As we all recover from the heartache of losing KT, let’s just remember one thing: we are Celtic. We have survived players like Larsson, Naka and Petrov leaving, and more recently we have seen Dembele and Van Dijk leave. No player is bigger than our club no matter how many megaphones he uses or “S’appnin Biton’s” he says. Yes, KT has been a great servant to us, but would you call him a legend? Would you put him up there with Larsson, Brown, McNeil or McStay? I probably wouldn’t. The sad thing is though, he could have been. He could have been immortal. However, one thing that this does prove is that Celtic can produce top quality players that other clubs want, and KT was probably my favourite.
After signing for the club when he was 7, KT made his long-awaited Celtic debut in the 2014/15 season under Ronny Deila. He went on to make another appearance for the club that season and there was a real buzz about him. Stories came out about him being a proper fan. Videos surfaced of him getting boots from Nakamura and his dad saying he is the next big thing. People got excited. A boyhood fan turned ball boy turned Celtic player; it was a real throwback to a different time. In the 2015/16 season he replaced Emilio Izaguire as first choice left back. KT made 33 appearances for the club that season and was starting to become the boy that everyone wanted to be. He scored his first goal for the club in the final game of the season in a 7-0 hammering of Motherwell. He also earned the Players and Writers Young Player of the year awards. He was rewarded with a 5-year contract.
This season saw the arrival of Brendan Rodgers. Known for his man-management, KT was one of the players that people were most excited to see develop under The Rat. His development was halted however due to 3 months though injury. During this time off, KT showed us why we love him as he went to numerous games with his pals rather than opt for a fancy, corporate seat. He showed us that he genuinely is just one of us – a Celtic lad who got to live his dream. Despite the injury, KT made 40 appearances that season, scoring 2 more goals. The fans just loved to see him score. It felt like we were the da’s standing on the touchline watching our own boy play. He won another PFA Young Player or the Year award, meaning that he was the first to win two consecutively since 1986 when Craig Levein broke into the Hearts starting side. The Scottish Cup Final that season made us fall in love with KT more and more. After suffering a facial injury and needing hospital treatment, videos emerged of him running back into Hampden to celebrate the Invincible Treble with the team. The image of KT holding the trophy and the badge with a bloody face is one of those images that will be around forever – it was truly iconic.
This season saw another brilliant year for KT and Celtic combined. In his first match as Celtic captain, Celtic won a Scottish Cup game against Killie. The game will always be remembered for THAT thunderbolt goal from 40 yards. This goal showed us that, even though he is a fans favourite and he loves the club, he is a genuine talent and a leader. He finished the season making 55 appearances for the club and he had started to impress on the big stage. Brilliant performances in the Champions League showed again just how good a player he is. The conversation of whether Celtic could keep him or not arose again. People saw him as an asset that would eventually draw interest from other clubs with more money than Celtic. KT and the club put an end to this as he extended his contract early in the season until 2023, effectively giving him a 6-year deal. You could be forgiven for thinking that there was a chance that he could spend the rest of his career at Celtic like McStay – I know I thought it. Oh, how naïve.
Perhaps one of his more frustrating seasons due to injury, it seems weird to think that it was the last season we would have of him. He made a total of 40 appearances, many of which while half-fit. He scored the one goal, but it was a huge one. The first in a 2-1 win in the Europa League against RB Leipzig, a game that would help us qualify for the next round. In the February of that season, Brendan Rodgers left the club, earning his Rat title. Many of the players weren’t happy at this decision, as highlighted by Mikael Lustig’s comments in the media. Stories came out about KT telling the Leicester lacky to ‘fuck off’ when he came to deliver Brendan’s goodbye. Most likely not true, but fans wanted to believe that our boy would defend the club in such a passionate manner. A bad hip-injury and then a double hernia kept him out of action for a good while and he missed Celtic’s Treble Treble win over Hearts in the Scottish Cup Final. What a sight that would have been. A fitting end to a great career at Celtic. It wasn’t to be though, and with the news that KT has left Celtic, it becomes more and more disappointing that we won’t have any more of these historic moments.
Personally, I have been left with mixed emotions. On one hand, he is my boy and I want to see him do well and test himself against top quality opposition week in week out. People compare him to Larsson and McStay but the Scottish league was a hell of a lot more competitive back then. He is too good to play against St Mirren and Hamilton every week, he should be playing against the best in the world. At the same time, I am filled with disappointment. Personally, I wouldn’t leave Celtic on the verge of not only equalling the record for the most titles won in a row, but possibly beating it. KT would have been involved in 7 of the 10 league titles. And being a fan himself, we could have related to him and seen how much it meant to him. I don’t really know how to feel. Right now, it is disappointment. When I see him playing for Arsenal in front of thousands of tourists politely clapping here and there it will be anger that I feel. But if we see him do well and win stuff down there, I think every Celtic fan will be proud of our Bhoy, because first and foremost, no matter what you say, he is one of us. A fan who got to live all of our dreams.