Da wird zunächst über zwei Schweden gerätselt, dann kommt Dennis Dressel von 1860 München ins Spiel, bevor die Gerüchteküche lange kalt bleibt, nur um die beiden Schweden zurück ins Spiel zu bringen und dann wird es doch … Nemanja Celic. Der 22-jährige Österreicher soll also fortan eine Option für die Sechserposition im Spiel des SV Darmstadt 98 sein. Der Juniorennationalspieler aus dem Nachbarland stammt aus Linz und spielte zuletzt in der österreichischen Bundesliga für die WSG Tirol, die ihre Spiele in Innsbruck austrägt. Wie schon bei der Verpflichtung von Emir Karic habe ich Anna kontaktiert. Die Fußballanalystin aus Moskau beobachtet den österreichischen Fußball für Football Radar und ist folglich gut im Bilde. Am Ende des Interviews gibt es wieder eine Übersetzung der wichtigsten Inhalte.
Anna, after Emir Karic, Nemanja Celic is another player from the Austrian Bundesliga joining Darmstadt 98. A good pick?
Certainly. Celic caught the eye a lot last season at WSG Tirol, a tiny club that made the top 6 against all odds, and he was one of the main characters of that campaign. Obviously, a step forward in his career was to be expected.
He is a product of the LASK/AKA Linz youth system and he was already standing out at LASK’s reserve side FC Juniors OÖ, but never really got the chance in the first squad, as LASK are known to be reluctant to use their own youngsters, apart from several unique examples. So a move away from this system was the best choice of his career so far, and the club that hosted him was a very convenient pick at that moment.
You’ve already mentioned that WSG Tirol did unexpectedly well last season. What was Celic’s contribution to that, even though he only moved there last summer?
WSG Tirol were probably the biggest surprise of last season. After a miserable first Bundesliga campaign in 2019/20 that saw them relegated only to be saved by Mattersburg’s folding, the club did a fantastic job at reinventing their whole concept and approach: instead of picking up dubious free agents well past their prime, they decided to rely on bright youth.
They contracted several talented young players found in the second teams of big clubs or on their benches, drastically reducing their average squad age from 26,8 to 23,8. And it was an instant hit. Celic was one of those examples – and one of the brightest ones.
How was he rated in Austria based on his performances last year?
Very highly. He was praised a lot for his performances, often named as a hidden gem in the young and exciting WSG Tirol squad, and there were rumors of interest from big Austrian clubs before Darmstadt appeared.
Darmstadt still needed a defensive midfielder and now has him in Celic, even though he hasn’t been playing in that position that long, right?
At LASK/FC Juniors OÖ he was mostly seen as a center-back, sometimes even in a libero-like role (quite fair, given both his natural skills and the fact that all LASK teams play strictly in a back-3).
But at WSG Thomas Silberberger saw him as a perfect fit for his renewed tactical concept for his team: he instantly made him one of the two 6s used in a dynamic 4-4-2. His role was initially supposed to be a classical destructive holding DM type to highlight his good tackling and ball-winning, but as the season went, he was revealed to be much better on the ball than the initial impression was, so he took more and more ball-progressing responsibilities as a sort of a deep-lying playmaker with support from a more classically ball-playing-oriented DM partner Thanos Petsos by his side, while still not forgetting about his initil defensive responsibilities. Their link was one of the things that made WSG Tirol so exciting to watch last season.
Is he also an option as a sole number 6 or is he stronger with a partner in defensive midfield?
No one really saw him as a sole number 6 so far, as WSG played strictly in a 4-4-2 with barely any rotation, so he always played at DM with a partner representing a slightly different defensive midfield type. But theoretically speaking, he could be imagined in a 4-3-3 setup if partnered with a good classical 8 who isn’t only focused on getting the ball into the final third, but likes to move around a bit.
What do you consider to be the strengths of Celic’s game in general?
His immediate defensive skills are pretty good: he’s a good tackler, he knows how to do it without playing with fire too much (although yellow cards are quite his thing), he knows how to win the ball and he’s good at first actions right after winning the ball, which, again, was key at WSG who liked fast switches. And this season he progressed massively with the ball: he has a good eye and skills for long passes that often become key ones, and his decision-making with the ball on his feet also improved a lot.
In which areas do you think he should improve?
As he’s rediscovering himself in a new role after having been only seen as a defender for years in the system where he grew up, there’s still a lot to learn. Right now he’s far from a finished product at DM, and his passing could become even finer. Also, he’s not really efficient at attacking set-pieces, which could be an area of improvement as his defensive heading skills are not as bad.
Six goals last season reads pretty good for a defensive player. Do you know if he scored the goals out of open play or rather following corners and free kicks?
That’s not exactly true: he has 2 goals last season, 1 in the BL and one in the cup (first round, doesn’t really count).
Okay, my mistake.
But he has 6 assists, and if I’m not wrong, only one or two of them were from set pieces, so it shows how massively he’s transforming from a solely defensive-minded player.
The new Lilien coach Torsten Lieberknecht likes players who identify with their task and their club, i.e. players who are on fire. Does that sound like Celic?
Celic is actually a pretty quiet player. He provides the impression of a hard worker who doesn’t like to talk too much. It looked like he was on the same wavelength with the rest of the young group at WSG in terms of team dynamic and atmosphere, but attracting attention was never his thing.
Although, despite his quietness and shyness, he’s quite strong mentally on the pitch. It also was a running topic for WSG this season, as they were a brave gang who never stopped pushing until the final whistle and played with their heads held high even against the giants Salzburg (which even led to a win over the eternal champions at one point). And Celic also represented this approach.
Last question: Do you have a situation in mind on or off the pitch that you will associate with Celic?
He’s not normally a player who makes headlines, but there was one bizarre incident last October that was completely unrelated to the player himself, but was connected to him and even made the club release a statement about it.
Apparently there’s a common ugly thing in the FIFA online community (I might be quite inaccurate with this, I don’t play it) that some idiots can spread rumors about a player’s death in order to increase his value in the system one way or another – and this is exactly what happened to Celic. At one point someone briefly hacked his Instagram to replace the profile pic with a black circle, the comments under his most recent photo at the time were filled with questions about it, his Wikipedia page was edited to show him as dead, and the rumors reached the Austrian football community. Everyone was really alarmed for the next few hours, until someone managed to reach out to the club (on a day off, so it took quite some time), who then had to make a statement about it to calm everyone down, and Celic himself.
Anna, thanks a lot again for your detailed insights.
- Anna findet, Celic sei eine gute Wahl für Darmstadt 98. Er war letzte Saison ein Leistungsträger der WSG Tirol.
- Ausgebildet wurde Celic beim Linzer ASK und dessen Reserveteam, wechselte aber zur WSG Tirol, als er beim LASK keine Chance bekam.
- Der WSG Tirol war die Überraschung der abgelaufenen Saison, setzte radikal auf junge Spieler, wobei Celic einer der besten war.
- Celic erhielt viel Lob und wurde mit einem Wechsel zu großen österreichischen Klubs in Verbindung gebracht, bevor das Angebot aus Darmstadt kam.
- Vor seinem Transfer zur WSG Tirol spielte Celic zumeist Innenverteidiger. In der letzten Saison wurde er zu einem der Sechser in einer Doppelsechs umfunktioniert.
- Er hat seine Stärken im Ballgewinn, legte im Verlauf der Saison aber auch spielerisch zu und nahm fast schon eine Rolle als tiefstehender Spielmacher ein.
- Als Stärken sieht Anna Celics Fähigkeiten den Ball zu erobern, wenn es sein muss mit einem guten Tackling, und dann das Umschaltspiel zu initiieren. Zudem hat er ein gutes Auge für lange Bälle entwickelt. Auch sein Kopfballspiel in der Defensive ist gut.
- Da er erst seit einem Jahr die neue Position im defensiven Mittelfeld einnimmt, ist er noch kein fertiger Spieler. Sein Passspiel könnte noch besser und sein Offensivspiel effizienter werden.
- Sechs Vorlagen, zumeist aus dem Spiel heraus, zeigen, dass sich Celic vom reinen Verteidiger hin zum Mittelfeldspieler verändert hat.
- Celic ist ein ziemlich ruhiger Spieler und will keine Aufmerksamkeit erregen. Dafür ist er mental stark. Er passte mit seiner Art die die mutige Truppe bei der WSG Tirol, die nie aufgab.
- Letzte Saison gab es eine bizarre Begebenheit um Celic. Neben seinem Instagram-Account wurde auch sein Wikipedia-Eintrag verändert und Gerüchte über seinen Tod verbreitet. (LINK) Damit sollte wohl sein Wert im Computerspiel FIFA erhöht werden, was in der FIFA-Community wohl schon bei anderen Spielern versucht wurde. Der WSG Tirol sah sich daraufhin genötigt, die Gerüchte klarzustellen.
Insider-Interviews zu den bisherigen Verpflichtungen:
- Mit Robert Laul (Aftonbladet) über Innenverteidiger Thomas Isherwood* (Östersunds FK)
- Mit Anna (Football Radar) über Außenverteidiger Emir Karic (SCR Altach)
- Mit Alex (NurderFCM) über Keeper Morten Behrens (1. FC Magdeburg)
- Mit Jens (Sportjournalist) über Defensivspezialist Jannik Müller (DAC Dunajská Streda)
- Mit Sonja (Journalistin) über Angreifer Phillip Tietz (SV Wehen Wiesbaden)
- Mit Steffen (Journalist) über Außenverteidiger Frank Ronstadt (FC Kickers Würzburg)
- Mit Gerald (Dozent und Buchautor) über Coach Torsten Lieberknecht (vertragslos)
- Mit Jörn (KSC-Fan) über Außenstürmer Benjamin Goller (Werder Bremen/Karlsruher SC)
- Mit Silvan (Journalist und FCZ-Fan) über Innenverteidiger Lasse Sobiech (1. FC Köln/FC Zürich)
- Mit Steffen (Journalist) über Angreifer Luca Pfeiffer (FC Midtjylland)
* Winter-Neuzugang, bisher überwiegend verletzt