Neil Lennon is considering handing Celtic’s unseen summer capture Jonathan Afolabi his first team debut, after being left impressed by the striker’s displays for the Hoops’ youth ranks, according to Football Insider.
Afolabi joined Celtic in August on a three-year contract after leaving Southampton as a free agent, having only represented the St. Mary’s natives in youth team football before moving away from the south coast side (TransferMarkt), feeling that he had outgrown the under-23 scene.
Afolabi was not expected to be installed in the Celtic first team upon his arrival in Scotland, as Lennon confirmed after the attacker observed the Hoops’ League Cup win over Dunfermline Athletic that the Irishman would be ‘one that’s a development’ and would start life on the cusp of the senior fold (BBC).
However, the Dublin-born centre-forward, who has two under-19 caps for the Republic of Ireland to his name, has impressed Lennon and his coaching staff in training and youth fixtures since his arrival at the Scottish Premiership outfit.
Lennon was in attendance as the 19-year-old fired a brace against Albion Rovers at the Reigart Stadium in a reserve team fixture recently, which Celtic went on to win 3-0.
The Hoops boss is now contemplating whether it is too soon for Afolabi to be introduced into the first team fold at Celtic Park, as Odsonne Edouard is currently Lennon’s only recognised senior striker after Leigh Griffiths was declared unfit to face CFR Cluj and with Vakoun Bayo’s suspension.
Lennon is understood to be excited about the potential threat Afolabi could offer him and believes the youngster may be able to add a different dimension to his strike force.
Celtic’s coaching staff still feel Afolabi is a raw talent that needs to be polished, but have been working on developing his match fitness and feel he has the physical traits needed to make the step up to senior action.
With Lennon set to face Cluj in the Europa League tonight with Edouard as his only senior striker, it may well be worth handing Afolabi a spot on the bench at Celtic Park.
Even if the teenager does not feature, he would benefit greatly from the experience of being in and around the first team as they prepare for an important fixture.
If Celtic find themselves chasing the game, Lennon could also hand the Irishman his senior debut and see if his excitement is well-placed in the Southampton product being capable of presenting a different dimension to his current options.
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