Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has called for patience in assessing the impact of high-profile loan signing Charly Musonda at the Scottish champions.
The Belgian playmaker was the most hyped of Celtic’s January acquisitions when he arrived on an 18-month deal from Chelsea.
Celtic are understood to be paying a loan fee of around £2 million for Musonda but some supporters have already expressed frustration and surprise at his lack of involvement so far in Rodgers’ first team.
The 21-year-old has started just three games, the last of them back on 18 February, with five substitute appearances. Musonda’s latest outing saw him introduced with just four minutes remaining of Sunday’s 2-1 Premiership win at Hamilton.
But Rodgers insists Musonda, who made 24 appearances in La Liga for Real Betis in 2016, is comfortable with his situation at the club and predicts he will be ready to make a sustained and significant contribution for the side next season.
“He’s absolutely fine,” said Rodgers. “He knows he is here for the 18 months and by the end of that, he knows he is going to be a better player.
“It’s a different type of loan for Charly compared to when he went to Spain and had to succeed straight away. Here he has 18 months to settle in, find the way of working and realising the pressures of a big club like Celtic.
“But he’s enjoying every minute of it and he knows that over time here that he will get an opportunity to show it in training where he works well and then in the games. It’s just time, that’s all.
“Of course, all players want to play but he’s no different to Patrick Roberts or some of the other players [who haven’t had as much game time]. They have a respect for where they are and what the team is doing. They respect that you can only pick 11 players.
“I expect Charly to come into his own next season. He’ll make some appearances, from when he arrived in January to the end of this season. Then I think next season will be a big one for him, to make his mark.”
Another of Celtic’s January signings, German defender Marvin Compper, pictured right, appears to face an even tougher battle to force his way into Rodgers’ starting XI.
A fee of around £1 million was paid to RB Leipzig for the 32-year-old but after suffering a calf injury during Celtic’s winter break training camp in Dubai, he has made just one appearance for the club so far in the 3-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final win over Morton last month. Compper, who signed a two-and-a-half-year contract, now finds himself behind Dedryck Boyata, Jozo Simunovic, Kristoffer Ajer and Jack Hendry in the pecking order for central defensive places.
“It was difficult for Marvin because he was injured in Dubai during which put him out for a while,” said Rodgers. “Then during that period, young Kris Ajer has come into the team and been absolutely outstanding. So there have been others ahead of Marvin.
“His qualities are pretty clear for us, his experience and his way of working with the younger guys in training.
“Of course, he wants to play as well but these aren’t fitness games we are playing. I’m certainly not sentimental. We need to pick a team that gets the results.
“Marvin is a good guy, I like him. Hopefully in his time here he gets a chance to show his qualities. But that’s only if other players aren’t playing so well.
“He’s good to have around. He’s a really good communicator. There are certain qualities he has which really help support others. His experience guides the other guys. We have a lot of young players in our squad, especially in central defence, so to have that experience around them helps.
“You can’t touch it or see it at times, but from a coaching and management perspective it’s very valuable having Marvin around, even if he’s not playing.”
Norwegian international Ajer, who will celebrate his 20th birthday next week, appears to have firmly established himself as a first pick for Rodgers.
“It’s always been irrespective of age for me,” added the Celtic boss. “When I saw Kris when I first came in, he was a midfielder and I thought his best position would be centre half.
“Maybe in Norway, he could play midfield, but I think he has big possibilities at centre half. I knew he wasn’t going to get the games there for me at first, so we loaned him to Kilmarnock to get that positional experience.
“But it was more so that he had to head the ball, because I knew he would be under pressure at Kilmarnock. That’s important if he’s going to do well in the British game.
“He did well there, came back to us and looked as if he’d developed as a man. Then it was just about timing - when to put him in.
“He did well in some of the Champions League qualifiers but still needed more time to develop. Now he’s in the team with a better understanding of the position.
“He has everything. His potential is huge. He’s 6ft 5in, quick, can play football. He’s a very bright boy as well, he knows there is still a lot of learning for him. He’s got this great hunger to get better, which I love in players, and he’s not even 20 yet.”