THANKS A LOT DAVID
No favours for Celtic or Rangers from fellow Scot
GORDON STR ACHAN believes Celtic’s experience in reaching the last 16 of the Champions League will stand his side in good stead as they venture into the toughest of qualifying tests against Spartak Moscow.
Strachan, who last night described reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League as a better achievement than winning the Scottish Cup, said of the aftermath of Celtic’s most successful Champions League campaign: “I see a difference in the younger players – the O’Deas, the McManuses and [Lee] Naylorwho is young to this type of football.”
He added of the run that ended with a Kaka goal in extra-time at San Siro: “As the game went longer and longer against Milan, you thought [of the young Celtic players], ‘They are really enjoying this’.’’
Asked if this experience would be beneficial in Moscow, Strachan said: “It’s helpful.”
Naylor may be new to the Champions League, but no one could accuse him of having a confidence shortfall. Neither should he, with a league and Scottish Cup winner’s medal to his name and a season’s experience of Europe’s elite club competition under his belt.
The Englishman was a stalwart in the club’s run to the last 16 last season and is bullish about their prospects of overcoming Spartak Moscow in a couple of weeks’ time.
“When you’ve done what we did last season, got to the last 16, won the cup, won the league, and the way we did it, then it just breeds confidence among everyone,” he reflected.
“Even people that come to the club get a new-found confidence, and there’s just an air about the place. Everyone is smiling and joking. [Last season’s Champions League] was a great experience, playing against the top players in the world. I thought I went out and did a good job.”
Spartak are halfway through their season domestic season, while Celtic’s will only be two weeks old when the first leg
comes around on August 15. An indifferent pre-season has preceded the start of the new campaign, which begins against Kilmarnock tomorrow, but Naylor is confident they will be up to full speed by the time they take on the Russians.
“I know that they are halfway through the season, but we got our match fitness up during pre-season, we’ll have one or two games under our belt by then and there is no doubt we’ll be ready,” he said. “It makes no difference [whether they are home or away first]. I just can’t wait to get it done and dusted. As long as we go out and do what we can do then there’s no doubt in my mind we will get through.”
Celtic must find form quickly in their opening two league matches, against Kilmarnock and Falkirk, ahead of their first leg with Spartak. Just fourwins in eight pre-season games was not ideal preparation, though their 1-0 victory over Parma last weekend was an encouraging portent.
Naylor, though, disregarded the pre-season deficiencies. “I take nothing from pre-season apart from getting my fitness,” he said. “Obviously you’d like to score goals and we didn’t do that in parts, but we were getting our match fitness and peaked at the right time. If you start worrying about pre-season games you’ll get nowhere.”
The inevitable consequence of Naylor’s excellent opening season at Parkhead, after joining from Wolves last summer, was interest south of the border. He was linked with a move to Fulham but, despite his family still being based in England, was not interested in the move. “I’m happy here at Celtic. I’m doing a good job and enjoying my football. I heard it was in the paper but I didn’t hear anything about it myself. I’ve got a three-year deal.”
More pressing matters await Naylor and his team-mates with Spartak Moscow looming.
Strachan bemoaned the lack of the opportunity to run the rule over Spartak, though Tom O’Neill and Ray Clarke, of Celtic’s scouting staff, will watch the Moscow side
“I don’t believe anybody who picked Spartak Moscowwould be jumping for joy. Their history is good, their standard of football is good. It’s going to be a right hard game,” said the Celtic manager, who also expressed concern over playing on an artificial surface.
Strachan never played in Russia on either club or international duty but spoke of one episode behind the Iron Curtain while with Aberdeen in the 1978-79 European Cup Winners’ Cup against Marek Stanke of Bulgaria.
“Willie Garner broke his leg. They sent him to a cabin with a tarpaulin down the middle. He had to sit to wait to get his leg set and on the other side of the tarpaulin was a wee girl getting her leg amputated.
“He could see through the tarpaulin. It was the longest two-hour wait of his life. The sweat was pouring off him.”
The drama was not over for Garner, whose leg swelled up after the operation; he had to have his plaster cut open before flying home.