowed the Lithuanians to scramble a home 1-1 draw in the Europa League play-off first leg on Thursday – makes plain Brendan Rodgers’ side certainly need a Boyata-type.
They have one in the Belgian himself, of course. However, with the 27-year-old’s apparent reluctance to make himself available for actually playing games as he seeks a move away, it seems he is a Celtic player in only mind and not body. Yet Rodgers maintains that, even allowing for that fact, the body can’t be freed if there isn’t another body to put in its place.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to play out,” the Celtic manager offered candidly when asked whether Boyata was likely to remain at Celtic over the next week. With Turkish media outlets stating Fenerbahce and Galatasaray are vying to sign the centre-back following the Parkhead club’s refusal to accept a £9 million bid for him from Fulham, there would seem a straightforward means to end a torturous saga over a player that seems no longer any practical use. For Rodgers, though, such a resolution would be anything but straightforward, with Jozo Simunovic yesterday having a scan on an ankle problem that forced him off in midweek and Jack Hendry also injured.
“Fun and games,” Rodgers said ruefully of his central defensive woes. The Celtic manager would appear to have given up on Boyata over his claims of a back issue. Undoubtedly he seems to have played games. Celtic, the Irishman maintained, can’t be losers, though, as they head into an eight-match period that will bring three home fixtures set to shape their season: Hamilton hosted tomorrow, Europa League group stage football on the line against Suduva on Thursday, and a monumental first derby against Steven Gerrard’s renascent Rangers next Sunday.
“The thing for us is twofold,” said Rodgers. “You can’t let one go unless you’ve got a replacement. You can’t give away an international centre-half if there’s not actually one who’s equal or better to come in. There will be cries of ‘take the money – it’s the last year of his contract’ – which is great but if you don’t have one to come in, then it’s not a very good strategy.
“You have to assess [the point of him staying]. For any club and any supporter, commitment is everything. You always have to measure that. For any player, it’s an obligation, not a choice. You’ve got to be committed when you play. These are all things you have to take into account.”
The Celtic manager said over “the next two or three days” it would be judged whether Boyata could play before being asked to assess his commitment. “I’ve got nothing to say on that,” he said. “Dedryck made a choice of where he was at and he’s been clear with the club and myself. My focus is really on players that are ready and fit to play and to try to get them in the best condition we possibly can.
“I’ve worked with players before whose future has been in doubt and there have been question marks over them, but supporters take them in and respect them for giving everything.
“We all understand now that the football business is totally different but the core of everything is commitment and that’s what any supporter wants to see. So, time will tell.”