Nir Bitton grows into defensive role with Celtic

There might have been consternation from Jon Daly about Brendan Rodgers setting out what needed sorting out at Hearts, but the Tynecastle interim boss was willing to offer commendations for how the Celtic manager finds solutions within his own club.

Celtic's Nir Bitton is put under pressure by young Hearts winger Lewis Moore. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

Read More

Read More
Rumour Mill: Hearts open talks with Steve McClaren | door remains open for Patri...

On Premiership flag day we had another example of Rodgers’ astuteness flagged up. The 4-1 cruise of a win for the champions might not have been a day to judge their defence.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Understandably, it was the rapier-edge to their attack provided by a fit-again Leigh Griffiths that claimed the initial headlines – before being usurped by the Daly diatribe.

However, Nir Bitton could emerge as the most significant element of Saturday’s win for Celtic after he once more looked entirely at home in the centre-back role.

For the home side, the Israeli’s adaptability may prove ultimately more noteworthy in the long-term than any spats between coaches.

The midfielder dug his team out of a hole in taking over from the injured Erik Sviatchenko as Celtic kept the clean sheet that allowed them to overcome Rosenborg in 
midweek and set themselves up for a Champions League play-off against Kazakhstan title holders Astana.

With Sviatchenko and Dedryck Boyata lost to injury for these ties on the 16 and 22 August and Rodgers clearly of a belief that teenager Kristoffer Ajer is still too callow, Bitton will be the man to partner the only recognised centre-back the club have left available, Jozo Simunovic.

With between £25m and £30m on the line, Rodgers could have rushed to the market and forked out £2m on a competent central defender. The Northern Irishman’s attitude, though, is first to look within to find the solution to a problem, as opposed to 
stockpiling players, which was a strategy that proved counterproductive to his predecessor, Ronny Deila.

By constantly demonstrating his desire to give players the opportunity to find a way into his team – even in unfamiliar positions – Rodgers ensures he retains engagement even from those on his fringes.

This was shown in how Bitton responded in assessing his route back into a team from which he appears to have been squeezed out over the past six months.

“I don’t look at it like it’s my best chance to stay in the team or not,” he said. “When you play for Celtic there’s always competition no matter what position you play. I was brought here as a midfielder but I’m now playing centre back. I just enjoy playing.

“Some people just don’t understand that when you play for Celtic, it is a huge club. Of course everyone wants to play but it’s one of the biggest clubs in Europe. When you get a chance to play for a club like this you do your very best to stay here.

“You don’t leave this club for every offer that comes along. Of course every player wants to play and it’s not the same when you don’t play. But I will always to my best to help this club.

“Our centre backs have been really unlucky to get injured and I have to play.

“I feel sorry for Erik because it’s not the best to be injured. I hope they come back soon and stronger.”

There is a touch of the Gary Gillespie about Bitton at the back in that he is lithe, languid and lacking a little in pace and an interest in putting himself about. Yet, for all that, the makeshift defender handled Kyle Lafferty well, a player who is all about physicality and beating up on his defensive opponent.

On Saturday, the Hearts summer signing, pictured, seemed to want to play his man, the referee and the crowd as much as he wanted to stick to playing the game.

Bitton was surprised that referee Kevin Clancy didn’t end the afternoon for the striker – now accused of swearing, as he was substituted, at Celtic fans who no doubt were swearing plenty at him – before Daly did.

“It’s not about me and Lafferty. It’s how we defend as a team but I don’t think he did anything. It’s not about Lafferty, it’s about Hearts and we played very well against them,” said Bitton, before adding, when asked if the forward should have been sent off: “Well, he got a yellow card then it was a 100 per cent dive. But it doesn’t matter. We won 4-1 and it’s gone now.”