Before Saturday’s game kicked off, I heard a conversation on Radio Scotland that kind of amazed me. It was amazing because it started with Pat Bonner, and not one of the anti-Celtic fools who populate our national radio stations.
He looked at the Celtic team-sheet and wondered if the decision to start Eduard was a “snub” to our Scottish striker.
I was appalled at the suggestion, and said so on Facebook.
We have enough anti-Celtic sentiment floating around the media without a revered ex player promoting conspiracy theories. Even his anchors on the show were quick to point out that Brendan was only doing what a decent manager should do before a major match like tonight; he was “wrapping Leigh in cotton wool.”
And there was a good reason for that of course; there was no guarantee – there is no guarantee – that Moussa Dembele will be 100% fit and ready to start tonight. If Brendan had played Leigh and he’d gotten injured, we’d have a problem.
As it turns out, we do have a problem; it’s the same one Brendan has had since the day and hour he arrived and signed Dembele shortly thereafter.
When you play one man up front, how do you accommodate two strikers who are, without argument, the best in the league? He has answered it by shuffling his pack on occasion, and in certain rare circumstances playing the two up front at the same time.
An early plan to play Leigh out wide seems to have been jettisoned.
The problem has only grown over the weekend, now that Eduard has shown what he can do, with a hat-trick against Motherwell. That boy was always going to be a bit special, his pedigree is first rate. We have an option to buy him, and at his age and with his skill-set it’s a no brainer. Brendan has pointed out that he, Moussa and Leigh are all different types of forward … but they all have one thing in common; they will score goals aplenty.
That gives us three different tactical options. It opens up possibilities. But it means that there will be times when Leigh will have to cool his heels on the bench. He’s been doing it already, to some degree, when Moussa has been fit.
I fancy that Leigh will start the game tonight, and it will be a chance for him to demonstrate how good he’s become by scoring goals on the Champions League stage. He’s a better player than he was when Brendan arrived. If he hadn’t improved I don’t think he’d still be at Parkhead. Brendan saw things he didn’t fancy in Leigh; the kid has worked hard to erase those doubts and without question he’s now the top footballer Brendan wanted.
But the problem is going to last beyond tonight. It used to be said that Celtic requires a 30 goal a season striker; our club has traditionally had some fantastic forwards. But right now we actually have two 40 goal strikers … and a young kid who’s just nabbed a hat-trick.
We’ve no clear idea yet just how good he might turn out to be.
It’s a lovely problem to have, but there’s an invidious media in this country which will stir this soup as much as they can. They will try to create a different kind of problem out of it. Leigh has a good head on his shoulders – he’s much more professional than many in the press appear to believe – and he knows his career has progressed under Brendan.
He also knows Moussa might not be at Celtic Park beyond this campaign.
So he can afford to wait.
Brendan, in the meantime, can shuffle the pack and change things around as he sees fit.
He’s in a position Leigh would kill to be in; he is, without dispute, the number one man.