Finally! Rivaldo Coetzee has made the step up in his career, opting to join Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic, but will the move be beneficial to his development? Marshall Gouts explores
The Kakamas-born defender arrived at Ajax as a 15-year-old and quickly progressed through the club’s successful development ranks to announce himself as one of the country’s brightest prospects.
Indicative of his rise in stock and fast-tracked development, Coetzee became the youngest ever player to represent Banana Bafana when Shakes Mashaba handed him his first start aged 17 years and 361 days.
Having become a national team regular and amassed close to a century of appearances for Ajax, the move to Celtic seems like a match made in heaven – an ideal stepping stone for the player’s progression in world football.
The dual-footed defender has reportedly been the subject interest from Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates but the player together with his advisors have held out for a blockbuster move abroad.
Celtic monitored Coetzee’s progress for some time before engaging in negotiations but how will he stand up to the extremely physical demands of the Scottish league?
Regardless of Ajax’ erratic form guide, the reigning Player of the Season and Player’s Player of the Season has stood out head-and-shoulders above his peers for some time and it’s for this reason that Celtic coach Brendan Rodgers earmarked Coetzee as key to his defensive reinforcements.
Celtic have a big season ahead of them as they look to secure their seventh consecutive league title, retain their Scottish cup and qualify for the Champions league.
If you look at Celtic’s last ten fixtures, including their 2-1 victory against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final last season, Rodgers’ preferred central-defensive pairing consists of Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata – both of whom are not national team regulars, something that Coetzee can boast.
Boyata is currently nursing a knee injury and is expected to return in October, while Danish outfit FC Copenhagen are keen on securing the services of Erik Sviatchenko, who often played second fiddle to the partnership of Boyata and Simunovic.
Another factor which stands the South African in good stead is Rodgers’ insistence on playing youth, particularly across the back four, with the average age of the squads defence being 23.1.
Coetzee will need to overcome a massive adjustment as he trades the PSL for Scotland’s top flight, which may cost him game time in the short term and even earn minutes out of his regular position should the coach demand it – something that he has arguably not been exposed to during his days at Ajax.
Unlike many other South African footballers his age, Coetzee’s development has been aided by his experience of playing with the various junior national teams, which in turn led to his meteoric rise for the senior side. A vote of thanks to Mashaba for his unwavering trust should also be noted.
What we know of Coetzee is that he boasts composure and maturity years above his age and despite his continental travels with Bafana, he is largely untested at the highest level.
The move to Celtic will prove to be his true test of character, and provided he remains committed and focused to the task at hand – he could follow in the footsteps of Steven Pienaar, Daylon Claasen, Eyong Enoh and Thulani Serero in making a successful move abroad from the Urban Warriors.
At 20, Coetzee is fortunate to have racked up so many minutes in national colours and that could tip the scale in his favour when the verdicts of his time in Scotland come pouring in. Only time will tell…
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
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