Can Patrick Roberts Raise the Game at Celtic?
By Ameen Rabbani.
Celtic’s deadline day signing of young Manchester City midfielder Patrick Roberts was one of the transfer window’s more intriguing acquisitions. The 18-year-old, who cost the Sky Blues a whopping £12 million from Fulham last summer, joins the Scottish champions on an 18-month loan deal arriving with a big reputation and a price-tag that is obscene north of the border.
It’s a move that makes sense for all parties though, the England Under-19 international will gain valuable first team experience having only made a handful of appearances at the Etihad while City are well aware that playing in Scotland’s top flight is a good environment for Roberts to grow just as Jason Denayer did last term.
Importantly, the Hoops have got their hands on the type of player they’ve been crying out for years; a gifted individual whose entertainment value can bring back fond memories of Lubo Moravcik and Shunsuke Nakamura.
There are few players in Scottish football capable of generating a buzz every time they receive the ball but Roberts’ technical ability has the potential to get supporters off their seats on a regular basis. Celtic Park has been a dull place to visit over the last few years with the quality on offer sparse to say the least. Now, however, they have the calibre of player they deserve and by extending the loan deal to a year-and-a-half, it suggests Ronny Deila is keen to build the team around this wonderkid in the hope he can inspire them to the Champions League next summer.
The former Fulham academy graduate operates as a playmaker and is best known for his dribbling which is often compared to Lionel Messi. As a left-footer, he tends to play on the right-wing but with the freedom to drift more centrally into a number 10 role where he can accelerate past challenges with tremendous ease which he demonstrated in Manchester City’s UEFA Youth League match against Juventus earlier this season with a superb solo goal.
He has the vision to play defence-splitting passes, can link-up with fancy flicks in tight areas and as his record in the England youth teams show, he can find the back of the net as well. These qualities make him the ideal player to lift a support that has become accustomed to underwhelming performances from a group of players unable to provide the level of excitement that should be expected of a club who aspires to be a regular in Europe’s elite club competition.
The Celtic fans already caught a glimpse of what Roberts was capable of in a youth match victory over Motherwell last week where he tore the opposition to shreds picking up a goal and three assists. Indeed, the first team could have done with his change of pace or drop of the shoulder in their last two crunch games against Ross County and Aberdeen- both of which they lost- in displays that were devoid of flair and penetration.
If there’s one area where Celtic are stacked it’s in midfield but in Roberts they are receiving an upgrade who was too good to turn down. The competition for places will undoubtedly push Roberts to produce the form that fans will be desperate to see and at the same time prove to his parent club that there’s application to go with his ability that makes him worth keeping alongside their collection of European and South American stars.
Beyond all the plus points that this deal brings for the Bhoys, it’s a move that benefits the whole country. Attracting a prestigious prospect who is highly thought of by many in the English FA set-up with a transfer fee attached to his name hasn’t been seen since the days of Tore Andre Flo and Chris Sutton and being able to witness him develop at first hand can inject some much-needed enthusiasm into Scottish football as well as providing some perspective on players of a more gifted nature.
On the day he was presented, Roberts said: “It’s a conscious thing from me to be like Messi. I’ve watched him for years and he’s my idol. You try to copy what he does and it also comes naturally to me as well. Because I’m left-footed I tend to move the same way as he does. In games I try to replicate what he does”.
Whether it’s a Messi-esque run, a killer pass or a composed finish, this is a mouth-watering prospect for Celtic and it shouldn’t be too long before Roberts stands out as the main man at Parkhead.