Lubo Moravcik speaks on Celtic's fans response, Scottish Cup importance and Rangers
The impact everyone remembers Lubo Moravcik making in Scottish football is the dazzling derby double he netted in a 5-1 victory over Rangers in November 1998. A performance that came shortly after he had arrived at Celtic as a supposedly washed up 33-year-old.
The impact I remember resulted from us meeting for an interview in a Glasgow hotel days later, conducted through a French interpreter. As a gentle opener, I jokingly asked him how he felt about going from zero to hero in a matter of days. He became animated and barked a response at the interpreter. What was that all about, I asked? “He said to tell you he was never a zero,” she replied.
The Slovakian was accorded demi-god status for his contribution to the success in the Martin O’Neill years. It came after two difficult seasons, first under countryman “Mr Venglos”, as he still calls Jozef Venglos, and then John Barnes. And for all the perceptions of him now, Moravick recalls now how the Celtic supporters treated him and his team-mates as less than zero following their infamous Scottish Cup loss to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 2000.
The frontage of Celtic Park in recent weeks has borne witness to vicious protests in which Neil Lennon, his players and the board have been turned on by seething supporters. That night more than 20 years ago the mood was even more unpleasant, as Ian Wright was racially abused and players were spat on. The fact that a matter of months later everything was rosy in the Celtic garden gives Moravick belief recent disastrous results and divisions can quickly put behind the club.
The impish personality believes “Lenny” and his team “are back” following the recent wins over Kilmarnock and Lille, the first back-to-back wins since October ensuing from the carnage of a run of only two wins in 12 games. He thinks it can set them up for a Scottish Cup final victory over Hearts on Sunday to claim a quadruple treble. In turn that can renew confidence to challenge Rangers’ 13-point Premiership lead in this season for the ages as Celtic pursue a record 10th straight title.
Moravik doesn’t consider the assessment premature when he thinks back on how the club could recover from an evening he considers as bleak as any he experienced in a career that took him from his homeland to France, Germany and then Scotland. Especially as he considers both halves of the Glasgow divide do not have the quality of personnel they had in his time – making Rangers “a team in top form but not a top team”.
‘The sun came out again’
“That Inverness game was probably the toughest of my career. It was a hard night for everyone,” he said. “I’d never had that kind of experience before in my life, including everything that happened after the game. But the next day, the sun came out again. In these situations you have to lift yourself and forget a disappointment as soon as possible. It is possible [for everything to change for them now because of their two wins] because I remember before we played that Inverness game we had a weekend game against Hearts. The original cup tie against Inverness was postponed because of trouble with the roof and so we then played Hearts. First half was 2-0 for us but then we lost 3-2. It was a big disappointment because until that game we had won virtually every week and felt good. But then after that we played the rearranged game against Inverness and, of course, we lost again. If we’d played Inverness when it was planned I think we would’ve won. But then we lost to Hearts and that set us back. It affected us for the follow up Inverness game. So, that was two games.”
And Moravick believes Celtic players can quickly accept the sunnier side of their faithful, however much abuse the extremists have rained down on them lately. “The Celtic fans are possibly one of the best in football,” he said. “But they can also be among the most emotional supporters after defeats or disappointments … for Celtic fans, though, the team is very important – whether things are good or bad. They always show their emotions; they can be angry, they can be extremely happy or sad.
“I understand it all, though, because I appreciate how proud the Celtic fans are of the team and how much they want the players to do well. For them, Celtic is very important in their lives. Maybe it’s not quite as deep a feeling for other fans. I they are happy again because Celtic have won two games. Their reaction before is because they’ve been unhappy with results and performances. It is football, a lot is about emotion. Now, after the recent victories, I hope the fans can forgive and forget.”
Lennon conceded following the Kilmarnock win that so much more will have to be achieved on the pitch by his team for a section of the support to drop their opposition to the Irishman remaining in charge. Moravick doesn’t take the easy way out when asked if Lennon is the man to revive Celtic’s league fortunes. Only the derby in Ibrox is likely to reveal whether he is capable of that.
“It’s difficult to judge when somebody is your friend,” said Moravick. “I cross my fingers for him that the final will be a success and then he can go and win the next three games in the league. Win them all – and two are at home and one at Hamilton – and it’s good preparation for the crucial game against Rangers. It’s a short target and what comes after that nobody knows. First of all they need to be successful on Sunday and continue this run. But the crucial moment is January 2. Celtic are not in Europe now and the target has to be to win the league.”
* Lubo Moravcik was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.
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