Why Celtic should reward Conor Hazard with a new deal at the earliest

According to The Scottish Sun, Celtic are closing in on a bumper new contract extension for Conor Hazard after the young goalkeeper’s impressive breakthrough at Parkhead in the ongoing campaign. 

As per the report, the 22-year-old Northern Ireland international is out of contract next summer and Hoops boss Neil Lennon is keen to secure the immediate future of his new No.1 between the sticks.

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Conor Hazard started his footballing education with Cliftonville in Northern Ireland before joining Celtic’s youth system in 2014. He was promoted to the Hoops first-team by former boss Brendan Rodgers in 2017 and signed a four-year deal soon after. 

The youngster was loaned out to Falkirk in the Scottish Championship to further his development and the goalkeeper earned rave reviews for his performances, registering 12 appearances during the second half of the 2017-18 campaign. Hazard joined another second-tier club, Partick Thistle, on loan in January 2019 and helped them reach the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup.

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Celtic’s Northern Irish goalkeeper Conor Hazard saves this shot from Lille’s French forward Isaac Lihadji (L) during the UEFA Europa League Group H football match between Celtic and Lille at Celtic Park stadium in Glasgow, Scotland on December 10, 2020. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Having impressed on loan at Dundee in the Championship last term, Hazard started the 2020-21 campaign as the third-choice goalkeeper at Celtic behind Vasilios Barkas and Scott Bain. However, with both the regular keepers failing to inspire much confidence with their displays in goal, Lennon handed Hazard his senior competitive debut for Celtic in the Hoops’ 3-2 win over LOSC Lille on Matchday 6 of the UEFA Europa League. 

Hazard held his own with a crucial late save to deny the French side an equaliser and retained his spot in the league fixture against Kilmarnock last weekend. The 22-year-old managed a clean sheet in a 2-0 home win for Lennon’s side, who registered only their 4th win in their last 14 games across all competitions. 

Hazard looks like a star in the making

Indeed, there’s no better way to recognise a young player’s progress at the club than by offering him a new contract. Conor Hazard, to that end, certainly deserves to put pen to paper on fresh and improved terms following his rise to prominence in the first-team at Parkhead. 

Celtic’s goalkeeping issues have been well-documented this season. Summer signing Vasilios Barkas has struggled to live up to the expectations. The Greek international replaced Scott Bain as the club’s No.1 and while he started off with a flurry of clean sheets, Barkas has looked vulnerable over the past few months.

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ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND – OCTOBER 25: Conor Hazard and Scott Bain of Celtic warm up prior to the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Aberdeen and Celtic at Pittodrie Stadium on October 25, 2020 in Aberdeen, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Barkas’ inconsistencies prompted Lennon to reinstate Bain as the first-choice keeper but the Scotsman’s comedy of errors in the Europa League clearly underlined the need for some significant improvement in that department. Thrown into the mix under difficult circumstances, Conor Hazard has grabbed his opportunities with both hands to establish himself as the club’s new No.1 between the sticks. 

The towering 6ft 4in academy graduate has fared well in recent wins over Lille and Kilmarnock and looks set to retain his place in the Scottish Cup final against Hearts on Sunday as the Hoops chase a record quadruple-treble. 

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Celtic boss Neil Lennon (Getty Images)

Verdict

It would be a real shame if Celtic end up losing Conor Hazard on a free transfer at the end of the season, especially after the goalkeeper’s stunning breakthrough in the first-team. The 22-year-old still has plenty of room for development and he could well be on his way to emulating the exploits of former Hoops graduate David Marshall if he goes on to fulfil his potential. 

Having said that, Hazard is someone who could potentially save Celtic millions of pounds in the market and the Hoops should definitely have a new deal for him at the top of their agenda in the coming months.

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