THE outlook at Bolton Wanderers last season may have been almost exclusively bleak, with the club’s very existence under threat and then an eventual relegation into League One capping off a season of relentless turmoil. But there was one chink of light amid the gloom.

Youngster Luca Connell made his breakthrough into the Bolton first-team at just 18 years of age, and according to teammate Remi Matthews, he hasn’t looked back since.

Matthews, who spent a season on loan at Hamilton Academical three years ago, is now the first-choice goalkeeper at Bolton, and he has been blown away by Irish midfielder Connell and the way he handled his ascension to the first-team ranks at the University of Bolton Stadium.

The only problem being, he has been so good that he has inevitably attracted suitors, most notably Scottish champions Celtic, who are reported to be on the brink of a deal to bring the youngster north.


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Matthews would be gutted to lose Connell, but he has no doubts that his young teammate could handle the step up if he is to make the move up the road.

“From day one, he has been sensational,” Matthews said.

“I didn’t really know too much about him really until about two weeks before his debut, because he hadn’t really been training with the first team.

“Then, all of a sudden, he appeared one day, and you could tell straight away that there was something there.

“Within a couple of weeks, the manager had no choice really but to throw him into the team, because he had acquitted himself so well.

“You never really know how a youngster is going to be able to handle that, and especially with the circumstances he was going into. We were really struggling and there was so much uncertainty around the place, but he wasn’t fazed at all.

“He took to it like a duck to water and he was a standout straight away. He’s a top player.

“If he is to move on, and I hope he doesn’t, then I can’t think of many better places for him to go than Celtic.

“I would have no worries at all about him going up there and handling the expectation that comes with playing for such a massive club in front of 60,000 people. He has the right sort of mentality for that, and he certainly has the ability to go up there and make an impact.


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“He’s an Ireland international now as well, so all of that will stand him in good stead whatever happens.”

The task of breaking into the Celtic midfield at such a tender age may seem a tall one, but for Matthews, age is just a number when you have the ability of Connell.

“He is so talented,” he said. “He’s a really rounded player.

“He’s not flashy in the sense that he won’t go and beat a man, but he has a phenomenal range of passing, and there is no doubt at all in my mind that if he was to go to Celtic, he would be their leading assist provider by the end of the season. That’s how good he is.

“He doesn’t really have weakness in his game. Sometimes, midfield players can be good going forward, but a bit lacking in a defensive sense, or vice-versa.

“Luca is great going both ways though. He knows his responsibilities on the pitch, and he isn’t afraid to put a shift in.

“He also has a great engine, so he can get about the park and contribute at both ends of the field.

“As I say, he’s a big, big talent, and from a selfish perspective I just hope we can hold onto him, because he has become an important player for us, as he would be for any team that he goes to in the future. And I would include Celtic in that.”


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Matthews meanwhile is enjoying life at Bolton despite the travails they suffered last term. He took time out of his holiday to speak to Herald Sport about Connell, where he coincidentally found himself sharing a hotel with the man who sold him on the move to Hamilton, former Accies boss Alex Neil.

Neil was the manager of Norwich when he convinced Matthews to go north in order to develop as a player, and he believes that Connell would benefit from playing in Scotland just as much as he did.

“It was really funny to bump into my old gaffer here,” he said. “I have a lot to thank him and Hamilton for.

“I didn’t really know too much about the Scottish game until I went up there, and it blew me away. It did so much for me as a player and as a person, and I always say to young players now that you just don’t know about the Scottish game until you try it, and it can be great for your development.

“If Luca does go to Celtic, that is what I will tell him too, but I won’t be looking to sell him on a move just yet!”