"Football is like a religion to me. I worship the ball, and I treat it like a god. Too many players think of a football as something to kick. They should be taught to caress it and to treat it like a precious gem."

The words of the Brazilian football legend that was Pele. Celtic midfielder Matt O'Riley is most definitely a student of what Pele once deemed "The Beautiful Game".

From the moment Brendan Rodgers walked in the door at Parkhead, O'Riley felt that he was on to a good thing. The 23-year-old wasn't wrong. Within days of working with the Northern Irishman, O'Riley stated: “So far, it’s been amazing. Everyone seems quite upbeat, and he brings that in terms of how he goes about things.

"He’s not reluctant to come and sit with us at lunch and have a chat which is quite nice. It’s a nice, refreshing change in a sense to have a bit more openness about the place. I’m looking forward to that."

Contrast those quotes with O'Riley's offering on Ange Postecoglou during his time as Celtic boss in March 2023: “He doesn’t actually speak to us much at all. At the training ground, he delivers information when he needs to do so, in meetings and on the pitch in pre-match sessions.

"In general, you probably won’t see that much of him. He keeps himself to himself. I think that is so he detaches away from the players to allow him to pick a team without too much emotion. So I can understand his reasoning for that. But at the same time, whenever I have spoken to him, he has been very friendly. You don’t expect to hear much from him.

"So when you do you are probably quite grateful that he actually speaks to you, in a way. I think he is careful in terms of when he speaks to you and in saying the right things.”

The crux of the matter is that O'Riley has learned so much from both managers in his two-year Celtic career so far. Two vastly different characters with different philosophies and styles.  Same old O'Riley. Absorbing information like a sponge and disseminating it on the football field.  No matter who is imparting the football wisdom to him, the 22-year-old has carried the instructions out with grace, elegance, eloquence and style. 

READ MORE: The rise and rise of Matt O'Riley by the coaches who shaped him

To quote former England manager Ron Greenwood: "Football at its best is a game of beauty and intelligence."

If it's footballing beauty and intelligence you are after, O'Riley is loaded with both. On the field, the former Fulham and Mk Dons player has long since put the 'beautiful' into Pele's expression of 'O Jogo Bonito'. Off the pitch, there is an intelligence that belies O'Riley's young age. It's an intelligence that he is willing to share to give everybody else an invaluable insight into what makes him tick both as a player and a person.

It is not an artificial intelligence. It's real, very real. Back in November, O'Riley spoke candidly about working with a life coach as well as his mindset.

He said: "As long as I am improving then I am heading in the right direction, and I feel I have done that this season. I have a clearer mind first and foremost. I am more open when I am on the pitch. I have taken a bit of pressure off myself. I am not going into every game expecting to score, I am just going into games trying to do the best I can for the team.

"The big thing that has helped the most is just being in the best frame of mind in my head. Most people will say when you feel good in your mind it will naturally translate onto the pitch. That is something I try to give a lot of attention to.

"I meditate a lot. I speak with my, I don't even know how to describe him, my friend/life coach who lives in India regularly. I work with him a lot in terms of speaking about things, which were maybe kept inside me for a long time. I might have not had, not necessarily the courage, to speak about it, but the knowledge to just understand how to speak out about it.

"That has helped me loads and it has helped me to be a more rounded person overall I would say. I feel more confident and open to speaking to people in general as a result of that. All of that collectively has helped me to be in a good frame of mind."

Celtic Way:

Those words came in the aftermath of O'Riley gaining his first international cap for the Danish senior side against Northern Ireland when he wore Christian Erikson's famous No.10 jersey in what was a huge moment for himself and his family.

It's probably apt that O'Riley wore that shirt on his Denmark debut as he has long been viewed as Eriksen's heir apparent. Time will tell on that front.

However, the number 10 has featured prominently in O'Riley's campaign with Celtic under Rodgers up until the winter break. He currently stands on ten goals and ten assists in all competitions. That's 20-goal contributions this season. That's a phenomenal statistic and he is not finished...yet.

If O'Riley were to contribute another perfect ten and take his total goal contribution in the second half of the season to thirty then it stands to reason that the player whenever he does finally upsticks and leaves Glasgow's east end will go for tens of millions.

All interested clubs should form an orderly queue and be willing to part with three tens of millions at least for a player of O'Riley's calibre. Yes, you read that right, Celtic should be looking for £30 million upwards for their prized asset. That is not an unrealistic valuation to place on O'Riley's head.

When the suitors and big hitters come calling - and they will - by the barrowload, O'Riley will shatter Kieran Tierney and Jota's previous Scottish transfer record of £25 million and then some.

Remember at the start of the season when Rodgers implored O'Riley to hit the target more? Here's what Rodgers said: “I like him (O'Riley) a lot. I think he is a really intelligent footballer.

“He is a top professional. He prepares his body well and he prepares his life well. He wants to do well. He sets his standards high every day to be better. When I looked at his numbers and everything else, I think I said to him you need to score more goals as he didn’t do it enough.

“He was a bit like James Forrest when I first came into the club. He didn’t score enough for the talent he had and I was looking at Matt from last season and his first goal was in February. You can’t have that talent and be waiting that long.

“It is all about arriving in the areas and finding composure to finish. I like him, his build-up play is good, he takes the ball, and he needs to work on his pressing and intensity, but he is a wonderful footballer and he is a good guy as well.

“He is a wonderful footballer, and he is ambitious and he wants to be better and improve and I am really pleased for him."

O’Riley responded by saying: “I think I’m just trying less hard, genuinely. There’s not as much tension in my game right now.

“I was probably trying a little bit too hard last season just because I care so much, and I want to help the team. Now I’m just trying to relax a little bit more and just get in the right positions and it seems to be clicking a little bit."

READ MORE: Matt O'Riley is Celtic's version of EE: Eloquent & elegant

Celtic Way:

Note Rodgers's prescient use of the word "intelligent". Rodgers knew that O'Riley was capable of racking up the current numbers. O'Riley was clever enough to take the message on board and deliver.


The answer lies in the fact that O'Riley has taken it upon himself to do exactly what Pele said all of those years ago. He treats football like a religion. He worships the ball. He treats it like a God. He caresses it and treats it like a precious gem.

O'Riley possesses the intelligence to do all of that because he has also made it his job to have the mindset to do it. It's clear for everybody to see that the Danish midfielder has made football his religion. He has dedicated his life to the beautiful game.

In the mid-1980s there was a famous Scottish programme called Supergran. It was a fictitious series about a grandmother who possessed superpowers. Comedian Billy Connolly sang the memorable theme tune of the same name.

Interspersed among the chorus and verses of the song was a line from Supergran's arch enemy, The Scunner Campell, who blurted out in dismay: "Is there nothing that she cannae do?"

The same question can now be asked of Matt O'Riley.

"Is there nothing that he cannae do?" The short answer is no. O'Riley is reaching the peak of his football superpowers.

For two years, O'Riley has left Scottish football opponents spellbound. You could say he has left them scunnered.

Ron Greenwood nailed it completely when he said: "Football at its best is a game of beauty and intelligence."

Those very words were invented for footballers like Matt O'Riley.