Matt O’Riley passes Celtic acid tests as old mentor insists he’s completed midfield puzzle


Peter Grant has seen Matt O’Riley glow in the heat of Celtic.

And the former Parkhead star reckons having his old charge within a group of other outstanding engine-room options is a golden scenario for boss Ange Postecoglou as he hunts more silver.

Ex-midfielder Grant is hugely impressed by the current alternatives gathered and molded by the Australian during his squad reshaping.

Postecoglou already had skipper Callum McGregor in place upon arrival. He had countryman Tom Rogic, the experienced Nir Bitton and also the youthful talents of David Turnbull.

All have thrived under his management and January recruits such as O’Riley and Reo Hatate have added to quality and depth in a key area of ​​the park for Celtic.

Grant feels his old club have good choices in all areas but midfield is crucial and Postecoglou has built it superbly.


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He said: “The biggest thing they have is options all over the place and in midfield they have an abundance of it.

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“In midfield there was always a concern about losing Tom Rogic and not having a replacement for him and also him going through 90 minutes.

“There’s been a big change in that and also you have the addition of O’Riley, who I like.

“I’ve known Matt for a long time and he has the quality. My concern was where he was going to fit into the side – whether he would be a bit higher or lower in there.

“I spent a long time in England and Scottish football gets knocked out but, when people come here, they can soon see the quality in it.

“Last weekend against Ross County, there was Matt with Nir Bitton coming on and also David Turnbull.

“That’s what a manager wants all the time. Matt didn’t even start the game and, of course, there is Callum McGregor.

“It’s the rotation in there. You see Hatate, he does a lot of work without the ball sometimes just in the fact he’s dragging players out of position to create space.

Peter Grant

“As a midfielder, that’s fantastic because when you have guys like McGregor, the likes of Jota are intelligent enough to get into the spaces which others create by moving.”

Grant already knew O’Riley well, having coached him during his time in charge of the academy at Fulham when the kid was progressing through the youth ranks.

He has been delighted to see him settle so swiftly into the fast-paced life of Parkhead and said: “It’s not just about football ability at a club like Celtic.

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“The environment and the games he was asked to go into in his first couple of weeks was a big ask. Hearts away and Rangers, matches like that.

“I had no worries about Matt in possession of the ball because I know he can command it but there are some players who go to Celtic with fantastic reputations and just can’t handle playing for them.

“Matt just seems to have grown with it and the thing I’d like to see is constantly playing him.

“People like rotation these days but I feel Matt is one of those you will get the best out of if he is consistently playing because he missed a bit of football when he was younger.

“I understand the modern game, the tempo of the way Celtic play and the demands means there might be changes now and again but Matt needs those games in his legs.

“That’s why he had his best season for MK Dons last year, the amount of games he was playing. But there is an abundance of talent in the middle of the pitch for the manager to choose from.

“It’s the same in many ways with the front line. Kyogo Furuhashi has been out for a long time but people don’t talk about it as much with Giorgos Giakoumakis doing so well.

“I’ve watched Giakoumakis play and always thought his movement was excellent. I just didn’t think Celtic put the ball in the box enough. You can see if you do that, he will score.”

Postecoglou insisted bolstering the squad heavily in the middle of the campaign would allow his team to stay at a high level whether he had to make switches before or during match. He has been proven right with the fierce tempo extending a domestic run of 31 games unbeaten.

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Grant said: “Celtic make substitutions now and the pace doesn’t drop.

“It shows the manager knows the players to keep on the pitch.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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