In Focus: Awesome Abada can lead Celtic's continental charge
Ange Postecoglou’s youthful Celtic side are ready to mix it with Europe’s best.
The Australian coach has built a squad packed with potential in Glasgow but will know that taking points from tonight’s tricky Champions League tussle with Shakhtar Donetsk is a must.
Ahead of the clash, which is being played on neutral ground in Warsaw due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, we take a closer look at one of the Hoops’ most exciting talents — 20-year-old Israeli winger Liel Abada.
Pulses were not exactly set racing when Abada first arrived at Parkhead in July 2021.
Plying his trade at struggling Israeli Premier League outfit Maccabi Petah Tikva, a fee of £3.6million for a teenage winger unproven outside of his homeland seemed quite a risk.
However, a 13-goal breakout campaign had also alerted the likes of Greek giants Olympiacos, along with clubs in Belgium and France — meaning Celtic had to move fast to seal a deal.
Blessed with blistering pace and comfortable with both feet, Abada’s versatility was another tick in the box for Postecoglou.
Having earned a first senior Israel call-up only one month before his big-money move, his capture had all the makings of a long-term project.
Few could have anticipated what an instant impact he would have.
Abada ended up making 54 appearances across all competitions last term.
Nailing down a berth on the right wing, the youngster emerged as one of the Scottish Premiership's most prolific attackers with 16 direct goal contributions in 32 appearances (10 goals, six assists).
The Israeli’s decision-making is unusually consistent for someone of his age, showing a maturity far beyond his tender years.
Abada keeps things simple. When in possession, he runs at his man with devastating directness and looks to pick out pinpoint crosses for his team-mates.
Then, when the ball is on the opposite flank, his uncanny knack for taking up the right position and applying a goalscoring touch at the back post is akin to a seasoned centre forward.
Surprisingly, Abada briefly lost his starting spot at the beginning of this term — but has already won it back.
A hat-trick against Dundee United and a brilliant brace in the rout of bitter rivals Rangers in his last two league starts have once again locked him into Postecoglou’s first-choice XI.
The Hoops’ highly-rated boss has no end of exciting prospects under his watch, yet reserved special praise for Abada after the 4-0 crushing of Rangers.
Postecoglou said: "He [Abada] walked in as a 19-year-old to one of the biggest clubs in the world and he literally hit the ground running and has not stopped running since.
"It was another really mature performance from him. He is one of those boys who want to be better in everything he does and he wants to learn from both the good and the bad. Credit to him as he has produced on the big stage."
The ex-Socceroos head coach also feels that the youngster’s prolific finishing is often underestimated.
He added: "That is the hardest part of the game and he scores an extraordinary number of goals. It takes a bit of a cool head to do that and he must have scored close to his debut in a European game for us.
"That goes to show that mentally. He is an outstanding player and mentally he is a really strong kid."
Work in progress
Of course, every youngster has their faults and Abada faced criticism in some quarters last season for inconsistent performances.
Given the nod against Real Madrid last week after his prolific league exploits, the winger found himself one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois early in the contest but fluffed a tame strike straight at the Belgian.
It would set the tone for a frustrating half individually and Postecoglou hooked him at half-time — a decision ex-Celtic striker Frank McAvennie felt was vindicated.
He said: "I would’ve taken him off as well because he missed a few chances. We didn’t see the confidence that he’d seen at the weekend for some reason.
"You’ve got to remember he’s only a young boy. The first chance, Jota played a great ball and he’s got to take a touch. It’s a lot easier said than done but he didn’t believe in his pace. It just wasn’t his night.
"He’s going to score double figures again this year and we’re going to be raving about him. It wasn’t his best game but he’ll learn from it."
Point to prove
Celtic have been remarkably strong domestically and while nobody expected them to take down the reigning European champions, there is a quiet confidence they can stun Shakhtar.
The Ukrainians were surprise 4-1 winners away to RB Leipzig last week, scoring with all four of their shots on target to give their qualification prospects a gigantic boost.
Yet a Hoops victory would blow Group F wide open once again and it could well be a fired-up Abada who steps up to be the matchwinner.
While being withdrawn at the break against Real was likely just a case of Postecoglou freshening things up, their No11 will feel he has a point to prove.
With £17m valuations being banded around in recent weeks, it is time for the Israeli to bring his best form to the continental stage.