Celtic: 'Kouassi Eboue is a Champions League signing'

Kouassi Eboue in action for Krasnodar against Schalke in the Europa League in October 2016
Kouassi Eboue, seen here in action for Krasnodar against Schalke, started all six of his team's matches in this season's Europa League

There are certain flashbacks surrounding Celtic's signing of Kouassi Eboue, déjà vu moments from the summer of 2011 when another young African midfielder came from left field and set up camp in the east end of Glasgow.

That was the 20-year-old Victor Wanyama, from Nairobi in Kenya via Beerschot in Belgium, and the reaction to his arrival then pretty much mirrors the reaction now that Eboue has arrived from Krasnodar in Russia via Abidjan in Ivory Coast.

In the vacuum, there's a furious search for information about his back story, just as there was with Wanyama; a frantic retweeting of morsels of video, a mad hunt for players and managers who know anything about him and the life he leads.

We know the outline of Eboue's tale, but that's about it. He's only 19, has already nailed down a position as a central midfielder in what is currently Russia's fourth best team, has started six out of six Europa League ties this season, assisting in two goals, and has been picked in training squads for his country.

He hasn't yet been capped - and he won't be playing in the African Cup of Nations this month - but he's closing in on international recognition. Some say he's at his best as a defensive midfielder, others say that he is, or will be, good enough to play at a very high level as a holding midfielder or an attacking midfielder or a combination of both.

Manager Brendan Rodgers (right) chats to new signing Kouassi Eboue and striker Moussa Dembele
Manager Brendan Rodgers (right) chats to new signing Kouassi Eboue (left) and striker Moussa Dembele at Celtic's training camp in Dubai

In November, he sat on the bench while the Ivory Coast played Paul Pogba's France in a friendly in Lens. For such a young player in such a new and exacting environment there is just one guarantee about his move to Glasgow - his pedigree is enough to quicken the pulse of any Celtic fan. A teenager with his kind of CV will have them dreaming of what might be in Europe in the coming seasons.

'A Champions League signing'

Eboue is a Champions League signing, a player tasked with the job of bringing more energy and physicality to the holding midfield role. That lack of intensity was glaringly obvious against Borussia Monchengladbach in Glasgow. The memory of it may have played on a loop in Brendan Rodgers' head these past few months.

More than any other, the one person who'll be looking over his shoulder at Eboue is Nir Bitton, who has slipped off the radar a little at Parkhead.

Bitton played in that Monchengladbach game and played again in the League Cup semi-final victory over Rangers at Hampden. He was taken off after an hour against Rangers and has only started once since then.

On his day, Bitton is still capable of excellence, but you wonder where he fits in now. Rodgers has Scott Brown, Callum McGregor and Eboue, if he lives up to his new manager's expectations, as his main midfield buffers. Bitton is behind them, seemingly drifting in importance.

There were times in Rodgers' recent career when supporters used to block their eyes when he was linked with a player, fearing another mishap in the market. Not any more, of course, but in the post-Luis Suarez era at Liverpool there were many headline failures.

Rodgers was mocked by many for his transfer activity, but it was a little overblown. His eye for a cheap and hugely effective player at Swansea was razor sharp and for all the duds recruited at Anfield there was serious quality brought in, too.

Nir Bitton
Midfielder Nir Bitton finds himself on the fringes of the Celtic first team

And it's still there.

Rodgers bought Philippe Coutinho for £8.5m. He's worth multiples of that now. He brought in James Milner for nothing and Milner has been exceptional. Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge, Nathaniel Clyne, Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino - all important players for Jurgen Klopp in Liverpool's assault on the Premiership title and all bought by Rodgers.

In the business of Eboue, Celtic fans will hang their hat on Rodgers' judgement - and it's understandable. Moussa Dembele's capture for £500,000 was a coup, nothing less. Scott Sinclair cost a lot more, but he's been reborn in Glasgow.

Rodgers' short time at Celtic Park has revealed an ability not just to find new players who make a difference in the first team - rather than clogging up the bench - and also to galvanise players that have been around a while. Brown is an example of that. James Forrest, to an extent, is, too. The ultimate illustration is Stuart Armstrong, who has gone from nervy cameos under Ronny Deila to dominant displays under Rodgers.

Still room for homegrown players to shine

It's interesting, too, that Celtic, though bringing in Dembele and Sinclair and now Eboue, is maintaining, or increasing, its Scottishness.

James Forrest and Scott Brown
James Forrest and Scott Brown are among the Scots thriving at Celtic under Brendan Rodgers

The most highly-charged domestic fixture is the Old Firm game. Five Scots started in the most recent contest against Rangers (Craig Gordon, Brown, Armstrong, Forrest, McGregor and it would have been six had Kieran Tierney been fit), an increase on the four Scots that began the League Cup semi-final last April.

Five Scots in the starting line-up against their Ibrox rivals? It's only the second time it's happened since the spring of 2009. Rodgers might be spending some money on foreigners, but he's not diluting the impact of the homegrowns.

The combination is working nicely. Eboue now enters a happy and progressive set-up and in Dembele he can see the possibilities. Rodgers is about to give him a chance to make his mark. The rest is up to him.

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