CELTIC’S squad, on the face of it, would appear to have been weakened over the summer through Dedryck Boyata replacing Jason Denayer. Manchester City were content to offload Boyata precisely because of Denayer’s return to the club after a season on loan at Parkhead. City patently rate the 19-year-old Belgian’s first-team prospects higher than a fellow countryman almost five years his senior, then.
Celtic, naturally, see the situation differently. Ronny Deila this week talked confidently of improving his team’s defending as a result of attracting his top transfer target. That belief is shared by the club’s first-team coach John Kennedy. He is able to assess £1.6 million signing Boyata with the insider knowledge that comes from having also been a centre-back. To Kennedy, there are like-for-like elements in essentially swapping Boyata for Denayer that go beyond nationality or club base that make the signing feel like a coup.
“He is aggressive, he’s quick, he’s strong, he’s good on the ball. Everything we wanted in a centre-back he ticked most of the boxes,” said the Celtic coach. “After we found out he was available, the manager did a bit of work in speaking to City and then the player himself, and he’s ambitious.
“He knows he needs to get playing football, he realises that. He’s spent a bit of time watching football instead of playing and I think that’s the reason he’s come here because he knows it gives him a very good opportunity to play at a very good level.”
Six years with City yielded only 13 league appearances. A season-long loan with Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers that covered the 2011-12 campaign brought him his most sustained spell of senior starts, with six months at FC Twente the following season offering further such exposure.
He played only a handful of first-team matches in his final season at City, but the quality of defensive personnel suggests that is no real slight on him. The ebullient 24-year-old certainly does not seem to have taken limited game time at City to heart, judging by the confidence he expressed in his abilities on signing a fortnight ago.
I know people who have worked with him and played beside him and they think very, very highly of himJohn Kennedy
“That is good, we want players with a bit of character, a bit of personality but he’s a very good professional,” Kennedy said. “I know people who have worked with him and players who have played beside him and they think very, very highly of him. From what I’ve seen, and in the short time I’ve spoken to him, he’s the type of character we want at the club and hopefully he’ll be a good bit of business.”
A good bit of business was tying him up before pre-season began. Boyata already appears to be bonding with his new team-mates, Stuart Armstrong joking that petrol money had not come up for discussion despite the midfielder ferrying the new arrival to and from the first week’s training.
Having a full three weeks – and three warm-up games – to acclimatise will, Kennedy believes, give Boyata every opportunity to make the right impression when Celtic begin their campaign with the first leg of their Champions League qualifier at home to FC Stjarnan on 15 July.
“Dedryck was one we targeted early when we knew we were looking for that position with Jason going back to City and the club gave the manager the backing to move very quickly on it,” said Kennedy.
“I think it’ll be a good move and the fans will see a very good player. It’s important we get them in early, if we’re going to settle players in and be best prepared for the Champions League. It means they can get up to speed and know exactly what we want going into these games.”