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For some players, operating in the Scottish Premiership is seen as an opportunity. Moving to the league is a precursor to another move, this time south of the border, where vast financial riches lie.
Virgil van Dijk and Victor Wanyama are the two most high-profile recent examples of this. Both left Celtic for Southampton, where they established themselves as exceptional Premier League players.
However, playing in the Scottish Premiership isn’t always seen as a stepping stone. For most other individuals, it is a chance to play at the highest level of the European game, and to take to the field in front of huge crowds.
Both aspects can particularly help when attempting to revive a stalled career, as Scott Sinclair has done over the past year or so.
Celtic’s average attendance for home matches last season was a remarkable 55,476. Most of the top English clubs, including Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, couldn’t match that, let alone beat it. And, this season, the Scottish giants are participating – and competing – in the Champions League.
Sinclair, who experienced rejection and decline when a big-money move to the Etihad Stadium didn’t work out, is thriving in Glasgow amid such scrutiny, expectation and excitement. His runs, passes, goals and assists may even propel him into the English national team discussion ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Sinclair joined Celtic last summer on the back of a few desperate years that had seen him go from Premier League prospect to squad player. In 2011/12, having just helped Swansea City into England’s top tier, he was confident and in form. At just 22 years of age, he played regularly for the Welsh side, scoring eight and setting up five goals.
His displays led to interest from above, and Manchester City came calling. But, despite completing his £7million move, he was always going to find regular football difficult to come by amid such an expensively assembled, all-star cast.
Having failed to rejuvenate his career with Aston Villa, Sinclair moved north and signed for Celtic for a fee of around £3.7million on 7 August 2016. He hasn’t looked back since.
He scored on his Scottish Premiership debut, helping to seal a 2-1 victory over Heart of Midlothian. That goal helped him to bed in, and he went on to find the net with unerring frequency during his maiden campaign at Parkhead.
All in all, Sinclair hit 21 goals and set up a further eight in 35 league outings. As such, he had direct involvement in a goal every 97 minutes. It was an impressive record, and he appears intent on bolstering it in 2017/18.
So far this term, the Englishman has hit ten goals in 16 appearances across all competitions. He has also laid on six for team-mates. Most eye-catching has been his form in Europe – last season he failed to assist or score in seven Champions League games; this time around he has already scored six and set up two in eight appearances.
CELTIC’S ENGLISH CONNECTION
Celtic have a proud history of developing their own Scottish talent, but they have been equally welcoming of players from England. Through the 1970s, 80s and 90s, goalkeeper Peter Latchford, as well as centre-backs Paul Elliott and Alan Stubbs, called Parkhead their home. All three were successes.
In the early 2000s, Chris Sutton, Alan Thompson and Lee Naylor all pulled on the famous green and white jersey. Again, all three were successes. And more recently, the likes of Gary Hooper and Fraser Forster followed in those esteemed footsteps.
Sinclair is the latest in a long tradition, then. But will his Champions League goals be enough to earn him international recognition? He certainly hopes so, as he admitted recently.
“I haven’t given up (on a call-up) yet. It comes down to this stage – all I can do is as well as I can in the Champions League for Celtic. I would say it’s the only platform to impress. I’m the fittest I have ever been and that’s down to playing every week.
“I’m hungry to score. Even though we’re winning I’m trying to get into positions to create or score. That’s in me – even if it’s the 90th minute, like (against) Anderlecht. I have to be hungry to do as well for the team as possible.
“My job as a wide man is to create and score and that doesn’t change in an occasion such as the Champions League. There are not many other goalscoring left-midfield players. I want to keep progressing and do as well as I can.”
If the end point of that progression is an international call-up, then there is precedent. Both Thompson and Forster were brought into the England setup on the back of their Celtic performances, making their international debuts while still playing in Glasgow.
The former, with his wicked left foot, was seen as a potential antidote to England’s left-sided problem on the wing, while the latter – thanks to his wall-like displays against Barcelona – came to be a viable threat to Joe Hart’s No.1 status.
At the present moment, England appear to have more issues in the creative department rather than on the wing. Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all playing for some of the Premier League’s top sides, while others such as Nathan Redmond and Andros Townsend are also on the periphery.
It certainly isn’t out of the realms of possibility that Sinclair could join Redmond and Townsend on the outer edges of the squad, however. And, given Southgate would seem to need around four wingers per squad given his 4-2-3-1 preference, the former Swansea man may break into contention should he continue to perform so well for Celtic in Europe.
The England boss has talked about this possibility. “I had a conversation with Brendan (Rodgers, Celtic’s manager) about him at the end of last season. He's a good player but we have good quality in that area of the pitch and at the moment I think he is just below the level of what we have already got.
“I would be happy to have that conversation (regarding what Sinclair needs to do to earn a call-up) with him but I don't think it's appropriate to talk about performance aspects in public.”
Those words may not sound encouraging, but they at least suggest Sinclair is in Southgate’s thoughts. And, so long as he keeps on scoring and assisting at his current rate, those thoughts won’t go away.