HE played for his boyhood heroes and home town club Cardiff City for six years, spent four seasons in the Premier League with Crystal Palace, won no fewer than 77 caps for Wales and helped his country to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

But ask Joe Ledley what the most enjoyable spell of his career has been and he is unequivocal.

“Celtic was the best time of my life,” he said in Newport earlier this week after appearing on the Parkhead club’s official TV channel during their coverage of the friendly against Sheffield Wednesday. “I say that all the time.”

Ledley certainly had plenty to celebrate in Glasgow. He won three consecutive Premiership titles and the Scottish Cup and played in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. He is remembered fondly by supporters as an industrious and intelligent central midfielder who contributed in both defence and attack.

Yet, his time in Scotland got off to a difficult start. In the 2010/11 season he was a member of the side that lost the League Cup final to Rangers after extra-time and were then beaten to the Premiership by their city rivals on the final day. He missed the Scottish Cup final win over Motherwell.

So the 34-year-old knows from personal experience that fortunes in football can quickly change. He sees no reason why Celtic, whose attempt to make football history and complete 10-In-A-Row in the Covid-19-blighted 2020/21 campaign failed miserably, cannot enjoy success if new manager Ange Postecoglou recruits well. 

“It’s a massive club and there’s always pressure,” he said. “It was hard to watch Celtic struggle last season. You’re always going to be gutted for the players. It’s never nice to see such a big gap (they finished 25 points behind Rangers in the top flight).

“But without fans in the stadium, especially somewhere like Celtic Park, it can affect the team. They really missed the supporters. You’ve seen how without them performances drop dramatically. They are the 12th man.

“The atmosphere at Celtic Park? There’s nothing like it in Europe. So, I think that was a key factor why there wasn’t success.”

Ledley added: “But hopefully we can see this current Celtic team get back to where they were before. I do take hope from what’s happening. I think a freshening up can be a good thing.

“There’s a new manager and from what I saw against Sheffield Wednesday there’s some good young talent looking to get into the first team.

“It’s important they dedicate themselves to this club because it’s a great club to be at. It was only the first game of pre-season, but initial impressions were good for me. I thought the team played with a good tempo. It’s vital they get the season off to a good start.

“Celtic can pull back that gap with the right signings. I wish the new manager the best and he’s got a track record of success wherever he’s been. A team like Celtic, financially, will be able to strengthen sufficiently well enough. That’s what they need.”

Postecoglou has been linked with a raft of targets, Bologna left back Aaron Hickey, Hajduk Split defender Mario Vuskovic, Rubin Kazan centre half Carl Starfelt and former West Brom forward Kyle Edwards, in recent days.

Ledley is certainly optimistic that Liam Shaw, the 6ft 3in 20-year-old who made his first appearance for Celtic against his former club Wednesday in Gwent in midweek, can do well in his old position after being impressed by what he saw of him.

“I thought Shaw showed good promise,” he said. “He’s a big boy, but for a big guy he’s got good feet. I just hope there isn’t too much pressure put on him. He’s a young lad still learning his trade. But you can see his potential.

“It’s his first season at Celtic and it’s always going to be difficult going up to a big club like that and also living in an unfamiliar city. But hopefully he can get his career going at Celtic as soon as possible.”

Ledley, who spent last season at English League Two outfit Newport County, is looking for a new club himself. He feels a return to Celtic is unlikely. But he is confident he can sort something out. He would consider coming back to Scotland to play. 

“I’ve not got a club at the moment,” he said. “I’m getting old aren’t I? You get to a certain age and people begin to think you’re past it. I’m 34 now. Football’s changing and that’s now seen as old. It’s difficult for players in my situation to find clubs.

“A lot of teams now, especially in England, are looking at the academies at the likes of Man City and Chelsea to get these youth players. They are obviously technically very good, but I still think in football you need a lot of experience. I’m hoping to carry on playing. You have to listen to your body and I feel good enough right now.”

Asked if he would consider returning to Scotland, he said: “I can never rule out anything. I’d like to be back up there playing at the likes of Celtic Park and Ibrox. There’s a fantastic culture up there and I enjoyed my time in Scotland. The only thing would be the distance and being away from home.

“Obviously, it’s got to be the right time, the right club and I mean a club with ambition. But you can’t be picky and you can’t rule anything out. If I want to continue playing then sometimes you just have to bite the tongue and sign for someone.”

And would a Celtic comeback interest him? “Sadly, I think those days are done,” he said. “Everyone moves on. There’s hardly any players still there from my time. There’s only Callum McGregor and probably Jamesy Forrest who I can remember. Time moves on.”

Joe Ledley’s four unforgettable seasons at Celtic, though, will stay with the cultured Welsh midfielder forever.