WHILST we are not quite at the white puffs of smoke billowing out Celtic Park stage just yet there has been an almighty spark lit in terms of Celtic's injury crisis easing. Especially the return of £7 million defensive colossus Christopher Jullien.

The Frenchman has been sidelined for close to 10 months after injuring his knee when he collided with a sickening this against Dundee United on December 30.

The 28-year-old's rehabilitation has been a long, painful and laborious process but the centre-back could be all set to Ange Postecoglou's squad next month.

Postecoglou explained: "I think after the international window I'd expect Chris who has been working in rehab to be hopefully be training with the first team.

"After that, it will depend on their levels of fitness and how quickly they adapt to what we want to do with our football."

For the record the Frenchman remains Celtic's second most expensive signing - fellow compatriot Odsonne Edouard at £9 million sits top - when he was recruited from Toulouse in July 2016. He ingratiated himself to the green and white hordes when he bagged a winner against Serie A giants Lazio in a 2-1 Europa League group win in October 2019. Two months later he netted another winner in the 2019 League Cup final against Rangers at Hampden Park which saw him claim his first-ever winner's medal. Not a bad start by anyone's standards!

Celtic Way:

Last season, up until he got injured, Jullien's stats were frightening. He won more than 6.9 of his duels per game in the Premiership and also averaged 3.6 clearances, 1.2 interceptions and 1.2 tackles per match, helping his team to keep five clean sheets in the process.

Ironically this season alone Celtic have spilt crucial Premiership points in four of their seven league matches so far. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see exactly where Celtic's frailties lie and how much of a miss Jullien has been to the club.

The Celtic supporters will no doubt welcome the sight of the towering Frenchman returning to first-team training but there is no definitive date yet for his much-awaited comeback on the pitch. This is a player who after all was sporting crutches last January during the club's ill-advised trip to Dubai amid a global pandemic.

Celtic though have quite rightly refused to rush the centre-back and he will clearly play only when he is fit and ready to do so. It is a commonsense approach despite their need for a settled defence for this campaign. 

READ MORE: James Forrest and Christopher Jullien return huge as Celtic look to drive on - Alison McConnell

The football landscape has also changed considerably at Celtic since Jullien last played club football. Neil Lennon has left Lennoxtown for starters.

Now it's Jullien who will find himself having to adapt to the new philosophy and football style laid down by the new 56-year-old Australian coach. It won't be easy. It will take Jullien a bit of time to settle down and find his feet once again as well as get into the rhythm of playing regular first-team football again.

It's fair to say that Jullien's defensive teammates at the back of Celtic's pack have all taken considerable time to adapt to Ange's methods. Both Stephen Welsh and Carl Starfelt have struggled and had ropey moments this season. Anthony Ralston, Greg Taylor and Adam Montgomery have also been criticised at times for failing to fully comprehend what the inverted full-back role incorporates.

There has been squad rotation of the centre-halves because all of them have shown real vulnerabilities at times under the Ange system and have not yet appeared to fully grasp every facet of what the manager wants.

The return of Jullien might give cause for some celebration among the Celtic supporters. It also comes with caution as there is no guarantee that he will recover his previous form immediately. Too much hope shouldn't be pinned on the Frenchman being comfortable with the Aussie's new style and philosophy straight off the bat. But we all know what football in Glasgow is like so the expectation and burden on Jullien's shoulders will be significant.

Not every player is Henrik Larsson and can come back from a career-threatening injury and be greater than ever the following season. It's a wonderful thought though.

Jullien's injury against Dundee United was one of the utmost severity and the club has a duty of care and level of protection to the player himself. It is probably understandable that Ange will be wary of giving Jullien free rein during his rehabilitation. The situation needs to be nursed delicately.

And you'd have to imagine there will be a gradual reintroduction whenever it suits the Celtic manager.

READ MORE: The 3 reasons Celtic are leaking goals and why it's not the fault of Ange Postecoglou's system

Any temptation to throw Julllien back into the first-team fold should be tempered by the reality that an injury set-back, or God forbid, a relapse would be disastrous.

Another interesting facet will be to see who takes the captain's armband when Callum McGregor leaves the field as he has done on a few occasions this season.

Former England and Manchester City No.1 Joe Hart has been the recognised leader in the squad and he has filled the role of vice-captain whenever McGregor has departed the scene.

However, that vice-captain's role has never been publicly announced by Celtic. One wonders if Hart would be asked to step aside and let Jullien resume that mantle.

What cannot be denied is that the big defender is going to play an influential role in Celtic's title challenge because of his leadership qualities. His experience will be vital in the second half of the season.

It will also be a great sight to see the Frenchman back in a Celtic shirt. The big man's presence in defence will be a reassuring one for those in Glasgow's East End. If Jullien can score a vital winning goal or two in the process to keep Celtic's title hopes alive then all the better.

Hopefully, such daydreams can soon be made a flesh and blood reality.

'Allez Les Verts' will be the cry going up when it does.