Filip Benkovic collected his 2019 Scottish Cup winner’s medal after yet another solid performance. He was viewed by many of us as the senior partner alongside Kristoffer Ajer, who erred when Hearts took the lead that day. Benkovic returned to Leicester to wither on the vine, while Ajer continued to develop at Celtic.
The failure of Filip to develop is inexplicable. He left us as a 21-year-old first choice talent, a player Brendan Rodgers took on loan to Celtic and played him whenever available. Rodgers’ Leicester should have been a great place to return to. Subsequent loans to Bristol, Cardiff and Leuven earned him a total of five 90-minute performances in two and a half years.
Something was not right. When asked last week, Brendan Rodgers said he had been “unavailable for personal reasons”. That’s one of those phrases that we have no right to query, but it is enough. It sufficiently explains the incongruence between what we saw with our eyes in season 2018-19 and what happened since.
I have no idea what Filip’s personal reasons are and hope they soon lift. The game is full of players who struggle with family, relationships, mental health and various temptations. It always has been. It also has its fair share of absolute rockets, who cannot stick to plan and will not learn. Managers drop this type, usually frustrating fans who, again, trust their eyes, but every team needs to stick to plan and every manager has to be the boss.
If he was available, I would have backed Celtic to spend £10m on Filip in 2019. A stay in Glasgow may have lifted what ailed him, or we may have splurged a lot of money down the drain. That’s how this game works. A proportion of players will simply drop off the radar for no externally apparent reason. Hopefully a stay in Italy will sort the lad out.