Ismaila Soro emergence alongside David Turnbull can be regarded as one of the few highlights of this season but as far as the Ivory Coast midfielder is concerned it has only been through the player’s own mental toughness that allowed him to get through the lockdown that started shortly after he arrived in Scotland without any grasp of the language.

It was fortunate that Vakoun Issouf Bayo was around to help. The striker later went out on loan to Toulose but before that deal was agreed he was instrumental in helping Soro settle and get ready to make his mark at the club.

Photo: David Young

“When I signed I made an effort to train as hard as I could so I was ready when the coach needed me,” Soro told Scottish Sun. “I stayed in Scotland through the whole Covid lockdown. That was tough but I think I have a strong mentality.

“By the time I came here, I had already played in three different countries so I’ve learned how to adapt to my circumstances,” Soro said. “Covid was probably the hardest situation because nobody could go anywhere. It was really tough to cope with.

“If you’re talking about the countries I’ve played in, Belarus was probably the hardest for me but the Covid situation here made everything hard. At first, Bayo was the one who helped me most.

Vakoun Issouf Bayo Photo by Andrew Milligan

“We are both Ivorian and he was closest to me when I arrived and helped me settle. He was important during Covid, too. Bayo left but Odsonne Edouard and Christopher Jullien have also been very good to me. Having these guys around has been a real help.

“The key thing for me is that when I go on to the pitch I have the same approach to playing. At all times my priority is to work hard — it’s no different whether I’m playing in Belarus, Israel or Scotland.”

Photo: Andrew Milligan

Soro started the season being regarded as an understudy to club captain Scott Brown but gradually earned his place in the team and the two seem to be rotating appearances recently with  Neil Lennon unwilling to start both in the same midfield. That was also the case last weekend against Aberdeen but both did play together in the later stages as Celtic held onto the single goal advantage.

Soro has plenty of respect and admiration for the Celtic captain. “It’s a very tough job to step into Scott’s shoes. First, he’s the captain and is a really great player I respect a lot.

“To be at a big team like Celtic for such a long time as captain says a lot about him. And it’s not just about the job he does on the pitch, it’s everything else. He’s such an important figure at this club. Being the one who has to try and do the same job on the pitch is a big challenge.”

Hardly noted as a goalscorer Soro did score a spectacular first goal for Celtic against Dundee Utd in December and could have doubled that tally last week had Odsonne Edouard slipped him in during the closing stages. “I’d love to do the same again. I am ready for every match and I have a lot of confidence. Last week I was in a good position to score when Odsonne had the ball. I asked him about the situation,” Soro admitted somewhat diplomatically.

Photo; Andrew Milligan

“Initially, I wasn’t happy he hadn’t passed to me because I was in such a good position. But I also understand that he’s an attacking player, that we’re in the same team and the most important thing was that we won the game.”

John Kennedy, Celtic’s Interim Manager certainly rates the Ivorian highly and sees him playing a significant role for Celtic in the coming seasons.  “We’ve been delighted with him. In terms of where he came from, adapting is always difficult, especially for a young player. It was a massive cultural change — he didn’t speak the language and it took time for him to get up to speed, to really get to grips with what we wanted.

“But, in this last period, we’ve really begun to see what he’s capable of. In his first bit of time at the club he wasn’t quite reaching that level. But through time and that belief in what he was doing, he’s come through and done very well.

Photo: Andrew Milligan

“He’s a good player to have for us and, in terms of inspiring him, there’s no better player than Scott Brown. Last week against Aberdeen Scott showed his experience, he showed his quality. He was a real leader out there.

“He was probably a bit quieter than he normally is vocally, but I thought he brought a real calmness. He showed his level, he showed the success he’s had and I thought that came through the way he played.

“Soro can certainly learn from that. Scott’s not getting any younger and in the longer term Soro’s one we hold in high esteem. We hope that he’s here for a long time.”

This article first appeared on The Celtic Star and was syndicated with permission.

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