There were plenty highlights from Celtic’s convincing 4-0 win over Livingston on Saturday. The return of Leigh Griffiths, Odsonne Edouard moving joint-top of the Scottish Premiership scoring charts and a nice dose of revenge against the team who dealt them their only domestic defeat of the season.
But top of the list has to be the man-of-the-match performance of 18-year old Jeremie Frimpong. This is what Neil Lennon had to say about the prodigiously talented right-back:
“I have to say that performance, in isolation, is one of the best I’ve seen from a right-back at Celtic. “It had everything – pace, power, assists, shots on goal, recovery runs, defending well. For a kid of 18 to come into a daunting environment like this, he’s handling it brilliantly but his talent is unequivocal.”
Saturday was the perfect showcase of Frimpong’s attacking quality. Ryan Christie started ahead of him but continually cut inside onto his favoured left foot. That left Frimpong the freedom to bomb up and down the right-wing at will. He repeatedly did so to devastating effect.
Making the right-back slot his own
Nobody could have predicted such a rapid ascension. That rings especially true when you see his competition for a starting spot. Hatem Abd Elhamed and Moritz Bauer are two much more experienced and proven professionals. The initial idea must have been for those two to battle over the right-back slot this season before introducing Frimpong to the first team once Bauer’s loan deal expires next summer.
However, the Dutch youth international now appears to have leapfrogged Bauer, at the very least, in Lennon’s pecking order. He has started four of the last five league games, and both rounds of the League Cup as Celtic made their way to another final (transfermarkt). Elhamed’s injury is set to rule him out for at least another month, and he will find it difficult reclaiming his spot once he returns.
Frimpong’s biggest asset is his pace, which enables him to burst past opposition defenders and recover his defensive position in the blink of an eye. His keenness to work shooting opportunities twice nearly led to his second Hoops goal. The latter of those chances saw his powerful effort well saved by Livingston goalkeeper Matija Sarkic only for the rebound to be tucked away by James Forrest.
The extra dimension he offers Celtic is not one supporters had become accustomed to in recent years. With Mikael Lustig in the team – a naturally conservative full-back – attacks would usually be directed down the left through Kieran Tierney. Oftentimes, the Swede would tuck inside and form a back three, with James Forrest acting as a right wing-back. Frimpong’s energy and dynamism have changed that dramatically.
Jeremie Frimpong impressive going forward again today. Celtic have scored 26 goals in the 6 games he’s played, averaging just over 4 goals per game.
— celticbible (@celticbible) November 23, 2019
Born in Amsterdam, raised in Manchester, made in Glasgow
The Dutchman arrived at Parkhead in the summer from Manchester City with little fanfare, part of a batch of youth players signed from the English Premier League. Lee O’Connor and Jonathan Afolabi were recruited from Manchester United and Southampton, but neither has been able to threaten the first team the way Frimpong has.
His nine years in City’s academy have had a profound effect on his game and professionalism. Despite having never made a senior career appearance until his Celtic debut against Partick Thistle in September, he has strolled into the Scottish champions starting line-up as if he’d been there all his life. His joy at pulling on the green and white hoops resonated with fans from the start, and he appears to be loving life in Glasgow.
“It was amazing, a dream come true,” Frimpong said to Celtic’s website of his debut. “It was my first professional game and the fans – I love them already. To hear them when I came off was amazing. I’ve been trying to make a good impression and I found out two or three days ago I was starting. I played well and now I have to keep that going.”
He has indeed kept it going, and more. Before that, the bulk of his experience had come for City’s U23’s in the Premier League 2. Reportedly, it was an U23 game between City and Celtic that got him noticed by Parkhead scouts. The English champions clearly saw potential in Frimpong to have kept him at the club as long as they did. Not enough, though, to dissuade them from accepting Celtic’s £350,000 offer in the summer. According to the Manchester Evening News, that deal includes an extra £650,000 in potential payments and a 30% sell-on clause.
It’s early days in Frimpong’s Celtic career, but already that looks like being a superbly astute piece of transfer business.