Celtic have had their fair share of exciting young talent over the years.

From first-team stalwarts such as current captain Callum McGregor and legendary winger James Forrest, to promising youths who failed to properly make the breakthrough like Karamoko Dembele, Islam Feruz and Calvin Miller, the club has been a haven for development, though a mixed one concerning future first-team players making that next step.

Since the introduction of the Celtic B team in the Lowland League back in 2021, there has been renewed interest in the going-ons surrounding the club’s next generation of potential first-team players. Rocco Vata, Daniel Kelly and Ben Summers have had plenty of speculation in the forward and midfield areas, but there has been one name in particular that has piqued the supporters’ interest since his arrival back in 2021 – Bosun Lawal.

Having just completed his loan spell at Fleetwood Town under former Rangers midfielder Charlie Adam, the versatile middle-man – either as a centre-back or central midfielder - will be looking to make further strides in his senior career this summer, whether that be at Celtic or further afield – either on loan or permanently.

The Celtic Way’s Ryan McGinlay discovers his rise in senior football – both domestic and international – with Omer Riza, his former coach at Watford, who worked with the player before his move to Scotland and Celtic…

Riza – a former professional footballer in his own right for the likes of Arsenal, West Ham and Trabzonspor, amongst others – worked alongside Lawal in the Watford academy right up until his summer 2021 move to Celtic and its newly-founded B team. Even in those days, Riza knew he was working with a talented individual, who was blessed with physical attributes. He said: “Bosun arrived at Watford as a scholar, but you could see that he had qualities already.

“He was big, strong and powerful even in his teens, which are qualities that you cannot teach or create. He was already there, irrespective of what his profile was. Admittedly, he was very raw, but he had a great attitude and character about him. He wanted to listen, learn and improve. He had the added bonus of having the tools to play both in the midfield and at the back in defence. He came in, worked hard and Watford had a successful year that season, as the youth team got to the semi-finals against Liverpool, which he was a part of.”

Born in Ireland but of Nigerian descent, Lawal had a stellar season for the Hornets, picking up the Academy Player of the Year award for the 2020/21 season, shortly before his departure to Celtic. According to Riza, this is an exit that should not have happened. He said: “I knew the future qualities that Bosun had when he came into the U21s, but he didn’t play as much as he should have played for that side, which was a mistake by Watford in hindsight.

He shouldn’t have been allowed to leave the club, and if he had stayed put, then he would have had a lot of first-team appearances at the club, in my opinion. Given his profile, he would have been worth a lot of money to Watford and a big asset to the club. He has still got a lot to learn, but Watford missed the boat on that one - in the perspective of managing both the player and the situation - by failing to recognise the quality of the player and by selling the player too early.”

Perhaps one of the more eye-catching pieces of information or soundbites surrounding Lawal’s hype at Watford was Troy Deeney’s comparison of Lawal to then-teammate Abdoulaye Doucoure, who now features for Everton in the English Premier League. Similar to Lawal’s present position, Doucoure operates as a box-to-box midfielder, carrying a goal threat much like the youngster does, both from range and at set-pieces. Riza can see the similarities. He said: “When you look at the two players and you see what they’ve got, then you can say there's a comparison there.

“When Bosun was in with us, he probably wasn’t as dynamic and didn’t get up and down the park as much as he probably can now, but that was down to him playing as a centre-back for Watford. He did show the qualities at centre-back to come out with the ball and control the ball with ease, as well as being calm and collected in possession.

“I still say that he can be a top, top player at centre-back, because his physical attributes mean that he wouldn’t have a problem against quick forwards, but he’s shown at Fleetwood that he can play in midfield, too. I don’t want to compare him to Yaya Toure, but the profile shows that he can possibly become good in those areas with the existing qualities that he’s got, like the Ivory Coast midfielder.

He’s still got a lot to learn and he's still young, but you don’t want to put too much pressure on young shoulders too soon.”

Despite being highly rated at the club where he made his academy breakthrough, Lawal only had eyes for one club when concrete interest was shown, that being Celtic. Once his head was turned, Riza admitted that Watford were fighting a losing battle to keep the imposing young prospect at the club. He said: “I was supportive of the move to Celtic for him, despite Watford losing the player.”

“I think Bosun viewed the move to Celtic as a lifelong ambition of his. He supported Celtic growing up and it was somewhere that he had always wanted to be, from what I had heard. It’s nice to hear things like that, when someone has a club that they want to be at and have an affinity for, despite not playing there before. When the move came up, he was very excited by it.

“In football, you don’t want to hold people and players back, but at the end of the day it is a business, and it is about having the best players. As I said before, it was too early for Watford, but it was too early for him, because look at where he’s getting to now. He’s gone and completed constructive loans and it is clear that his parent club value him. “He’s now breaking into the Republic of Ireland national team and it's a testament to the work he's put in over the last 2-3 years to get to this point.”

Of course, the 2020/21 season was a very different time to be a footballer, given the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected the sporting world considerably. Crowds of spectators were absent for long periods, whilst routine changes and regular testing became the norm for a considerable amount of time. For a young player like Lawal, these were changes that he had to get used to, as he aimed to make his mark in academy football. The question is: how did he cope with these adjustments? Riza said: “To be honest, he stood out in that season.

“That’s not to say that he performed every single week, but you could see that he was standing out compared to other players at points. We had a lot of good players in that team that are playing first-team football at the moment at other teams. There were times when we needed to take him aside and take some of the pressure off of him because the consistency wasn’t there week-in week-out but that’s to do with him being still young and needing to learn.

“That is something that you expect in development football down south."

The main question that those of a Celtic persuasion will be asking of the highly-rated Lawal will be whether or not he can make any inroads to the first-team this summer, as a big pre-season awaits the versatile player. One thing is for sure, and that is the fact that his former coach keeps a close eye on his endeavours, despite having left Watford nearly three years ago. Because of this, Riza predicts a big future for his former apprentice. He said: “I make it my business to stay in contact with all of the players that I have worked with.

“I've spoken to Bosun a couple of times this year by texts, wishing him well and always wanting him to succeed. If he scores a goal or does well, then I’ll always text him and congratulate him on his accomplishments, and I always will him on to keep going. It’s important that they’ve got people like that who show that they are still interested in what they are doing. Every time I picked up the news and checked how Fleetwood were getting on, I found that he was always involved in doing something or being a part of something positive concerning the club on the pitch.

“Bosun has found his feet, and it is clear that he is ready now for senior football. Some boys excel at 21s and the B teams, but they don’t have the intellect and intelligence to make that step up into the first team. He has that, and he's now putting it all together alongside his senior appearances in first-team football.

“He could be a serious player if he continues to develop at this rate. At the end of the day, he’s got qualities as a player, and it's up to whoever is managing him to use those qualities. Even if he doesn’t break into the first team as a regular, then he’s going to be a very strong squad player who can gain experience from coming on in games.

“Whether that will be at Celtic next season, I don’t know. It just depends on if the coaches can get the quality that he possesses out of him consistently.”