Celtic signed midfielder Matt O’Riley from MK Dons for a fee of £1.5 million in the 2022 January transfer window. The 22-year-old signed a contract up until 2026 and has proved to be an impressive acquisition for Ange Postecoglou’s men. O’Riley made a strong start to his career at Parkhead and slotted right into a midfield three with Reo Hatate and club captain Callum McGregor and played an important part in securing Celtic’s 52nd Scottish Premiership title.
The Danish U-21 international is fantastic at linking the play between the midfield and the front line, and for a player of his size of 6ft 2, he is good at navigating tight areas. O’Riley was brought in to replace Tom Rogic, who departed the club last season after nine years, and he’s turning out to be a solid replacement as he is currently the top assister in the Scottish Premiership with 11 assists.
Denmark assistant manager and former Celtic midfielder Morten Wieghorst spoke about the chances of the former MK Dons player receiving a call-up to the senior squad. He said: “Matt’s development looks really good. At the beginning of the year, he maybe wasn’t starting as much for Celtic, but that’s how it is with young players.
“There are periods when they just have to take a step back to take the next step forward. He just needs to keep doing what he is doing. The competition for the midfield (with Denmark) is great, and he is up against English Premier League players, too, so we need to remember that.
“But he looks like he is going to win the title with Celtic, and that’s really good for the players. Usually, what happens is if you finish as a champion, you get to play international football too. So, from our point of view, it’s great. The Danish talent development is really healthy, and you can clearly see from the youth teams that more exciting players are on the way.”
O’Riley was born in Hounslow, England, but qualifies to play for Denmark through his mother’s side of the family and has four caps for the U21s. Despite the highs of last season, the midfielder has come under some criticism this season from the Celtic faithful and has not started as many games, with the emergence of Aaron Mooy being in top form.
O’Riley alluded to the criticism he’s received and said there’s things that go on off the field that supporters don’t know about: “Of course, I would like to play probably a bit more than I have, naturally. “I think sometimes there are things away from football as well that people may not see, which can also affect you at times.
“I understand from a fan’s perspective they only see what happens on the pitch, which is completely fair enough, but if something else is happening elsewhere, then sometimes that also plays a part in you mentally. I think I am in a much better place now than I was probably during that time. I have learnt a lot, to be honest, having pretty much been a regular for most of the season and not playing a little bit.
I have learnt a lot, especially mentally, because it’s difficult when you go from that expectation of playing all the time to maybe not playing as much. But, to be honest, right now, I feel it’s probably the best place I have been in a long time. So those experiences of not playing and having tough times away from the pitch, they definitely shape you into being a better person.”
O’Riley scored 11 goals last season and has only managed four this campaign. Postecoglou dismissed criticism of his midfielder and insists he doesn’t look at goals and assists, stating: “You know what? All the kids want plenty of presents for Christmas. Sometimes they need to be grateful for what they have got! The bottom line is Matt has been outstanding for us.”
“I don’t worry about goals and assists. I get it that is what gives the boys a thrill. What’s more important for us is he’s a big contributor to being where we are at the moment. Matt has shown sustained growth this year. It’s his second year playing at such a high level, 18 months really, given we signed him halfway through last season. He has taken on some enormous challenges this year. Matt has played Champions League football, he’s been in a couple of different positions for us. I’m delighted that at the age of 22, what he’s achieved here, and there is even more to come.”
Postecoglou added: “We work in a public space, and that allows people to have an opinion. But as I keep telling the lads, the most important opinion, the one that counts, is the one within these walls.
“Matt has had nothing but positive feedback from us. Are players going to sit out at times? If you want to play for a big club, that’s just what’s going to happen. Whatever big club you play for, if you expect to have a guaranteed spot in the team, you soon find that doesn’t exist. You’ve got to perform every week, and the boys at Celtic know that. Irrespective of their position, they are going to have competition for it. That’s what brings out the best in players, and it’s just part and parcel of being at a big club like this.”
By: Scott Bradley / @ScottBradleyX
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Craig Williamson – SNS Group