Return of an INVINCIBLE…I usually ignore the transfer speculation around Celtic. Particularly, at this time of the year, where it feels like open season, with all sorts of names being thrown in there. I usually reserve any comment until a deal is done and dusted.
One name which did catch my eye though was Erik Sviatchenko. I’ve seen his return suggested in a few different places now, over the past week or so. And Celts being drawn against Erik’s current club, FC Midtjylland, in the opening Champions League qualifying tie next month has no doubt generated additional interest amongst Hoops supporters.
Full disclosure. I took a liking to big Erik when he first arrived at Celtic Park, back in early 2016. Pre-Brendan Rodgers. I liked the cut of his jib. His whole-hearted approach to defending and the attacking threat he provided in the opposition box. Fairly early on, I thought he had the makings of a potential Celtic captain, and I recall mentioning that to my kids at the time. And I had the pleasure of interviewing him last summer, when he kindly wrote the foreword for my debut Celtic book, INVINCIBLE.
I found Erik articulate, good-humoured and passionate about his time at Celtic. He got us. Big time. Always an endearing trait to me. Perhaps also a suggestion of unfinished business for him at Celtic. That was my take on it anyway…
But what would Erik Sviatchenko bring to us on the park? Does a return to Celtic make sense?
Taking a step back to look at things objectively, what do we find? At 29, Erik is probably now in his peak years as an experienced central defender. With the exception of his two-year spell in Glasgow, he has spent his entire professional career at FC Midtjylland, a pivotal component and club captain in the most successful period in the club’s history. It was there he became an international player with Denmark, scoring for his country against France in Copenhagen in the autumn of 2015, shortly before joining Celtic, as FCM won its first-ever national title.
After winning two successive Scottish titles at Celtic, Erik suffered an injury in a Champions League qualifier in Trondheim, which saw him lose his first-team slot under Brendan Rodgers. Sviatchenko returned to Midtjylland, helping his team reclaim the Danish crown in May 2018. The Wolves repeated the feat two years later, whilst finishing runner’s up in the seasons either side of that. Winning is now a habit for the club from central Jutland.
European football is also the staple diet of the big Dane. Progression through a tough Europa League group in the autumn of 2015 saw FC Midtjylland qualify with Napoli at the expense of Club Brugge and Legia Warsaw. Erik would join Celtic before the reward for that successful campaign saw the club face Manchester United in the Round of 32, the English giants beaten 2-1 in Denmark but qualifying comfortably after a 5-1 win at Old Trafford.
Malmo and theRangers ended European hopes on Erik’s return to Denmark, however, last season saw FC Midtjylland successfully come through three tough qualifiers to make the Champions League group stages. Ludogorets were beaten in Bulgaria, before both Young Boys of Berne and Slavia Prague were handed three-goal defeats in the MCH Arena.
The group draw could certainly have been kinder, as the Danes were paired with European giants Liverpool and Ajax and the high-scoring Italians Atalanta. Midtjylland performed admirably, though, drawing in Bergamo and again at home to Liverpool, before exiting continental competition for another season. Their next opponents will of course be another former European champion in Celtic.
We currently find ourselves a club in transition, with some uncertainty around which players will be staying on or coming in just a matter of weeks before that vital first qualifier. One of the great risks of the transfer market is the ability of players to settle quickly. “Hit the ground running,” is an expression I hear frequently. I guess that an experienced international player, a born leader who knows the club, the city and what it means to wear those Hoops would present much less of a risk in that regard. Certainly, worthy of consideration in my opinion.
In my role as a stadium tour guide at Celtic Park, I have the pleasure of meeting supporters from other teams from all over the world. One of the real joys of the job. One such fan is Claus Amer. He perhaps won’t appreciate me using the term ‘superfan’ to describe him, but sometimes it is better to apologise than ask! Claus is a FC Midtjylland superfan.
I asked Claus for his take on Erik’s performances over recent seasons and the possibility of his return to Celtic.
Here is his response.
“Hey Matt. I think Erik is a great leader on the pitch and in the locker room. Great in the air on set pieces, strong as a rock in defence.
“He is not a player you just push, and he falls. In my opinion, he has improved his ball skills since returning from Celtic, and I think he improves his defensive partners because of his leadership.
“You could say that that his most recent partner – Alexander Scholz – was ‘better already.’ In my opinion, Erik and Alexander were the best central defensive partnership in FC Midtjylland’s history.
“We have just sold Scholz to Japan. Erik is also from our own academy, and that makes us proud. In the 2019/20 season, he was named Player of the Year by the Players’ Association in Denmark. There are some younger players ahead of him in national team selection at the moment, such as Andreas Christensen of Chelsea, but perhaps if Erik goes abroad again this summer, he can reclaim his spot.”
So, there you have it. Some food for thought, perhaps.
I’ll leave you with the words of Erik Sviatchenko from last summer, now strangely prophetic, however things work out over the coming weeks.
“My message to the Celtic fans? I’ll always be listening and looking out for Celtic. In my dreams, it would be amazing to one day play at Celtic Park again. Whether it’s going to be as a Midtjylland player, a Celtic player or even for a third club, you never know. No-one knows what happens in football. Let’s just see what happens in future.
For now, I’m just proud to have been a big part of that great club!”
Follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue