BRENDAN Rodgers has tipped Olivier Ntcham to be a major player for Celtic as they pursue the dream of another domestic treble.
The Frenchman joined Celtic for £4.5 million in the summer from Manchester City but has been in and out of the team, making just 21 starts from 38 games.
However, Rodgers says he has simply been managing Ntcham as he beds in to the quick-and-fast life at Celtic Park and he believes fans will see more of him as the campaign progresses.
“He definitely will kick on,” Rodgers said. “It’s just me managing his load and games. He is 21 years old and has been away on loan at Genoa for two seasons in which he played 38 games.
“What you can’t do, without running the risk of injury, is expose him to game after game. Especially with his body type. So it is a gradual one. He has come in, played a game, rested through, developed to play two games in a week and then rested for the third. So he had the Aberdeen game, the Dundee game away and then we gave him the breather and he comes into the Rangers game [as a sub].
“When he has the games in his legs and the body to sustain it without risking injury he will play more consecutive games.
“His use of the ball, his power his pace and that shooting ability, that’s why we paid for the talent. It’s my job to manage that. Last thing I need is someone who hasn’t played games. He is not like [Scott] Browny who plays 40-50 games a season for 10 years. For Olivier this is his first real episode of playing. I have to manage that.”
Reflecting on Celtic’s week in Dubai, Rodgers was delighted with the training camp which has provided his side with a vital change of scenery. And temperature. This was the second year Celtic travelled to the Middle East, and the Northern Irishman says he feels sympathy for other clubs who couldn’t afford to take off for a week.
“It’s all relative. If we get to the Champions League, this is what we do. But even if we didn’t qualify there are benefits,” he said. “I trace our success over 19 months and there are lots of things involved in it. But I really trace a big part back to the spirit and the connection in the group that’s formed. It’s about environment and that’s the beauty of this trip.
“This season we have had virtually no time to connect since we came in in June. No Christmas parties, nothing. It’s just been that physical and mental load. But you need to be able to connect on the field and off it. You can’t underestimate that.
“So I would have sympathy for somebody like Tommy [Wright]. If a club doesn’t have finance then it’s hard to argue against that but you would think they could help in some way. I respect not every club can do it. But if you have owners or sponsors willing to fund it, you should.”
He added: “I like to observe. There are some young players so how are they away from home? How do they mix? Some players can really miss their children. I tend to try to have a group that has a good synergy. That’s part of your recruitment. Getting the right types, the right profile.
“That’s equal to ability. The talent is no good if it doesn’t work. So it’s critical. I’ve got experience in that now where if it’s not right I will know it.”