Many footballers have an unnerving amount of self-confidence in their own ability – it’s part of the reason they were able to make the jump to the professional game, sometimes beyond more talented players – but even with that level of belief, Odsonne Edouard probably didn’t expect to be in this position at the age of 20.
Just two and a half years after being able to call football his profession, the Frenchman is the starting central striker for one of the biggest clubs in northern Europe, if not the world, and the reigning Scottish champions for which standards have been set exceptionally high under Brendan Rodgers.
Winning every game and domestic title is not so much a luxurious expectation anymore, the decline of Rangers and lack of a consistent challenge (up to now) from Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibernian, has made it a demand on Rodgers’ watch.
As a result, every single individual within that team each week has to be the very best in their position across the whole of the Scottish Premiership, for if they are not, Celtic will simply not maintain the monopoly they currently enjoy of silverware.
There is also the fact of Rodgers’ squad being the deepest in the land, meaning if one player is not doing his job, there are at least two, maybe three ready and willing to take his position. Except, in Edouard’s case, the latter isn’t true which only adds to the pressure on his shoulders.
Our friends at Football Whispers take a look at the record signing’s development so far.
Celtic’s poor summer recruitment and failure to reach the Champions League group stage led to the enforced sale of Moussa Dembele and now as a result the Hoops were left alarming light in the final third of the field.
Rodgers’ striking options essentially boil down to the known quantity, reliable but slightly limited Leigh Griffiths and the largely untested figure of Edouard.
His talent is unmistakable and potential significant, but potential isn’t necessarily going to guarantee 20+ goals in the short-term, which is what the former PSG player will now have to do, plus put in a regular shift off the ball that may not bring the exhilaration of finding the target each week.
It’s sink or swim stuff for Edouard and while it’ll be a steep learning curve and the making of him, at least in the context of Celtic, it hardly seems ideal.
A difficult start
Unsurprisingly, this set of circumstances led to a slightly uncomfortable and challenging start to the season for him. Between August 8 and October 4, he failed to find the target in 465 minutes across eight matches, while playing in a team struggling for cohesion and still smarting from a poor start to the campaign.
Not to excuse his own performance, but there was cause and effect here and Eduoard was a victim as much as he was responsible for the tricky position the defending champions found themselves in throughout August and September.
The confidence just wasn’t there, nor was the conviction in front of goal but what added to that uncomfortable situation was that he had no choice but to play through it. There was to be no respite, because there was no-one else.
A reminder that throughout all of this, he is just 20. Forget his ability and potential ceiling, in almost every club in the world he would have been taken out of the firing line for a few weeks.
Coming back fighting
He was relegated to the bench for the 2-1 win over Kilmarnock but since Dembele left the club on August 31, Edouard has started 10 of 11 matches in all competitions.
Whether by accident or design, though, the tide is beginning to turn for the Frenchman who, admittedly, has been scoreless in his last two matches but enjoyed a flurry of activity in front of goal in his previous three games – scoring four, including a brace against Hibs.
Goals are the absolute lifeblood of strikers, especially ones lacking confidence and under a degree of pressure, so the knock-on effect of finding the target after such a barren run amid intense scrutiny, is almost always going to result in a positive change.
But there has been a real upturn in urgency on the part of Eduoard. A greater willingness to run the channels, come short to play passes and then dart forward and self-belief in making those runs into the penalty area, back to the goalscoring form he was in last season.
The finishing is still a little raw – Hibs game aside – and his first touch can be erratic, especially when he’s attempting little lay-off flicks to Tom Rogic or whoever is the most advanced of Celtic’s midfield but is understanding in the role is increasing game by game.
The chance he spurned at RB Leipzig inside the opening 10 minutes was a potential gamechanger but look how he made the opportunity for himself: holding his run to collect Lewis Morgan’s pass, a shot feint to lose the defender for a split second before earning more space to get an attempt away.
A month ago that run would likely have been made too early or he’d have taken the shot first time, likely firing into the stands.
There will be more fallow periods for him and frustrating matches where Eduoard loses the ball too many times and/or produces a miss that brings a collective hands to the head of the watching fans. Young players, by nature, are inconsistent, the only way to change that is with game time.
And although common wisdom dictates the situation isn’t ideal in his overall development, the other side of the argument is that unlike his peers within that age group, he finds himself in an incredibly unique position.
How many other 20-year-olds in world football can be classified as their team’s main striker, let alone playing for a reigning championship side?
With that in mind, this is an opportunity Edouard needs to seize and make the most of. It’s an unlikely experiment but one that could prove incredibly fruitful for both him and Celtic.
*odds subject to change