Article by Michael Murray
With Celtic’s round of pre-season friendlies taking place in France in a couple of days time and today happening to be Bastille Day, let’s take a look at the highs and lows of French Celts of past and present.
Christopher Jullien is an example of what solid investment can provide. The now 27 year old was signed for a fee of a little over £7 million from Toulouse last summer and quickly resonated among the Celtic faithful. With a strong sense of composure on the ball married with a robust, physical presence off it, Jullien offered everything Celtic desired in a centre half. Courtesy of crucial goals against Lazio, Rangers and Hamilton and his undeniable passion for the club, he is now a firm fan’s favourite and will be one of our most influential players during the historic season ahead.
Olivier Ntcham perhaps does not have the presence he first held at Celtic but should we see moments of him at his best in the future, there is still plenty to look forward to. During his debut season at Parkhead, following his £4.5 million move from Manchester City, there were times when Ntcham looked unplayable. That impressive form transitioned into the opening stages of the following season, his man of the match performance in a 1-0 victory against Rangers pays testament to this. However, since that spell a heavy knee injury as well as his position being swamped with competition has prevented us from seeing Ntcham playing in that formidable fashion in recent times. Nonetheless, the 24 year old’s contract does not expire till 2022, so should Celtic keep a hold of him, there may be a chance for Ntcham to relight the fire at Paradise.
It’s difficult to remember that Odsonne Edouard is still only 22 years old. Despite the Frenchman debatably being 3rd choice during his initial loan spell from PSG, he still managed to showcase his talents via some unforgettable performances, most notably against Rangers. Since arriving permanently in Glasgow he has exhibited maturity beyond his years as 1st choice, with each passing season he grows in confidence and composure. Even for the high standards he sets himself, last season was an exceptional one, contributing 27 goals and 18 assists across all competitions by just the beginning of March. Practically every aspect of Edouard’s game is dangerous, even for a player still in the early stages of his career, he is as close as you will come to see a flawless striker. We have a future world class player on our hands and we need to savour every game we have left with him.
Out of any French native to play for Celtic, Didier Agathe had the longest, and perhaps most vigorous spell at the club. His dynamic style of play on the right flank which was coordinated by his strength and speed, proved to be a catalyst of play throughout Martin O’Neil’s time in charge at Celtic Park. Agathe played a vital role in the treble winning side of 2001 and along the way to Seville. In 6 years at Celtic, he won 7 major honours and much like the majority of his French alumni at Parkhead he had a deep connection with the club. “I can’t explain the feeling I had, playing for Celtic. I was like a child, I felt like I was dreaming.”
Stephane Mahe shared many parallels with Agathe in regards to his time at Celtic. Mahe, who was predominantly used as a full back, albeit on the opposite side, wore his heart on his sleeve and played his part in some history making triumphs. Signed by Wim Jansen, he responded perfectly to the responsibility that the 1997-98 season offered. He filled the gap at left back with his calm and controlled technique in possession as Jansen and Co. stopped Rangers’ 10 in a row charge. In the years that followed he was riddled by injuries and yet was still favoured, when fit, by the other four managers he played under before his departure for Hearts in 2001. A reliable choice who, just like all members of that squad in his opening season, is firmly attached to the club’s history.
Underwhelming would be the best way to describe Marc Antoine Fortune’s 13 month stint at Celtic Park. Truth be told, the length of his spell and the lack of success during it was mainly due to the poor time Tony Mowbray mirrored at the club. Fortune had followed in Mowbray’s footsteps across the border and into Glasgow after playing under him in the previous season when on loan at West Brom. The striker’s form in the 2009-10 was vastly inconsistent, though it was detrimented by injuries. In 30 appearances, Fortune scored 12 times, including a winner in a fairly meaningless Old Firm. Not a shocking record but once again disappointing for the near enough £4 million price tag over a decade ago.
What Moussa Dembele achieved with Celtic in the little over two years he spent with the club is remarkable. Despite eye-catching exploits at Fulham and prolonged interest from other clubs, Dembele was signed for a bargain of £500,000, a fee that would prove more valuable with each game he played in the hoops. Between 2016 and 2018 Dembele netted 51 times, lifted two trebles and became a cult hero. Had it not have been for Edouard’s continued supply of goods up front following Dembele’s move to Lyon, he would be regarded as the Celt’s most prolific centre forward since Henrik Larsson. Since his departure, he has been vocal in regards to his continued love for the club and its fans.
Due to Christopher Jullien’s success since signing from the French Ligue 1, Neil Lennon may be tempted to delve into the league in search of further talent, which could be the most likely way for Celtic fans to see new French stars in green and white in the future.