In the curtain-raiser of Celtic’s 2022/23 season, Stephen Welsh notched up the opening goal in the early minutes against Aberdeen, to settle any nerves that might have been there on Flag Day. The 22-year-old, who was third choice behind Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt last season, was wanted by Ligue 1 side, Toulouse, this summer.
The French side are believed to have even submitted an offer of a loan deal plus an option to buy worth £3.5 million. But Celtic did not seem to be interested in parting ways with the academy graduate.
Not only did he score a crucial goal against The Dons, but also he, along with Cameron Carter-Vickers, picked up the team’s first clean sheet of the season.
In the absence of Starfelt, due to an injury picked up while representing the Swedish national team, Welsh has the chance to make the starting spot his own. He could not have asked for a better start. Now, it is about holding onto his spot by continuing to perform like this.
Former Celtic captain backs Welsh
“It was a very solid performance from Stephen and, obviously, getting a goal was a fantastic bonus to add to the performance and the growing reputation he is getting. On a performance like that, I’m sure he is going to get greater opportunities.
“Stephen is the guy who is in possession of that jersey right at this minute and I’m sure the manager will stick by that. Like any boy at that age, you need games to either improve or to learn from your mistakes. You can only do that by playing on the park.
“Stephen is getting the opportunity and, hopefully, he’s grasping it much in the manner that Anthony Ralston did before him. Anthony has competition from Josip Juranovic for his position and that is what the manager has got now across the pitch in all departments.
“Every single place is up for grabs and that is going to keep people on their toes and making sure they are at their highest levels. Stephen has done ever so well and, as I said, you can only play and show your ability when you have that jersey and show yourself in that starting line-up or coming on as a sub. He certainly has that role for what he is doing just now.”
Speaking about holding onto Welsh despite interest from Toulouse, the former Celtic captain said:
“Ange will want to keep the players that he knows are the ones who can do something for him and the squad in games. Last year, we saw Stephen going into the side and doing ever so well before subsequently he missed out with Carter Vickers and Starfelt being the partnership.
“But the club and the manager need to have those options. There needs to be back up and players who can step in and do the job. We had a horrendous injury situation last season at times and there were times when the squad was down to the bare bones. So that performance against Aberdeen on the opening day of the season with a clean sheet, his display overall and a goal augurs well for his future.”
Ligue 1 has a reputation for nurturing talented prospects in recent times. A move to France could have benefited Welsh. But the faith, shown by Ange Postecoglou in the defender, signifies that he will potentially be entrusted with more playing time this season.
It seems as if he will be the team’s first-choice centre-back until Starfelt makes his return to full fitness. But even then, there will be a fascinating intra-squad battle going on for the two berths in the starting line-up. Eventually, Celtic will be reaping all the benefits.
This article was originally posted here