IT WOULD be an understatement of monumental proportions to say Maik Nawrocki has had a false start to his Celtic career.
The centre-back arrived as the champions’ most expensive signing in the summer at £4.3million from Legia Warsaw.
Nawrocki has played the full 90 minutes only twice – the 3-1 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie on August 13 and the 1-0 League Cup elimination against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park a week later.
In total, he has made five appearances, missed five consecutive outings with a hamstring injury, was overlooked for 11 matchday squads and was similarly snubbed by Brendan Rodgers when the Irishman assembled his Champions League player pool.
GREEN FOR GO…Maik Nawrocki on the ball against St Mirren.
It would be fair to observe the expectations of 22-year-old German-born former Poland Under-21 back-four operator have gone slightly off script.
It’s all a bit mystifying.
In an earlier life, I was the Scotland correspondent for World Soccer Monthly Magazine and, although, for obvious reasons, I gave up the enjoyable post when I took over as Sports Editor at the Sunday Mail in the eighties, I have kept in touch with a few of the freelance writers who covered their respective countries.
I was reassured Celtic had landed “a high quality player” who would command a massive fee if – or when – he was lured across the border or to a so-called top European league. The Polish journalist who imparted the knowledge was not given to flights of fancy and I had every faith in his ability to judge a player’s capabilities.
It was virtually impossible to rate the strengths or weaknesses of Nawrocki in his debut against Ross County in his 67 minutes before he made way for Carl Starfelt to take a final bow at Parkhead ahead of his move to Celta Vigo.
The next match against the Dons in the north east was a better platform to assess the defender. It was a difficult afternoon for him. Obviously, he was still settling into new surroundings and his case wasn’t helped by having to play alongside two different partners.
PICK IT OUT…Maik Nawrocki looks on as Aberdeen striker Bojan Miovski beats Joe Hart from close range in Celtic’s 3-1 win at Pittodrie in August.
At kick-off, he lined up alongside Cameron Carter-Vickers, but the team’s rearguard rock had to make way at the interval with a muscular problem to be replaced by Stephen Welsh.
Nawrocki did okay, but his lack of pace was evident when Bojan Miovksi left him in his slipstream as he raced into the box to tuck away a left-wing cross from Duk to cancel Liel Abada’s opener. Thankfully, Kyogo Furuhashi restored the visitors’ lead within minutes and Matt O’Riley settled the argument in the second period.
Gustaf Lagerbielke became Nawrocki’s third back-four colleague in only two games in the League Cup loss at Kilmarnock and no outfield Celt emerged with credit after a particularly lame performance.
The new Bhoy then came off the radar with his hamstring injury and he remained fairly anonymous until he was forced into action a week ago today when he went on for the injured Welsh in the 35th minute of the derby triumph.
NOT QUITE EYE TO EYE…Maik Nawrocki and Brendan Rodgers as the centre-back goes on as a substitute in the derby triumph last weekend.
Nawrocki responded well enough to the challenge although he got caught too tight to Cyriel Dessers to give his opponent the opportunity to spin and caress the turf at the anticipated challenge from the defender. James Tavernier scored from the free-kick to make life a wee bit uncomfortable for all of a Celtic persuasion.
I may be reading something into a situation that doesn’t exist, but there was little eye contact, if any, when the player was primed by his manager to enter the fray or at full-time when Rodgers went onto the pitch for some backslapping with his troops.
The defender lined up alongside Liam Scales in the 3-0 win against St Mirren on Tuesday and I thought he looked fairly polished. Straight from the off, he took the ball and delivered it down the right to Daizen Maeda. It was worked back to him and this time he picked out Callum McGregor in the centre of the pitch.
Once again, the ball came back to Nawrocki who then knocked a pass wide to Liam Scales on the left and that motion set in play the move that saw Maeda score the champions’ first goal of 2024 in only 54 seconds.
It was all very patient in the build-up and the former Legia defender looked more than comfortable to play his part as a cog in the machine.
And that takes us to today. What does the future hold in store for Nawrocki and Celtic?
IN OR OUT…Celtic’s £7.3million summer signings Gustaf Lagerbielke and Maik Nawrocki at the end of the 3-0 win over St Mirren in the first game of 2024.
There’s talk of Rodgers making a move for Scott McKenna, a player he once tried to sign from Aberdeen. I would be surprised if there is any substance in this story.
Lagerbielke, apparently, hasn’t ticked enough boxes since his £3million arrival from Elfsborg in the summer and could be heading for a quickfire exit. There could be something in that.
Rodgers will have Carter-Vickers, Scales, Welsh and, of course, Nawrocki available – if, of course, they all bodyswerve injury setbacks in the second half of the campaign.
On a personal note, I would like to see Nawrocki given his opportunity to get an extended run in the side, but who would drop out to make way is another conundrum.
I’ll leave that to the manager. That’s why Brendan gets the big bucks.