Manager Martin O’Neill has a full squad to choose from for todays crucial game, and has to decide whether to play chris sutton up front alongside Henrik Larsson, or will he go with Brian McClair, or Pierre van hooijdonk, or perhaps even Jorge Cadete ? He has a plethora of stars to choose from…
Didier Agathe, Bobo Balde, Tom Boyd, Warren Brown, Jorge Cadete, Martin Compston, Rab Douglas, Stevie Graham, Pierre Van Hooijdonk, Tommy Johnson, Tosh McKinlay, Henrik Larsson, Neil Lennon, Johan Mjallby, Brian McClair, Jackie McNamara, Lubo Moravcik, Bobby Petta, Momo Sylla, Chris Sutton, Joos Valgaeren, Morten Wieghorst.
And, with Peter Lawwell recently being made High Chief of Football, he can play them all at some point.
First of all, and most importantly, its great that Stilian Petrov will be around to see this game, in support of his leukaemia charity. He has the disease in remission and for that we must all be grateful.
Thats why todays game will be high on emtion. As well as the huge cheer the man will get just for being alive , there is a chance for those of us who missed the Lisbon Lions, on account of not being born , to celebrate our own band of heroes, when Larsson, Moravcik, Suttion et al take to the field.
There won’t be a dry eye in the house.
Petrov spoke in the Birmingham mail of his delight at having former bosses Kenny Dalglish and Martin O’ Neill in charge of the two teams;
It’s really good that Martin and Kenny will manage them,” he said.
“They are two guys I have worked with and have been great with me.
“Kenny was a big help when I came to Celtic. I was a young boy, I didn’t speak any English and he was great.
“As for Martin, I spent most of my career working under him – first at Celtic and then at Villa.
“It will be great to see them in the dug-outs picking the teams – and hopefully they pick me too!
“They are completely different. Every manager has his own style and approach to the game.”
“Kenny didn’t need to do much to persuade me when Celtic came calling,” he added. “I came over with another Bulgarian, Milan Petkov, and we sat in Cameron House going over the contracts. He had a family.
“It was different for me. I was young, I wanted to play football. I wanted to improve and I said ‘It doesn’t matter – I want to come here’.
“Kenny helped me a lot.
“He helped me understand that I had to learn the language and be able to speak to my team-mates in the dressing-room and on the pitch.”
“Martin’s success was very simple. He told us to go out and win the games for him. And he had the teams to do it.
“At Celtic and Aston Villa, you could see that Martin built his own team and brought players who would play for him and go out and win on a Saturday.
“It wasn’t important to Martin what you did during the week – it was what happened on a Saturday that counted.
“He would say, ‘Win the game, you rule. Lose the game, I rule’.
“We always preferred it when we ruled because it was really bad when he ruled.
“Martin would make us watch videos, he would put on double sessions and didn’t speak to anybody until we won the next game. We didn’t want to see him grumpy but when we won, everyone was in a good mood and the manager was happy.
“He kept it simple. He picked his strongest team and you knew his players. Even if we were playing badly, he knew we would stay in the game and that we had special players up front to go and win.”
Stan then went on to talk about how his wife vetoed any return to football, and of how his treatment was going;
“One of the doctors said to me recently, ‘There is a chance you might be able to go back to football once you have finished your treatment’,”
“I said ‘don’t even put those thoughts in my head’.
“I was thinking about it but my wife said to me, ‘You were getting a bit slow in the last few years so imagine how slow you would be if you came back!’.
“She had a point and I can say I had a very good career and I should leave it that way.
“I might play five-a-sides and maybe the Masters tournaments and things like that.
“With my recovery, at the moment it is just maintenance.
“You just take tablets and every three months, you have a little chemotherapy and an injection so at the moment it is taking a bit of time to find the correct dose.
“When I get the dose right I can start travelling and go on holiday. I haven’t been on a holiday with the family yet so I’m really looking forward to that.
“The protocol when you finish intensive chemo is three years on the tablets. I need to go through with that and after three years you go for checks every six months and then every year.
“But I don’t look that far ahead yet.”
All of us hope and pray that Stilian Petrov, once of Celtic, always of Celtic, can look as far ahead as he wants one day.
Other ex players and managers have spoke of the game as well. Martin O’Neill was told by his wife that Stilian was too handsome, and asked him what he was going to do about it,
” So I signed Neil Lennon, ” the former boss told a crowd at a function last night.
Paul Lambert was asked if he was looking forward to playing again, and he said
” not particularly , no ”
But the last word on the game has to go to this, from Chris Sutton, in a well written and thought out piece in his newspaper column;
THE strongest emotion I’m going to experience when I see Stilian Petrov at Celtic Park tomorrow is how precious life can be.
I was always close to Stan when we played for Celtic under Martin O’Neill, and the most important thing is he’s still with us for this special match to launch the Petrov family’s charitable foundation.
When Stilian was first diagnosed with leukaemia, I wouldn’t say I feared for him and that’s because he’s as tough as they come.
But it was a reminder to me that footballers can sometimes assume ill-health is what happens to other people.
Yet at Celtic we had former players like Stan, then John Hartson, with life-threatening illness, as well as Alan Stubbs and his battle with testicular cancer.
Stan’s difficulties came as a tremendous shock to me and we spoke a lot at the time, as well as meeting in London when he was receiving hospital treatment there.
He told me he’d played for Aston Villa against Arsenal and felt fatigued afterwards, only more so than normal.
Stan’s good fortune was that the club made sure he was put through the appropriate tests straight away and the diagnosis, however distressing, was quickly arrived at.
All you can do then is show your support for him and his wife Paulina. And I know from personal experience the way the Celtic fans, and supporters of other clubs, rallied round him will have been of great assistance to Stan.
My son James was born in Glasgow when I was at Celtic and he was a premature baby who suffered a virus that left my wife and I grateful he pulled through.
James was left with hearing problems but we’re lucky he’s still around. While I’m in Glasgow I’m going to take him back to Yorkhill Hospital to thank the medical staff there for all they did for us as a family.
That’s another reason why I’m so glad Stan’s special match has given me the chance to return to Celtic Park and play on the pitch there for the first time in seven years. I really miss Celtic and I wish I was still playing for them.
It’s nature’s way that we all get older and life moves on, but to be reunited with Stan, Henrik Larsson, Lubo Moravcik and Neil Lennon, as well as all the other guys, will be very special for me.
I didn’t want to go from Celtic Park but I was left with no choice and this will be a highly nostalgic return in the company of my old gaffer, Martin O’Neill.
I wasn’t sure about leaving Chelsea and signing for Celtic because my perception of Glasgow was it was a troubled, and not very pretty, city. Then I signed and found my perceptions were 100 per cent inaccurate.
Instead I found a place where people rally round you if your son’s ill. It’s also a city that pulled together when Big John launched a foundation to provide for the less fortunate.
I saw Stan on TV last Sunday morning and was delighted to see him look so well and have that mischievous look back in his eyes. Then I read in Record Sport that he’d made a joke about my last television appearance being memorable because I was wearing a pair of shoes he remembered from 12 years ago.
That’s when I knew he was back to normal and I had to get myself a brand new pair of shoes in honour of this weekend’s reunion.
But I’ll have to apologise in advance to the 60,000 fans who’ve bought tickets to see Stan’s select face Celtic. I’m not in the kind of shape I was in the last time I shared the home dressing room at Celtic Park with my mates, and my biggest fear is muscle and co-ordination problems.
But when I bundled the kids into the car on Thursday night for the long drive to Glasgow I knew I wouldn’t have missed this special day for the world.
Stan and Henrik had a way of playing that suited my sometimes limited game perfectly, and the understanding we developed gave me the happiest phase of my entire career.
I now consider Glasgow to be my favourite city in the whole of Britain. I loved every morning I went into training and sat among men who weren’t reluctant to give you their opinion on anything, and that was doubly the case on match days.
There was a togetherness and a bond among that group of mature professionals that was never fully replicated for me anywhere else.
And there was a mental strength shown by players like Johan Mjallby which made us a team of silent assassins.
But, above all, there was Martin. The manager had an aura about him, as well as a drive and a passion which carried Celtic forward in the right direction.
The fans bought into him and Martin gave every one of his players supreme confidence.
You always felt that you wanted to impress Martin and do more for him on the park because he was such a fair man where his players were concerned.
Neil is, was and always will be his own man, but he fell under the manager’s spell nevertheless.
Those were the times that moulded him into the manager he has become for Celtic, and helped shape the club he’s now taken into the Champions League over successive seasons.
Martin was charismatic and always knew which buttons to press in the dressing room before matches.
Systems are a big thing in football but the game is essentially about players.
The manager made sure Celtic’s players went out confident in ourselves and full of passion for the club we represented.
When that dressing room door closes behind me tomorrow, and I start to get ready for a match in the company of my old friends, time will stand still and the past will become the present.
Playing is the bit you miss most and when you have been fortunate to have been at a club like Celtic then you know, with the benefit of hindsight, that you should feel doubly blessed.
Couldn’t have put it better myself, in fact, no-one could. That piece says it all.
I’m going to watch the game with sunglasses on. I’m not going to cry, don’t be silly, but just in case….
It was Billy McNeill in a cryptic picture of a Caesar yesterday, and today , heres one from not quite as long ago