BRENDAN RODGERS has changed his original plan to send new signing Kundai Benyu immediately out on loan because the teenager has impressed him so much.
The 19-year-old midfielder certainly caught the eye in yesterday’s friendly match against Lyon in which the French side ran out 4-0 winners in the end against a Celtic team that got younger as the game went on.
Benyu moved from Ipswich Town for around £200,000 and, given the size and strength of Rodgers’ squad, the idea was to loan him out for at least half a season to get some game-time.
However, Benyu has done more than enough to convince his manager he would be better staying at Celtic and challenging for a first-team place.
“Kundai has been very good,” said Rodgers. “He’s surprised me to be honest. We knew he was a good player. You see what we’re trying to build here in terms of players being technically gifted.
“But they have to have good mobility and good physicality. And he has that. He’s played with a nice little edge, he’s competitive, and he’s got a confidence.
“We’ve played him off a side where he can come in and help the team dominate the ball on the inside. How he receives the ball is very good, he’s an attacking player.
“He wants to get goals and he’s actually quite exciting. I thought he was very good for 19, coming into this environment and just having a close look at him.
“We will see how Kundai develops. Initially the plan was to have him in, thinking he can get an idea of how we work and then go on loan.
“But I’ve sort of changed my mind, really, over the last period of time just watching him. I think it’s going to be good for him to probably come in have six months certainly in there.
“To see how we train, how we work, get an education in our footballing idea then review in January and see where he is at. He’s certainly a boy who can contribute for us.”
Oliver Ntcham, signed for £4.5m last week, made his debut and showed in glimpses what he’s capable of
“For Oli it’s only fitness, you see how he moves in the game today he could’ve played for them,” said Rodgers. “He has the qualities to play at the very highest level.
“His range of passing makes the game look very simple. He can play short, long, can dribble and shoot. Has everything to be a top level No 8.
“So, for him it’s just time, really. That’s his first game, 62 minutes was enough for him and he’ll just build up his fitness over the next few weeks and when he’s ready he’ll be a big player for us.”
For a game, even a friendly, to be arranged for less than 24 hours of a competitive match is unusual. The explanation was that this visit by Lyon was agreed long before Celtic’s qualifier with Linfield was switched to a Friday.
If proof were needed about Celtic’s strength in numbers, the team which began less than 24 hours after a Champions League qualifier – i.e. the players who didn’t start or even stripped – included Moussa Dembele, Ntcham, Callum McGregor, Nir Bitton and Jonny Hayes among others.
And 18-year-old Mark Hill was also named in the eleven, while the substitutes bench, which hosted eight players, might have been the youngest in Celtic history.
Lyon are a good side and given how many changes Celtic made, reading too much into the result would be wrong.
Celtic should have taken the lead on 18 minutes. With his back to goal and on the edge of Lyon’s box, McGregor’s neat turn took him away from his marker, the midfielder perhaps should have shot but squared to Dembele who failed to score with two shots, while Benyu also had an effort blocked.
It was a step or two up from a training match, nothing more, but the Celtic supporters who had the effort would have enjoyed much of what they saw.
Their team moved the ball about well and while these fixtures are never classics, some of the stuff played but both sided was easy on the eye.
Ntcham almost got on the scoresheet on 39 minutes when he hit the ball with some force from distance and Anthony Lopez’s save was needlessly spectacular. McGregor did find the net from the rebound but was offside.
Conor Hazard, a 19-year-old from Belfast, played the second-half in goal for Celtic. He was beaten on 51 minutes by Lyon’s Maxwel Cornet for the game’s first goal but the young lad could count himself unfortunate because he’d made a fine save a second before conceding.
Lyon’s Myziane Maolida made it 2-0 on the hour and so good was the dribble past three Celtic players and his chip into the net that he received a round of applause from the home crowd.
By the time Amine Gouri got a third and then a fourth for the French, Celtic’s team was full of kids It was a decent enough run out for Rodgers and it’s now on to Wednesday and the serious stuff.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Rodgers. “Up until the hour it was a really good game. What we wanted out the game in terms of fitness for our players, we could very easily not have played the game after Linfield was moved.
“But I have a responsibility to get as many of my players as fit as we can for the beginning of the season and throughout the season. For that it was a great exercise.”