Best of the best

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After reading Ramon Vega’s recent comments on his regret about leaving Celtic, albeit fifteen years ago, it got me thinking about former Celtic players in a similar position. When it comes to leaving Celtic prematurely, he is not alone, even if some players have failed to acknowledge it.

Vega is but one example of a player drafted in in the short term with little expected of him. Yet he turned out to be an influential player during a very brief period under Martin O’Neill.

Apparently Celtic had tried to procure his services prior to that season but Vega turned down the opportunity. He later accepted a loan move midway through season 2000-2001.

In 26 appearances he scored 4 goals for the club and picked up a treble into the bargain. This still wasn’t enough to convince him to stay on though.

Instead he followed the money and went to Gianluca Vialli’s Watford, opting for cash over trophies. That move lasted one season and eventually he was shipped out.

He found himself playing for Ligue 2 French side Créteil, where he would end his career at the age of 33. Fairly early by even by standards back then.

In some ways, getting a large payday in his second last season wasn’t such a bad move financially. The fact that he regrets leaving Celtic though suggests what many fans though at the time.

He could have had another shot at glory the following year and maybe even retired with Celtic. The decision he eventually made he regrets, but he isn’t the first ex-Celtic player to do this.

For other former Celts it’s been a mixed bag of success. Many have come through the ranks and at the first sign of progress, headed for so called greener pastures.

Historically, Celtic have been criticised for not stumping up the cash. When you go back to the era when the club was run by the Kelly’s and co, that isn’t much of a surprise.

Having said that, the way business was conducted back then, I wouldn’t know who to believe. I mean in those days you had the Kelly, White, Grant, McGinn and Farrell stronghold in one corner and in the other you had jokers like Charlie Nicholas or Frank McAvennie.

In the era of change for Celtic, i.e. Fergus McCann onwards, club business was moving into new territory. McCann was a tough and shrewd businessman who generally did it his way or not at all but he had a plan.

He encountered the infamous “three amigos” during that period and stood for none of their nonsense. Whilst the fans were in their debt to Fergus for saving the club, they idolised Pierre van Hooijdonk, Jorge Cadete and Paulo Di Canio at the same time.

This was a forward line to get your juices flowing if every there was one. They all left within months of one another with money at the heart of most of it.

They each had different experiences following those moves. Van Hooijdonk (money demands) moved to Nottingham Forrest in March of his final season and ended up getting relegated but he experienced an upwards turn in his career with a moves to Vitesse, Benfica, Feyenoord, Fenerbahçe, NAC Breda and back to Feyenoord once again.

Di Canio (also money demands) went to Sheffield Wednesday in a swap deal with Regi Blinker coming in the opposite direction. Di Canio carved out a relatively successful career following that move to England, moving onward to West Ham and Charlton Athletic before winding up his playing days back home in Italy with Lazio, his first club, and then minnows Cisco Roma.

As for Cadete, well his so called ‘mental state’ didn’t really wash with many Celtic fans. Devastated as we were, it was clear that he wanted to move, whether that motive was money or adjusting to life in Scotland.

For a free transfer, he certainly gave Celtic a shot in the arm with his goal return even if it resulted in no trophies. I don’t even think Jorge would argue that Celtic was a career peak for him.

Had he or any of the other ‘amigos’ stayed on for the season that followed, who knows what devastation they would have unleashed. Perhaps if they had we may never have seen Henrik Larsson in the Hoops.

Whilst each of those players left on bad terms they had their own post-Celtic story to tell. They netted Celtic on average about £4m each in transfer fees which 20 years ago was pretty good money for the club.

Let’s not forget about the goal tally these players amassed in a short space of time. Van Hooijdink – 52 goals in 96 appearances; Di Canio – 15 goals in 37 appearances; Cadete – 33 goals in 44 appearances.

Cadete easily had the worst career path following his Celtic exit, whilst Di Canio and Van Hooijdonk had positive experiences right up until the end of their playing days.

These guys were markers for the future. Lessons learned, money earned.

Celtic would still fumble matters with players though. Though let’s face it, footballers aren’t the easiest of ‘personalities’ to deal with in business.

Another player who left Celtic that summer was none other than current assistant coach at the club, John Collins. He became Celtic’s first Bosman departure in 1996.

That took him to AS Monaco, a European force at the time. After two years there, he moved on to Everton and later, Fulham.

To be fair to Collins, he was a fantastic player at Celtic and had earned his free transfer. After six gruelling years at a the club, mostly bad years, he deserved more from his career.

In the years that followed, Mark Viduka would become the another player to make a name for himself at Celtic only to exit when he had had enough. His arrival was surrounded with controversy following a messy departure form Croatia Zagreb and a move that had looked to have collapsed.

Still, he made a valuable contribution in a season and a half at the club. He scored 27 goals in 37 appearances at Celtic but before too long he would be plying his trade with money laden Leeds United.

Once more, Celtic had lost a marvellous player to a higher paying employer. In the midst of all this, a new era was taking shape with higher valued players filling the ranks at Celtic Park.

New management began to reshape what was already in place. There would also be key additions to the team as Celtic went from manager to manager over a short time.

The club needed stability and they had one player whose loyality, relationship and professionalism will never ever be questioned. If ever there was a model professional it was Henrik Larsson.

Either side of his 7 years at the club, as well as during, there were players coming and going which have never equalled what he did. A few have come close, but it just goes to show it is more than ability that makes a player special.

You must have that rapport with the fans. The style of play that wins you praise from around the globe and earns you the kind love you can only get from a particular kind of club and fan base.

When guys like Simon Donnelly, Mark Burchill and Liam Miller were playing with Larsson, they were looking for more money as well. Larsson was rewarded more than any other Celt in history.

The difference is that he had earned it through more than just one good goal, one good match or one good season. He did it across the board like a true professional which is something of a rareity in the modern day.

Of those players who have come and gone at Celtic, undervalued what they were part of at the time and later moved on to bleaker times, take note. The grass is not always greener.

Now James Forrest looks set to go the way players such as Shaun Maloney and Stylian Petrov did. The deal offered to him has been rejected and now he is prepared to join the list of players who probably have it made at Celtic but see bright lights in the distance.

To be the best of the best you must evaluate what you have before you consider what’s on offer and where that might lead. If your desire lies elsewhere get good advice or you too might be sharing the regret that Ramon Vega has come to know.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Forget the lying King…here’s the King of Kings

Whilst the comedy show at Ibrox continues to embarass Scottish football (I mean seriously sort yourselves out over there), the name ‘King’ has been embossed in the Scottish media almost daily. However, it was the return of the King that took my attention this week.

Henrik Larsson, the King of Kings made an appearance for Helsingborgs IF on Wednesday evening. As their current manager and experiencing player shortages, Henrik threw himself on as a substitute against Malmö FF.

As if that weren’t enough he helped himself to the last of the goals in a 7-1 mauling of their Swedish rival’s in a practice match. 43 years young and still doing the business.

We never tire of watching Henrik. It does make me wonder if I’ll ever see another player of his quality in the Hoops again during my lifetime.

Topically, a striker is one key position Ronny Deila needs to consider for next season. Leigh Griffiths has done a great job as a goal provider since his arrival in January 2014 but Celtic need something in addition.

Stefan Šćepović hasn’t lit up the forward line as we had all hoped. He didn’t even get near the brief achievements of the outgoing John Guidetti, but it remains to be seen how things will pan out for the Serbian at Celtic next season.

Celtic’s shape these days is completely different to the era when Henrik was the first name on the team sheet. Lone strikers are all the rage these days with support coming from the channels.

Ironically, Henrik used to work the channels himself (as well as other positions), particularly at Feyenoord before achieving legendary status at Celtic as a striker. Who will be our next star and is he already at the club?

When Henrik arrived we had no idea he would become the player he did. Especially after an abysmal debut against Hibs where he gifted them a goal resulting in a 2-1 defeat at Easter Road.

Some players can make that kind of error and be remembered for it for their whole career. Instead, Larsson carved out his own history at Celtic as well as Barcelona and Manchester United in the final years of his career.

To see him play is always a joy. A true legend.

Will we ever see his likes again? Well, we can dream.

Hail! Hail!

Guidetti should be indebted to Celtic

Yes, that’s what I said. Indebted.

You might ask why that may be if you’re not of the Celtic persuasion. Well, I’ll explain.

John Guidetti came to Celtic on loan just as the summer 2014 transfer window came to a close. Up until then he had little other than a few loan spells under his belt which included IF Brommapojkarna (the club where he began his career), Burnley, Feyenoord and Stoke City.

That spell at Feyenoord was productive but he returned to parent club Manchester City after an incomplete season. Having never established himself in Sweden or England his career has not yet taken off.

Celtic offered him that opportunity and immediately hit the ground running. As I’ve said in the past, we all liked what we saw.

Frustratingly, he was ineligible for European competition but his domestic form was drawing praise from the support. He had charisma and we all sensed there was something about this guy.

What we soon discovered though was that he had his own agenda. The more Celtic were convinced by his form, the nearer a deal came to being ratified for a permanent signature.

It’s not too often Celtic make such a move. The club have let many a player slip through their fingers but to be fair to the board, they moved swiftly.

What they didn’t bargain for was Guidetti stalling. Not only did he stall, he decided to hawk himself to other clubs.

This public show of availability to clubs in Italy and the Netherlands drew a different sort of reaction. Celtic fans were no longer behind this guy, they were beginning to feel betrayed.

Guidetti isn’t the first player to do this to Celtic. In fact, you could say he’s now joined an elite bunch of former servants.

The difference is, I feel Celtic deserved a chance with this player. The club did all the right things and Guidetti threw it back in their faces.

For a talented player, he has yet to establish himself at any one club. He has the skill but the mindset is questionable.

Perhaps the signs were already there and we all failed to see them. At the end of his first contract with Manchester City, he apparently struck a deal to join FC Twente.

At this time, Manchester City offered him another contract and eventually stayed. FC Twente debated that their contract was legitimate but that would be the end of it.

Ironically, Guidetti moved on loan to Feyenoord not long after signing that first team contract with City. It was a productive time for him in Rotterdam but illness marred the remainder of that loan spell and he returned to Manchester.

After recovering from illness, he went out on loan again. This time it would be Premier League club, Stoke City.

There he would vent his frustration at lack of appearances. Most of which was levelled at manager Mark Hughes.

So what has Guidetti achieved then? Well, his only honours to date have come from one season at Celtic.

He threw away the opportunity to build upon that success. Even after scoring against Inter Milan on the European stage, he still had a chance to resurrect a permanent move but he would continue to flaunt himself to other clubs.

At the League Cup Final he would spit the dummy out on the field of play. His reluctance to celebrate winning his first ever club honour was the end of the affair.

In many respects Celtic may have got off lightly here though. Despite his talent, Guidetti clearly has some issues.

He has cited a lack of challenging games on the domestic front with Celtic being an issue for his international career. Domestic football isn’t always what we want it to be though.

It doesn’t matter which club you play for. Every league has its fair share of poor fixtures.

Real Madrid might be a big club but do you think they face a huge challenge week in week out? I mean, Celtic may be the best team in Scotland, but they haven’t exactly wiped the floor with teams this season particularly when Guidetti was starting games and it has been a challenging season.

In fact the Swede played in probably the toughest period of the season gone. When Guidetti lost his place, Celtic grew stronger though.

With that in mind, it actually makes his spate of form look less influential. Aside from that goal against Inter, his influence ended long before Christmas 2014.

If John Guidetti wants a decent club career, then he will need to do some serious self assessment. He appears to have a high opinion of himself but lacks the mental ability and dedication to conduct himself in a professional manner.

Like Feyenoord, Celtic gave this guy a solid chance. Once more, a club has helped him raise his profile.

Adjö John.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie