Odsonne Edouard is going to leave Celtic, and pretty soon.
It might not be next summer, it might not be in January, it might not be until 2021. But as history shows, there comes a point for the vast majority of the Hoops’ top players when they outgrow the SPFL and decide to try their hand in one of Europe’s major leagues.
Callum McGregor, James Forrest and Scott Brown are the recent exceptions, but the list of those to take the leap of faith is far greater; Moussa Dembélé, Kieran Tierney, Victor Wanyama, Fraser Forster…oh, and a little fella called Virgil van Dijk.
It’s an illustrious list, and new contract or no new contract, it’s one Edouard will almost certainly be signing his name to before too long.
How could he not? His development in Glasgow has been steadily exceptional, carrying him to a point where now, against your average Scottish Premiership defender, he looks like he’s playing FIFA on amateur difficulty.
At the point the season was curtailed and Celtic were declared champions for the ninth successive season, he’d scored 22 league goals; nine more than Jermain Defoe, his nearest competitor.
Despite all that, however, the field of reporting on his future has been surprisingly diluted. There have been interested parties, and no shortage of them – Leicester, Newcastle, Arsenal, Manchester United and even Chelsea, who 90min understand were interested back in February – but those rumours, in comparison to the fanfare surrounding his former Celtic teammate Dembélé, have been oddly few and far between.
Liverpool are one name so far absent from the frame, but with Chelsea having seemingly taken their name out of consideration by sniping Jurgen Klopp’s ‘primary’ transfer target from under their noses, you wonder if that will be for long.
It’s easy to look at Edouard and assume he wouldn’t fit at Anfield. Klopp’s predominant system, after all, has little use for a traditional number nine, as demonstrated by Roberto Firmino thriving as an unconventional link-up man, and Divock Origi’s struggles when occasionally deployed through the middle.
Looking at Edouard, at face value a physical, cumbersome centre forward, you might wave him to one side, but he deceptively has far more to his game. The 22-year-old’s ball control, hold up play and deceptive work-rate, in fact, put him closer to Firmino in his style of play than Dembélé, to whom he is so often lazily compared.
Of the two, Dembélé is quicker and more powerful, your traditional predatory striker; but while Edouard is far from under-rated in Scotland, he is far more of a multi-faceted all-round forward than he gets any credit for.
He’s never going to play wide left and cover for Sadio Mané, granted, but with Takumi Minamino’s emergence seemingly putting Klopp off a move for Milot Rashica, the versatility of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the emergence of Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones as genuine first-team options, the need for a new central striker at Anfield is far greater than that for any wide cover.
Hence why Timo Werner – primarily a central striker who just so happens to have played off the left on occasion in the past – was the main target until now.
The other consideration here is that top-level English clubs, whether due to caution or blind arrogance, have a tendency not to sign first-team players directly from Scotland.
Normally, a middle man is required – usually Southampton – before Liverpool, Tottenham or anyone else will pull the trigger. But with every Celtic success story, it seems to be changing.
As Lyon have shown with the development of Dembélé into one of Europe’s most coveted marksmen, there is a clear financial gain to be made from cutting out the halfway house. Liverpool, of course, will know this themselves; they paid £75m for a defender Southampton signed for less than £15m, and he’s since become the best in the world in his position.
Arsenal’s move for Tierney, for a Celtic record of close to £30m, is further evidence that no stepping stone is required beyond Parkhead – and in the case of Edouard, it might just be time to prove that beyond any shadow of a doubt.
The Liverpool recruitment team are the masters of picking left-field diamonds from the rough. Huge moves for Van Dijk and Alisson aside, they’ve built a team on educated gambles; £37m for Sadio Mané here, £25m for Georginio Wijnaldum there, £38m for Mohamed Salah here, £8m for Andy Robertson there.
Quietly securing Edouard, then, while rivals fall over each other for Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappé, Moussa Dembélé or whoever proves to be June’s flavour of the month, would in many ways be the ultimate Liverpool transfer.
The rate at which he’s improving, in any case, suggests that whatever fee is paid for him now will look like a bargain in a couple of years’ time.
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