There is a big call to be made by Brendan Rodgers at Ibrox this lunchtime over his deployment of Odsonne Edouard.
The French forward gingerly walked from the pitch following his outstanding, game-defining 20-minute substitute appearance that engineered a 4-3 victory over Aberdeen on Boxing Day. His fitness remains sufficiently compromised by a muscle strain sustained ten days ago for the Celtic manager to admit yesterday he had to decide whether to start him in the derby or bring him on when space is opening up because he “probably” wouldn’t be able to last the full 90 minutes.
The pace, power and poise that Edouard married to make himself an unstoppable force that propelled Celtic to a late three-goal burst at Pittodrie meant, though, that Rodgers was utterly relaxed in making an audacious call yesterday about the 20-year-old signed on a permanent deal from Paris Saint-Germain for a club record £9 million fee last summer.
“For us to get him for the money we did was a snip, really,” said Rodgers of a “huge talent”. “I don’t set the price – I don’t get involved in that. I just want to work with good players and, for me, from when we first saw him and then brought him in on loan, you could tell straight away.
“Some of the things he does every day I find myself applauding due to the sheer quality that he possesses, which is incredible. He also has a great footballing brain and technique for such a young player, he’s very strong – although he maybe doesn’t look it – but you can see the number of times he holds opponents off.
“He also gets goals. If he has gone off the boil and not been the player he can be in a couple of games, it’s nothing other than tiredness and the fact he’s also played with an injury, which is a result of us having only the one striker. But you cannot deny his talent or his efficiency. I’m delighted to have him.
“People say we need a target man but why do they say that? It’s not the way we play. We are a team which has mobility. We have strength up front, of course, but we’re more about penetration – we get in behind teams and stretch the game. If we could get a mobile big guy then great but guys like Odsonne and Mikey Johnston are guys that get you in there.”
Edouard, after a mixed time across the early part of his loan season, effectively announced himself when Celtic last played at Ibrox in March. Then he climbed off the bench to net the winner in a 3-2 victory for a visiting side down to ten men, having twice found themselves a goal down. A month later he was again taking Rangers apart with a two-goal contribution to a 5-0 whipping that not only sealed a seventh straight championship but moved him ahead in the club’s striking pecking order of the now departed Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths, currently out of football to deal with personal issues. Edouard is considered to have had an uneven campaign this time around, yet his elegant finish at Pittodrie took his goal tally for the season to 14.
“He came here, left Paris with virtually no English and took himself out of his comfort zone. For me, he’s been outstanding, is only going to get better,” said Rodgers, who is likely to be without Kieran Tierney for a final encounter before the winter break that Celtic enter three points ahead of Rangers, having played a game fewer.
“Odsonne’s a game-changer. No question. He’s already shown that speed, that intelligence, that power at all the levels and the finishing. He can occupy back fours and he’s got a lot of tools in his locker with a lot more development to come.
“As you saw at Ibrox last season and in other games at home, he’s great to work with. He’s just a humble kid. He doesn’t seek attention or affection, he just wants to be the best he can be. That’s why he’s here. To develop and help him.”
Rodgers, as is his wont when the derby hype threatens to go into overdrive, sought to take the heat out of the vexed subject of ticket allocations for the fixture. He doesn’t like the fact that Rangers have decreed that Celtic will no longer have the 7,500 Broomloan Stand but instead occupy a 700-seat section in the corner of that end. Rangers said the move was taken to accommodate more season ticket holders, and Rodgers refused to bite when asked if he felt the Celtic allocation would have been slashed were he not holding a 100 per cent record at Ibrox with four straight wins. Across Scotland’s three major competitions, neither side has ever posted five wins on the spin at the ground of their rivals.
“I don’t know. I don’t know the workings of Rangers,” he said of whether there was an element of the Rangers support tiring of watching Celtic fans celebrate at their ground. “It is just a shame that over the course of the years they have been great spectacles on both sides and a big part of that has been the away support and seeing both at the stadiums.
“For the game itself it takes away something. At Parkhead of course it was great having more of our own supporters and more of them but you would want a more even allocation. We go to Ibrox and it goes the other way and it can work either for or against you. There can be more pressure. It is a shame over both games that there wasn’t a larger allocation. But for us we know the spirit of millions that will be watching Celtic and the ones that will be there and, well, hopefully we can give them another good day.”