W hile Celtic were engaged in fierce Champions League action last night in Athens, Scott Allan was at home in Glasgow, kicking his heels and perhaps wondering how he can reinvent himself as a centre-half.
For as it stands, his midfield talents are not as urgently required by Brendan Rodgers. As well as lacking options in the middle of defence, the Celtic manager was forced to turn to Eboue Kouassi in a re-shaped midfield against Hearts at the weekend. Many interpreted his team selection as doubling as a veiled threat to Peter Lawwell, the club’s chief executive. Let me buy some reinforcements or else…
On a day when back-up men were called upon, the undeniably talented Allan was still not listed. There are some reports he is not 100 per cent fit after suffering a bout of illness. But there is enough evidence to warrant fearing he might be forced to spend another season sitting mostly on the sidelines at a crucial stage of his career. Allan, arguably one of the most gifted Scottish midfielders of his generation, turns 27 in November. He can’t afford his stop-start career to enter another parked phase.
But then again, perhaps he can’t afford not to. Allan has entered the last year of, potentially, the last life-changing contract of his career. He might have concluded that another eight months or so of being in and around a squad and playing rarely is what he must endure to be assured of receiving the maximum benefit of a four-year deal signed under the nose of Rangers in August 2015. With his family’s welfare in mind, he might not want to agree a pay-off for a smaller sum in order to negotiate a move elsewhere. It’s understandable if regrettable.
Lack of action can be the price to pay on being handed a big money contract. This was brought to mind while reading of new Aberdeen loan signing James Wilson’s reported £30,000 a week contract at Manchester United. This lavish sum will stop being deposited in his back account almost as soon as his season-long loan at Pittodrie ends. Like Allan, he is in the last year of a lucrative four-year deal.
“I’d expect to be moving on,” said Wilson, right, the pain assuaged by knowing he has secured his future at the age of 22 and on the back of only one contract, agreed shortly after he scored a double on his debut against Hull City. He has subsequently suffered injury problems. But his career could certainly not be said to have kicked on since Louis van Gaal handed him the deal in September 2015.
Indeed, Wilson has played only 53 minutes of first-team football for Manchester United since then while also posting underwhelming loan spells with Derby County, Brighton and Sheffield United.
It’s a different situation to Allan in that he is younger. But it does show how the dream of signing a big-money deal does not always translate to fulfilment on the pitch. Indeed, often it is not the case.
Allan’s position is currently complicated by a number of factors, most of them outwith his own hands. For example, how has John McGinn’s sale to Aston Villa rather than Celtic affected the chances of Allan signing for Hibs again, possibly in this window? Has sufficient ill-feeling been created to cause Celtic to be less than responsive to Hibs’ hopes of adding Allan to their squad, on loan or else permanently? That’s providing Hibs still want someone who, it is generally accepted, seems most at home in the green and white of the Edinburgh club. Neil Lennon has arranged adequate cover in midfield for the time being.
Where else is there for Allan, whose ventures down south, particularly a most recent spell with Rotherham, turned out to be so unsatisfying? His move to a team in the bottom six – Dundee – did not work out last season after it emerged Neil McCann felt his struggling side could not afford to accommodate such a luxury asset in midfield.
Allan did secure, eventually, the kind of regular action he clearly craves and made 35 appearances in total for Dundee and Hibs, whom he joined in January as part of a complicated deal by which then Dundee goalkeeper Scott Bain swapped a loan period at Hibs for one at Celtic.
Another season is now in full swing. Celtic, for example, have already played seven competitive fixtures, including last night’s clash with AEK Athens. Allan’s last appearance, meanwhile, came in the thrilling 5-5 draw with Rangers, when he scored his side’s second goal after 19 minutes. On a pulsating afternoon of action, he was replaced after 65 minutes. Hopes he might be assimilated back into the Celtic squad rose when he was taken on the club’s pre-season tour to Austria.
With Tom Rogic given time off after World Cup duty with Australia and following Stuart Armstrong’s move to Southampton, Allan was named as a substitute for both legs of Celtic’s opening Champions League qualifier against Armenian side Alashkert and for the home leg against Rosenborg in the next round.
Rodgers clearly has some appetite to include Allan in his plans. Who knows, come the next few weeks, the midfielder might have forced his way into the starting XI. It is certainly uplifting to think this might be the case. So far the nearest we’ve come to enjoying watching Allan in competitive action this season is in the new opening credits to Sportscene, which features his superb strike against Hearts in March.
With Scottish domestic football having lost two of its major midfield talents in McGinn and Dylan McGeouch to England, it is heartbreaking to consider the prospect of Allan enduring another period of purdah.