Matt O’Riley opened up at the Celtic Fan Media Conference last week about his wish to represent Denmark at international level, rather than the other options that would be open to him, if selected, for either England or Norway. Things has snowballed since that conversation and in now looks like the Celtic midfielder is going to get his wish via a call-up for the Danish Under 21s.
The Denmark Assistant Manager is of course a former Celtic midfielder himself and Morten Wieghorst was at Celtic Park on Thursday night to cast a critical eye over O’Riley. ‘Big Greenock’ even admitted that he’s been watching the former MK Dons star in action in all of his games For Celtic so far and certainly has been impressed with what he’s seen, just like the rest of us really.
O’Riley waved the Danish flag saying as reported by Scottish Sun: “If Denmark called me up now I would be very honoured indeed. It’s a World Cup year and that’s definitely an aim in the back of my head, I’ll be honest.
“Some people would say it’s a long shot, but at the same time I’m playing for Celtic, and hopefully next season we’ll be in the Champions League. That would also get me recognition to help get me on to the international stage.
“I’m going to take it game-by-game and see what happens. I’ve already spoken to the coach on the phone — he’s a nice guy and I’ll be speaking with them again to see what the plan is. They have a very strong side. Denmark showed that at the Euros and in the World Cup qualifiers. But I can only take it game-by-game here and hopefully the rest takes care of itself.
“I’m half-Danish, as my mum’s from Denmark and I like the country. I can speak a decent amount of the language, and can understand it pretty well. I’ve been over a few times to see family I’m close with. They are from just outside Copenhagen, which is a really nice place. I’ve spent a lot of time there in the summer and really enjoy it.
“My mum’s dad is Norwegian so I could play for Norway too — as well as England — but I wouldn’t say that I feel Norwegian very much.”
O’Riley is a young man who seems to have a clear eye for what he wants to achieve in the game and is taking all the correct decisions to allow his ambitions to be realised. “As people know, I took a step back to take a step forward when I left Fulham and went to MK Dons. So although it might have looked like a big jump when I came to Celtic, I felt like I was ready. I’ve always felt like I can play at a higher level, which hopefully with Celtic will mean the Champions League — that’s the aim.
“So no, I’m not surprised in my own performances, or how I’ve fitted in. I could have done better last Thursday night, but although there’s always stuff to improve on, I don’t think I was awful. The good thing is I’ve had quite a lot of experiences at a young age.
“When I made my debut for Fulham in the Championship, I came on as a sub then got taken off again, which wasn’t the nicest of experiences. Worse still, it was against Reading, the team that I supported, although not any more after that! But these things make you stronger and to be honest, I don’t think much fazes me any more.
“I like challenges and that’s why I’m here. I try to show that on the pitch, I try to be brave and show for the ball. I’m not really scared to make mistakes — I made a few last Thursday — but I keep trying and that’s all you can do, just try to keep improving.”
The defeat to Bodo/Glimt repeatedly comes up and you get the feeling that the Celtic players aren’t quite ready to concede anything just yet to the Norwegian Champions who celebrated like they had won the trophy at the final whistle, this was noted by the Celtic boys.
“Although Europe was another step up, it didn’t faze me. It was just another game. I felt comfortable, we just lacked a bit of quality going forward, myself included. But you can’t be perfect every week … you just try and put it right next time.
“We know there are different challenges in each competition, and last Thursday was probably more open than the games we have been used to. Come the Dundee game, we might find they sit off a bit more and make us try and break them down. We play at such a high intensity we need a big squad.
“That’s why a really good player like Tom Rogic has to come off after 70 minutes, because it’s hard to maintain the levels demanded of us for 90 minutes in every game. It’s good we have the depth to be able to make those changes, which is really positive. The way we play and train is different to what I’ve been used to.
“It’s non-stop, to be honest. But I enjoy the football, so I don’t mind the running at all.”
Morten Wieghorst is clearly loving the excuse that the Matt O’Riley signing has given him to make his own homecoming trips to Paradise to watch his old team play. Here’s his assessment of O’Riley’s showing in the 3-1 defeat to the Norwegian Champions on Thursday night.
“Bodo made it difficult for Celtic and Matt, but he showed in glimpses that he’s got a very good left foot. O’Riley is good on the ball with good vision, but he and the team definitely had a difficult night.
“I’m so glad he’s at Celtic. There’s no better place to be. He’s playing under pressure here. There are expectations, and when things are not going as well as expected the fans will let the players know it’s below par. That’s the way it is playing for a big team and it will serve Matt well. He’s come to a much higher level, giving him a higher profile, playing in front of 60,000 — and hopefully playing in Europe for longer than this tie.
“I was made aware of his availability for Denmark when he moved from Milton Keynes, but people in the system have been aware since he was at Under-16 level. I’ve watched all his Celtic games so far and he’s done well. He looks composed, he sees passes and he got his first goal the other week.
“First and foremost, Matt has to make up his mind whether he wants to go with Denmark. The decision’s not been made, but we’ll wait and see what he decides. All I’ll say is O’Riley definitely has the ability to be in contention to play for the Under-21s, and then we’ll take it from there.
“The No. 1 thing is the player’s heart has to be in it — let’s hope the Celtic connection helps!”