Sometimes you need to step back and view certain things in football from a neutral perspective.
Sometimes it helps to have outside parties looking in to make it clear to you what you have on your hands, and one of the most interesting stories in relation to preparations for the World Cup so far has been one out of Belgium which should give us all some pause.
A lot of the talk over there is about who will make up their backline in the coming Finals. And more and more people are talking about our own Dedryck Boyata, and certainly not in the way that our fans do, and this website has been as guilty as any of them.
They speak of him with respect. They speak of him as someone who’s come through a lot of setbacks and who’s approaching his peak. He’s a player who’s starting to get good press even from some here in Scotland. And I wonder if a re-evaluation isn’t overdue.
Don’t get me wrong, Dedryck is still capable of astonishing errors. He had a nightmarish first half at Ibrox last season, as everyone is well aware. But he’s one of those footballers who never hides, who never shirks responsibility. He reminds me, in that regard, of Samaras who used to take no end of grief from Celtic fans who highlighted every mistake, but who still put himself out there week after week and gave 100%, every single time.
Defenders and goalkeepers don’t get to make mistakes like strikers do. A striker can pop up and score a late winner and be forgiven for every miss in a match. A defender can make a glaring mistake and that gets remembered long after a forward’s is forgotten. I used to think Dedryck was a confidence player, and there’s nothing worse to be in a defender because they all make mistakes from time to time and if the confidence goes, you’re done.
But Boyata has real mental strength now, real resilience and fortitude. He can play through his own fears, and doesn’t retreat into himself any longer. He recovers from mistakes much more quickly, as any defender needs to be able to. He still makes them, and they can still leave your heart in your mouth, but I watch a lot of football and I’ve not seen a perfect player yet. Every player makes mistakes. Some get highlighted more than others.
Part of it is the football environment in which we play.
I watched a lot of Sevco games last season, and their defence was an ever-evolving shambles. It’s no coincidence that that’s where the money has gone this close season, and it remains to be seen if they’ve fixed the glaring issues they had there. Russell Martin was largely left alone when he wasn’t getting solid media praise, even though he was shockingly bad … it took a catastrophic performance against Celtic at Hampden for them to turn.
That he was preferred in the team to Alves shows just bad the Portuguese player was.
And that’s without even mentioning his countryman Cardoza, and God alone knows where he is.
They were consistently reeking, all those guys, and Tavernier and John with them, week in week out, but the focus in the press was always turned on Celtic although we had, statistically, the best defence in the league. Boyata was part of that, but you’d never know it the way the press focussed on every error he made, ramping up the pressure on him whilst giving those at Ibrox an easy ride. There is no question that this is deliberate.
I started to change my view on Dedryck towards the end of the season, in the aftermath of the Ibrox game. His early hesitancy was replaced by a calm sureness in the matches that followed. Part of it was the way he played; as I joked to someone after the cup semi-final he looked better when he was focussed on defending and “not trying to play football.”
And when he focuses on keeping it simple, I actually think he’s a very decent player. It’s when he lingers on the ball or tries to be too fancy the trouble starts.
He hasn’t yet signed a new contract; in March this year I predicted that he never would. That will be bothersome for Peter Lawwell and Brendan Rodgers, especially if the player is part of the manager’s plans for the coming campaign as all indications appear to suggest.
It wasn’t that long ago that Brendan was telling the media he thought Dedryck was the best central defender at the club.
Sviatchenko has left. This will be another summer of speculation about Jozo Simunovic. Compper is the invisible man. Hendry and Ajer are going nowhere. I don’t see any way the manager has changed his mind about Boyata having a future here.
The positive is that Dedryck himself clearly loves it at Celtic; he hasn’t been dissuaded by the critics in the stands.
He has expressed his willingness to sign a new deal … I would imagine talks are ongoing.
Tomorrow, the World Cup Finals get underway and before they are done Boyata will have played in some big games against some top players. We’re about to find out what the big man is truly made of, on a global stage, with everyone watching.
The real evaluation can wait until then, but he’s come a long way from when we signed him.
We’ll find out shortly whether or not he still has something to offer.