ANGE Postecoglou has stressed that every member of the Celtic squad will be given the opportunity to prove their worth in the coming season regardless of their past performances after starting both Albian Ajeti and Vasilis Barkas in his first-pre-season friendly in Wales.

Swiss striker Ajeti and Greek goalkeeper Barkas both struggled to justify their sizeable transfer fees – the pair cost £5m from West Ham and AEK Athens respectively last summer – in the 2020/21 campaign.

They spent the second half of a bitterly disappointing term, during which the Parkhead club failed to win the Premiership and make Scottish football history by completing 10-In-A-Row, on the replacements’ bench.

However, Ajeti was given the captain’s armband for the friendly against Sheffield Wednesday in Newport yesterday and scored Celtic’s first goal before being replaced by Odsonne Edouard. Barkas, meanwhile, played in the opening 45 minutes before Scott Bain came on.

Postecoglou, who is attempting to strengthen his squad with more new signings, emphasised that all of his players would be given the chance to show what they are capable of irrespective of how they have performed previously. 

“I’m totally open minded about it,” he said after watching Celtic’s comfortable 3-1 win. “Everyone starts with a clean slate. Everyone’s got an opportunity to show what they can do.

“I think everyone will be disappointed with last year. The whole playing group and all the staff come back determined to make amends for what happened last year. Whatever did happen last year, the important thing is how you react this year, how you are training and what your attitude is like. I’ve got no complaints about any of the players. 

“I don’t measure it in money spent or age or experience. To me, it’s just about their attitude and their ability to play the football I want. That’s the only measure I’m looking at.”

Postecoglou, the Greek-Australian coach who has spent the last three years in charge of Yokohama F Marinos, knows how hard settling in Scotland amid the coronavirus pandemic will have been for Ajeti and Barkas last year. 

“It would have been a difficult season for a lot of the boys, probably more for the families,” he said. “I felt it in Japan. We had foreigners there who were away from their families. It was a difficult year for everyone. When you’re coming into a new club you want them to get settled as quickly as they can off the field.

“I’m sure Barky and a few of the boys struggled a little bit, but that’s in the past now. Now it’s an opportunity for all of them to embrace what we’re doing. If they want to be part of what’s happening, they just have to show me with their performances in training and matches.”

The future of several Celtic players, not least Kristoffer Ajer, Ryan Christie and Edouard is unclear at the moment, but it will be no surprise if the trio move on in the coming weeks. Postecoglou, though, is glad to have them involved in his squad at the moment.

“That stuff is out of my control,” he said. “I can’t force people to stay. From my perspective, while they’re here, I’m treating them as part of the Celtic family. As long as they’re working hard in training, I don’t treat them any differently to anyone else.  If things change with that, we’ll deal with it as we go along. 

“Edouard’s a quality player. He’s been really good in training, really positive. You can see the quality he has. He took his goal well. He started a bit later than the others so we’re easing him back into it. 

“I have had a brief chat to him. I’ve had a brief  chat with all the boys. I look at how they train and how they are around the place. He’s been training well, he was keen to play today and he took his goal well and played well. I will leave it at that. I don’t think it needs too much discussion. Actions speak louder than words.”

Asked about Ajer, who has spoken publicly of his desire to leave, and Christie, whose contract runs out in January, Postecoglou said: “Same. While they’re here, I treat them as Celtic players.

“I’ve come to live with the fact that the football industry is constantly evolving. We don’t know who might be here or not in the very near future. I tend to focus on what’s in front of me. They are both here and have come back in really good condition.

“Ryan was with the Scotland squad, but Kris has obviously looked after himself and looks sharp in training.”

Postecoglou handed a raft of youngsters game time in Celtic’s first pre-season match at Dragon Park yesterday and Liam Shaw, who has joined from Wednesday, and Owen Moffat, who netted the second goal, both impressed. He is certain that several of his kids can force their way into his first team this season.

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “They’re working hard. They’ve been really positive about everything, in terms of trying to play the way we want to. It’s good now to have the whole group so the young lads can measure themselves against the established lads. 

“It was a good opportunity for them. They don’t often get the opportunity to be in front of the manager for such a long time. It was good for me.  I might not have got a look at some of the younger boys if we had had  the full squad from the beginning.  They’re working hard and we’re going to need a strong squad.”

Postecoglou added: “Shaw was good. He grew into the game, like a lot of the young guys. All the players who started have been there since the first day of pre-season. So they’ve done a bit of work already. Liam was one of the ones who grew into the game. He’s got real presence about him. He’s a big lad. He’s only beginning his steps in the professional world.

“I’m not even thinking about starters or non starters. We’ve just got the bulk of the squad back for this camp. We’ve had literally two sessions with them. We’ve got a lot of work to do. The key thing is we try to get everyone in great condition for the first game. In terms of who starts, there is plenty of time to think about that.”