AS FIRST impressions go, Mubarak Wakaso could hardly have introduced himself to Celtic supporters in a more positive way than he did in Salzburg on Thursday night.
The Ghanaian international winger has had to wait for his debut for the Scottish champions since completing his season-long loan move from Russian club Rubin Kazan last month.
But the 24-year-old made up for lost time with a magnificent opening goal for Celtic and an eye-catching overall performance in the 2-2 draw against Europa League Group D top seeds Red Bull in Austria.
While goalkeeper Craig Gordon understandably hogged the immediate post-match headlines with his exceptional display, Wakaso’s contribution was every bit as satisfying and encouraging for Celtic manager Ronny Deila.
He believes the former Villarreal and Espanyol player has the potential to become a genuine hero for the Celtic support. Deila also feels Wakaso fits in ideally to the ethos and style of play he is attempting to instil at the club.
“It looks like he could become a fans’ favourite at Celtic,” said Deila. “Our fans like quick players, players who can go past people and who have energy. Wakaso had that in his game on Thursday night. That’s the kind of team we want to be. We want to be similar to how Red Bull Salzburg were – that’s our goal. Maybe not so wide, but very aggressive and hungry to win the ball. Wakaso showed that level.
“He has a lot of confidence. African players are different from European players, of course. It’s a different culture. But I’ve worked a lot with African players and they need to be loved, like everyone else. I think he will develop.
“It’s good that he’s been in Europe now for many years. Had he come straight from Africa then I would have been more afraid of how he could do. It’s also easier to be like that in an attacking rather than a defensive position. He’s working hard and, tactically, he’s been good. He knows the game. He didn’t get back to Scotland from international duty last week until the Friday night, so that’s why he didn’t play against Aberdeen on Saturday. I hadn’t seen him in training. But he trained well this week, so he got the chance against Salzburg. He was very good in the game. It was very nice to see.
“He gives us another weapon in the wide midfield positions. He can eliminate players, get past them and he is good on the ball. That’s what I wanted to see and I’m happy for him.
“His goal showed fantastic technique and I hope he does more of that. It was a difficult shot to take on. I want wingers who can work the pitch both ways, defensively and offensively, and he can do that. It’s very positive for us. I hadn’t seen him play live before he came here. I have my people I trust and a scouting department here I’m working with every day. They know what I’m after.”
Wakaso is one of five players currently on loan at Celtic, along with Manchester City pair Jason Denayer and John Guidetti, Cardiff City midfielder Jo Inge Berget and Aston Villa winger Aleksandar Tonev.
But Deila insists he has no concerns over their levels of commitment to the club. In Wakaso’s case, he is certainly open to the possibility of the move becoming a permanent one.
“I have had loan players in the past and not had an issue,” added Deila. “There’s a very good chance that when players do well, then they stay here. They want to be happy at a club and we want players that are playing well.
“In this window it was good to get loan players. I couldn’t always see the players and we had to trust people around us and we got loans with the option to buy.
“I know what the fee is for Wakaso, but I won’t share it. We’ll see if it’s affordable but there is always a negotiation. We wouldn’t bring him here if it was not possible.”
Deila was satisfied with a point in the Group D opener in Salzburg and now hopes to build on it with a home victory over Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb, comprehensive 5-1 winners against Astra Giurgiu, of Romania, on Thursday, on matchday two on 2 October.
“Every game is now important in the group and at home we need victories,” he said.
“If we can beat Zagreb we will have a very good position in the group. I played a friendly against Astra last January when I was manager at Stromsgodset and they were quite a good team, but maybe they have lost a few players. It’s hard to say, but it was a very impressive result from Zagreb against them anyway.”
Celtic return to Scottish Premiership action against Motherwell at Parkhead tomorrow with Deila likely to make several changes to his starting line-up. He expects captain Scott Brown to be available, despite his journey back to Glasgow being delayed until yesterday after his struggle to produce a specimen for the post-match drugs test caused him to miss the team’s flight home on Thursday night.
Norwegian midfielder Stefan Johansen suffered a leg injury against Salzburg and is doubtful, while Dutch winger Derk Boerrigter has been added to the absentee list with a knee problem.
“We’ll see what we do with the team against Motherwell,” said Deila. “We have a good squad and we have to use it.
“Hopefully, my captain will get back in time! But yes, he is capable of playing on Sunday. It went well for him in the game in Salzburg and he will be available. He has come back quicker than we expected from his injury but he is always training well. He takes cares of himself. He has natural talent there. But he needs time, he has a lot more to come. He needs to be quicker and sharper, but that will come when he gets games.”
Deila has also expressed his confidence in Serbian striker Stefan Scepovic. The £2.2 million signing from Sporting Gijon is still waiting for his first goal for the club after two largely underwhelming appearances against Aberdeen and Salzburg. “I think he was better in the second half against Salzburg,” said Deila. “He came more into the game. He hasn’t played much and he needs to adapt. I see in training and in games that he has good qualities. I know in time he will succeed here.”