Celina is beginning to purr... but will he be at Town next season?
- Credit: Stephen Waller
Bersant Celina is beginning to purr.
It may come too late for Ipswich Town in 2021/22, as the Blues reach the point where near-perfection is needed from this point if they are to reach the play-offs.
But the Kosovo international is beginning to consistently show the ability we all know he possesses.
That’s not to say the opening few months of the season were a disappointment. Far from it. He’s produced some of the best moments of the campaign.
The dramatic winner against Fleetwood, in front of the watching Brett Johnson, lifted the roof off Portman Road. Running the ball into an empty net at Wycombe sent a packed away end wild at Adams Park as belief grew. His majestic goal against Crewe in November is one of the best Portman Road has ever seen. He was the only player on the pitch (and possibly the league) who would have even tried it.
Celina is a man for big moments. That’s the kind of player he is.
He will have games where he shows quality and intent whenever he gets the ball but not dominate a contest in the way you might expect him to in League One. He’ll have others he drifts in-and-out of. But then – bang. He’s produced and he’s having to decide whether or not to remove his shirt in celebration.
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It looked like we had been treated to another one at Oxford on Saturday, as he sparked euphoria in the Kassam Stadium away end, only for the mood to change so sharply in added time.
But for all those moments you could argue the attacker hadn’t quite hit the heights expected of a player who was facing Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in the French top flight last season and belongs at a higher level than League One.
There are reasons for that, though.
He joined Ipswich on transfer deadline day and missed pre-season due to a heart problem caused by Covid. Enough to knock anyone out of stride and certainly enough to mean a slow start was to be expected as he returned to action.
He’s been in-and-out of the team, too, having spells of more than a month without a start on two occasions during the season.
Celina’s dropped from the starting XI to the bench four times already under Kieran McKenna but, after stepping off it at Morecambe and inspiring a comeback which ultimately claimed an equaliser, he’s started the last four.
He had a hand in both goals at Fleetwood, Town’s two in the victory over Lincoln and then scored at Oxford. That’s five successive Town strikes he’s had an influence on.
He's scored six goals in 26 league games - decent return - with Town winning four and drawing one of the games he's netted in.
His place in the starting XI seems secure and he appears to be a big part of McKenna’s plan. He’s playing with confidence and is looking a threat.
But, as his second season-long loan spell comes towards its end, it’s time to wonder whether we need to brace ourselves for another Celina departure.
There was never a question of the Kosovo international returning to Portman Road following his first loan spell, from Manchester City, in 2017/18. Town just weren’t financially capable of keeping any of their star loanees at that time. It wasn’t even worth the discussion.
The Game has Changed at Ipswich Town following the club’s takeover. So, can the Blues keep Celina? It’s definitely worth a discussion now.
The fact he is keen to stay, regardless of the division the club is playing in, certainly helps.
His love for the club and its fans is apparent. It’s a love he’s not received elsewhere, during his spells with FC Twente, Swansea or parent club Dijon.
He feels wanted and valued.
Playing internationally for Kosovo is extremely important to Celina, so the fact he’s turned down international call-ups on a couple of occasions in order to remain at Town just shows where his head is at.
Of course, the plan last summer, when he was trailed by Town for months before his signature was eventually secured, was for Celina to spend a season on loan in Suffolk and take them to the Championship. The path to a full-time move would be a lot smoother if that was the case.
Celina had turned down interest from the Middle East, where much larger wage packets were potentially on offer, in order to sign for Ipswich in League One. He wants to be in England next season. It’s pretty clear the 25-year-old values plenty of things higher than his wage packet.
Dijon, his parent club, are currently 12th in the French second tier following last season’s relegation and don’t appear close to returning to the top table any time soon. It’s likely Celina, though plenty good enough to star in that league, won’t be part of their plans.
The vast majority of Dijon’s squad were moved on last summer, with many loaned elsewhere in similar fashion to Celina. So he will surely be available again, be it on another season-long loan or in a full-time deal. His contract in France, signed following a £3million move in 2020, has two more seasons to run after this one.
The financial side of any deal won't be simple, of course, but Town are in a much better position now than they were this time 12 months ago. Even if they do stay in League One for a fourth year.
There’s a feeling Celina’s now getting started and you have to think he feels like he has unfinished business here.
McKenna’s core is growing in number, with Christian Walton, Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden, George Edmundson, Wes Burns and Sam Morsy all looking like central figures for next season and beyond under the newly-installed boss. Plenty of others have shown they can be a part of things, too.
And Celina could surely join that list, if a deal can be done.
The Blues have signed him as a League One club before, so why can’t they do it again?
Over to you, Mr Ashton.