Celtic’s interest in ex-Manchester United youngster Lee O’Connor only came about in the final week of the transfer window, but a deal was wrapped up on deadline day and it made sense for all parties involved.
The Irish defender spoke to friends at Celtic before deciding to move to Scotland, but family connections with the club also played a part in his decision.
O’Connor leaves United for Celtic
O’Connor spoke to Irishman Jonathan Afolabi, a part of the Reserves side at Celtic Park, and that helped convince him a move away from United was the right thing to do.
The 19-year-old will be closer to the first team at the Hoops than he was at United, sources close to O’Connor told this writer.
For United, the transfer makes sense. The fee remains undisclosed and it’s not yet known whether a buy-back clause has been included, but O’Connor is behind in the pecking order already at Old Trafford.
O’Connor was highly rated by coaches at United and there were high hopes for the versatile defender but three things mean the club were willing to let him go.
Williams and Laird higher up
Ethan Laird is seen as United’s best prospect at right-back, while the same can be said for Brandon Williams at left-back.
Laird is injured at the moment but is privately seen as having a genuine chance of making it at United. His technical ability is matched by his athleticism and if he can have luck with injuries, which he has not yet had, he’ll get first team action soon enough.
Williams is likely to be a part of the travelling squad for the first team in the coming weeks due to Luke Shaw’s injury.
Versatility and height
O’Connor played in the roles taken up by the younger pair of Laird and Williams. And therein lay part of the problem. He can play all across the back four and in central midfield. He looks composed and complete in every position he takes up on the pitch.
However, his versatility meant he never truly excelled in one position and so didn’t impress himself upon first team coaches enough to get a chance. He looked good in central defence but his small stature of 5ft 7in was another mark against him.
Stagnating at 20
United will also have been thinking about some of their recent cases at youth level. Demi Mitchell is one of them. Now 22, Mitchell wasn’t involved with the club’s tour of Asia in the summer and has suffered because he can play as a winger, striker and full-back.
Given his debut by Jose Mourinho playing at left-back in 2017, it looks unlikely he’ll make it in red. United may have looked at his case and feared of stagnation for O’Connor. It would be no surprise if a buy-back clause is included in the deal that takes him to Celtic.
O’Connor in brief
Formerly captain of Ireland’s U19 side, O’Connor recently received a call-up to the U21s side for the first time. He goes with the best wishes of everyone at United and there is a sense that this an earned opportunity for the defender rather than an inevitable exit.
Dion McGhee was one of many teammates to tweet their support for O’Connor.
Composed and professional, O’Connor will do well at Celtic and for his country where he’s making big steps towards a senior role.
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