TicTacTic: Rabiu Ibrahim could be Kilmarnock’s new Alexei Eremenko

Rabiu Ibrahim
The new Eremenko? Rabiu Ibrahim could finally get his chance to shine.SNS Group

When Rabiu Ibrahim signed for Celtic this time last year, Neil Lennon couldn't help find comparisons with Shunsuke Nakamura. One year on, having brought him to Rugby Park on a two-year deal Kenny Shiels also thinks that he's pulled off quite a coup for Kilmarnock.

Ibrahim has perennially been on the cusp of breaking through to the big-time, boasting an impressive pedigree. Capped at Under-17, 19 and 21 level for Nigeria, and with a C.V. containing Sporting CP, PSV Eindhoven and latterly Celtic, the little playmaker has enjoyed some of the finest development schools in Europe.

It's that leap into regular top-level football that's eluded him, whether at international or club level. He's personally attributed this to the level of competition faced, citing Joao Moutinho in Portugal and Ola Toivonen in Holland. It's even more complicated at Celtic, in that Lennon tends to rearrange the shape of the team to accommodate his strongest players, rather than swap individuals like-for-like.

In such a scenario, and in the glimpses seen so far, Ibrahim has looked like a natural alternative to Kris Commons. Predominantly left-footed with a low centre of gravity, both players prefer drifting into central attacking areas - whether deployed as a classic number ten or out wide. Ibrahim is, however, more slightly built, less able to shrug off the ubiquitous heavy Scottish football challenge, but arguably trickier and with a keener eye for the pass.

Standing at 5'7", Ibrahim appears even smaller on the pitch. Lennon's growing disposition for bigger, stronger players not only contrasts this height difference, but also serves to explain Ibrahim's inability to be given more chances.

His one full start was against Arbroath in December - a dreary 1-1 that Celtic dominated possession-wise, while being wasteful in attack. Given Ibrahim's very role was to provide that extra something in the final third, it seemed that the big opportunity slipped by.

While featuring regularly and successfully for the development squad, his competitive zenith in Glasgow was an impressive 15-minute cameo in May last season. While Anthony Stokes had already given Celtic the lead, Ibrahim replaced Commons on the flank, bringing zest to a fading front-line.

After some tricky work in the St Johnstone box, he looked to have set up Gary Hooper to kill off the match, though the goal was disallowed for offside. It was an apt nearly-moment - technique and vision apparently in buckets - only to fall short at the last.

Though Kenny Shiels has recently put faith in a 4-4-2 with Paul Heffernan and Cillian Sheridan well-matched as a strike partnership, Ibrahim's move prompts a few questions. Shiels has preferred a five man midfield in the past, variations of which is more suited to not only Ibrahim but another attacking midfielder - Gary Harkins.

The temptation therefore will be to persist with two up front and use Harkins and Ibrahim on the wings. But particularly in the case of the latest recruit - and if he can survive the so-called physical demands of the SPL - used centrally Kilmarnock might just have their hands on a playmaker with the guile and technique of old favourite Alexei Eremenko.

Michael Gunn writes Celtic tactics blog TicTacTic. You can follow him on Twitter @tic_tac_tic.