IT was not so long ago that Liel Abada appeared to be edging towards the exit door at Celtic Park.

Despite being among the most productive players in the Premiership, the young Israeli started only 13 times in last season’s league campaign, with Ange Postecoglou consistently turning to Jota and Daizen Maeda as his primary wide options. Abada was a substitute only in Celtic’s two cup final successes, albeit he climbed off the bench to claim a goal and an assist as Inverness Caledonian Thistle were seen off en-route to the treble.

It was Abada’s season in a nutshell: not always picked, yet still he almost always delivered. He finished the campaign with 13 goals and nine assists in all competitions, a very respectable return for a player who was rarely first choice. His league return worked out at a goal every three games, from a modest amount of starts.

A hamstring injury did not help matters, in fairness, and Celtic were hardly struggling with Maeda and Jota playing most weeks. But as rumours surfaced of interest in Abada, most notably from Ajax, it contributed to a sense that he may have been on his way out.

Postecoglou had long braced supporters for significant summer sales, and Abada appeared to be shifting into the same bracket as Giorgos Giakoumakis; contributing effectively when on the pitch, but ultimately playing second fiddle to others. A departure felt even closer when reports emerged stating Abada had declined the offer of a new Celtic contract, although these were countered by other claims indicating nothing had been accepted or rejected.

But an awful lot, it seems, can change in a rather short space of time.

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Postecoglou has left for Tottenham, Jota has left for Al-Ittihad, and in Brendan Rodgers, it seems Celtic now have a manager who very much likes what he sees in Abada. Earlier this week, Rodgers revealed he’d sat down for a frank conversation with the former Petkah Tivah attacker on his future, and left it feeling convinced that Abada ‘really wants to be here’.

“We had a nice conversation, a really open conversation, when I came in,” said Rodgers. “He sat in the office and I just wanted to know what his ambitions were and what he wanted to achieve. He is very keen and he really wants to be here to improve. But he also understands there needs to be competition when you are at a top club. That pushes you.

"Overall I like his game when I was watching from afar. I like his runs and he has a real killer instinct in front of goal. You don’t get that many goals unless you want to score – which I love. There are other areas we can look at to help him get to another level.

 “I like him. I like his qualities. He wants to run in behind, his goal scoring record is incredible for a winger. That’s what you want – someone who can create and score goals.

“His pressing could be better, he could be more aggressive. But he’s a real threat. I like him as a guy. I always like to get to know the players so I can understand what their motivations and ambitions are.

“He wants to improve. He’s still only 21 with a lot of development left. I like wingers and he’s a very effective one. He’s quite a quiet lad. He’s got a similar mentality to Nir Bitton, who is a lovely big guy, really gentle.”

Goalscoring wingers were a key quality of Rodgers’ first Celtic side, and the door may just be opening for Abada to take on a starring role. Jota’s departure obviously creates an opportunity to play more, but Rodgers’ declaration that he views Daizen Maeda as a central striker could be also interpreted as an indirect indication that he wants to get Abada on the pitch.

After all, managers tend not to wax lyrical about a player’s ‘killer instinct’ and ‘incredible goal-scoring record’ if they have no intention of finding a place for them in the team. Abada is not a player in need of a career revival, but it stands to reason Rodgers could view him as taking on a similar role as Scott Sinclair did back in 2016.

Sinclair needed a fresh start after leaving Manchester City, and Celtic were able to provide arguably the best years of his entire career. Abada is not a carbon copy of the Englishman, but there are similarities, as Rodgers himself indirectly alludes to.

Both players excel at making penetrating runs, something Rodgers demands of wide players, and both are highly proficient in front of goal. Sinclair departed Celtic with 62 goals in 167 appearances, a striker rate not too dissimilar to Abada’s current numbers.

Rodgers had a similarly galvanising effect on James Forrest, who posted the best goal-scoring numbers of his career during the manager’s first spell. Who the returning boss might sign has, as it does at this time of year, hoovered up the lion’s share of column inches but just as important will be the influence he exerts over those already in the building.

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It was a feature of his original Celtic tenure, with players he spurred on to new, and sometimes unexpected, heights as crucial to the club’s unparalleled success during that period as any transfer. Think Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, Tom Rogic and Stuart Armstrong, to name but a few.

It can be difficult to glean too much from pre-season friendlies, but Abada turned in two eye-catching performances against Yokohama F. Marinos and Gamba Osaka during Celtic’s tour of Japan. Those boots Jota left behind won’t be easy to fill, but could this be Abada’s year to shine?