Celtic flop Vasilis Barkas is set to be handed the chance to prove he’s not a £5m misfit before the end of his first nightmare season in Scotland.
Stand-in boss John Kennedy confirmed on Tuesday that the Greek keeper will be thrown back into the firing line tonight against St Johnstone after a finger injury KO’d recent first choice Scott Bain.
Barkas has been blamed for much of Celtic’s struggles this season following his big money summer arrival from AEK Athens.
But Kennedy insists the Greece international has not been written off as damaged goods - and insists the 26-year-old can still salvage his Parkhead career despite enduring a traumatic first 12 months in Scotland against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kennedy said: “Obviously Barkas has come in as a new signing. We’ve found, speaking to a lot of people at different clubs, it’s been really challenging for the foreign lads this year.
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“It’s easy for us, we’re based at home and we go home to our families every night and we’re used to the environment.
“But, for the foreign lads it’s been coming into a kind of alien environment with the Covid restrictions also and it’s been really challenging for a lot of them. We’ve found that with a couple of our guys and speaking to other clubs they’ve had similar challenges.
“Again, we’ve got to take that into account.
“He’s obviously one who we’ve had high hopes for and maybe his form didn’t quite hit the heights we expected. But again we’ve got to work on that, develop that in him.
“He’s now had one year of exposure to that, he realises what the standards are.
“And obviously with Scott being injured it gives him that opportunity to come in for the last two games.
“He wants to finish the season well enough and then attack pre-season knowing what’s coming this time.”
But Kennedy stopped short of confirming that Barkas will remain an automatic first choice for Saturday’s final league game of the season against Hibs at Easter Road.
He said: “Barkas will play tomorrow night, that’s a given. I’ll look at the game at the weekend, but he’ll certainly play against St Johnstone. Hopefully that can get him back in the groove.
“He’s been training and even the training has been different for him, all different to what he’s used to.
“So he’s had to adapt to that.
“We’ve seen improvements in training – so this is a good opportunity for him to come in and perform again.”
And Kennedy - who will also be without Tom Rogic for the final two games - insists the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the keeper’s debut season must be taken into account.
He said: “You’ve got to have a bit of empathy with him in terms of understanding the situation he found himself in.
“Coming in to a huge challenge in itself, a club like Celtic, and obviously the pressure that was on this season even before he started.
“He was coming in as number one and, of course, replacing a guy like Fraser Forster’s huge in itself.
“People then judge you on that, in terms of who the previous goalkeeper was.
“Again, some players take more time to adapt than others, and that’s been the case with Vasilis.
“But, there’s good intentions, we’ll work hard with him and develop him and obviously try and get him back to the level we know he’s capable of.
“He’s had high levels of performances for his country and at Athens in the past, so I know he’s capable of it.
“It’s up to us to get it out of him.
“We never write anyone off. Everybody goes through tough times and we’ve got to support him in that.
“Give him guidance, in terms of how to come through it, and then how to develop and become better in dealing with the situation.
“Society and life is starting to get back to normality and that will help him.
“Once that happens then hopefully his professional life can become easier too.
“He’s now had his eyes opened with the expectations at the club, the fans are on you on a daily and weekly basis.
“So, that will stand him in good stead for the future and we’ll look to develop that.”