Celtic v Sparta Prague – Israeli Covid casualty Nir Bitton calls for suspension of International football

Nir Bitton put country before club last month when he went ahead and played for Israel in the game against Scotland then just as he was about to face up to Neil Lennon he went down with coronavirus. The popular Celtic utility man was completely floored by the virus for around a week and  yesterday, ahead of the Europa League match this evening against Sparta Prague at Celtic Park, he spoke to the media at Celtic’s pre match Media Conference about the impact COVID-19 had on him personally.

“I’m back to normal now, but it was difficult during those first few days after being diagnosed,” Nir Bitton admitted . “No one really knows how Covid is going to affect you. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how fit you are

“I woke up in the hotel after the Scotland game with no sense of taste or smell. I went for a test and the result came back positive.

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“I was just thinking I was unlucky, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Later that night it was coming at me from everywhere. I had a fever, my muscles hurt, my head was sore and it hit me really hard. It lasted about three or four days then I slowly started getting back to normal and now, thankfully, I feel much better.

“Before I got the virus I really under-estimated it. But now I have completely changed my mind. It’s important to be sensible and do what the government asks us to do. The virus can barely affect you,  or it can hit you very hard. But you don’t want anything to happen to your parents or grandparents. That is the most important thing.”

Ironically enough, having put international commitments ahead of his club to play against Scotland, Bitton is now a convert to the cause that international football should be set aside for the foreseeable future due to the risks of infection from COVID-19. Most Celtic fans already were arguing this case before Bitton caught the virus himself but having gone through it himself he now gets it.

“It’s almost impossible to control this virus when you go away with your national team. You mix with a lot of players from different countries and different bubbles.

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“I was really unlucky to get Covid, but I did and I’m just looking forward to playing football again. This thing is new for everyone and that is why we all have to follow the protocols — no matter how fit you are.

“In the first few days you need to get tests on your heart, your bloods and such things to see how it’s affecting you. I wouldn’t say it was scary, but you know what happens at the beginning of the virus, yet you don’t know how it’s going to end. You are going into the unknown, but I’m happy it’s behind me now.”

“If it was my decision, I would cancel international football. But it’s not my decision. There is nothing I can do about it. Since I came back to Celtic last June we have been in a bubble. We are not allowed to go to restaurants. We are not allowed to have people in the house.

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“We have been in small circle for four or five months already. Then you go away with the national team and you are mixed up with a lot of players from different countries. You don’t know where they have been. That’s why it is quite impossible to control it at international level. And you need to be lucky not to catch coronavirus.”

To be clear it’s international matches that Bitton reckons should be cancelled, club football in European competitions, such as the Europa League, is fine as the players remain within their bubbles, travel on private planes and the club’s bubble is protected to ensure safety.

“This is nothing to be concerned about. We are still in the same bubble. We fly in our private jet to away games. We don’t mix with others.

“To absolutely prevent this virus from getting you is almost impossible. You can get it in the supermarket, you can get it in the house, from your kids going to nursery. What you can do is be sensible and try to minimise the risk of getting it.”

Looking ahead to this evening’s must win game for Celtic against Sparta Prague, Bitton accepts that there are now no hiding places in this group, with probably two wins home and away over the Czechs being required if Celtic are to get back into the mix for a 2 from 3 fight for group H qualification.

“It’s a very important match for us. We lost the first game against Milan and drew against Lille, which was not a bad result. But we know if we want to qualify from the group we need maximum points from the home games. We need to beat Sparta, we can’t hide from that.”

Watch Nir Bitton’s Media Conference below…

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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