Paul Lambert looked back on what might have been in Seville in May 2003 before considering the current crop of Celtic stars’ chances on the club’s return to the city for the first time since that UEFA Cup Final almost two decades ago.
The painful memories of losing so unluckily to a very decent Porto side still hasn’t faded after all these years – have you even watched it back? No me neither. But it’s the game on Thursday night were the new chapter in the Celtic story can be written by Ange Postecoglou’s players, Lambert believes.
“On these kind of nights, it’s when the big players step up and step forwards. I’m pretty sure that’s what will happen on Thursday in Seville,” the former Celtic captain said to Gareth Law at Scottish Sun. “Joe Hart has been through it before and there’s the likes of Callum McGregor who’s a national team player and has been through it. Cameron Carter-Vickers has played in big games down south and knows all about it as well.
“It’s about those bigger players having the ability to keep a cool head on things when you go into games like this one. It will be a hell of a tough game going to Betis. It will be a hell of a tough group as well. But at the same time it will be great for Celtic to be a part of it,” the former skipper added.
Lambert is half of the bill when he joins his former Celtic teammate Neil Lennon on the stage at a forthcoming event, which should be lively to say the least. But it’s clear that having had his own ups and downs in football management he’s going to have sympathy for his pal after the way last season panned out but that doesn’t stop him marvelling at the job that Ange Postecoglou has done at the club and continues to do.
“I think the manager has been brilliant, I really do. He’s handled the club so well in the way he’s done things and he’s been a breath of fresh air with the way he’s gone about the job. Before last season this club had had nine years of winning pretty much everything.
“There’s been that transitional period when last year things didn’t go their way. But they will come back again and if they start winning trophies he’ll love it here. I think it’s just about having time now,” Lambert noted.
The hardest part of this season was always going to be at the start when the squad was still being assembled as the games started coming thick and fast. We 12 players now signed and bedding in the next period from here to the end of the year should see Celtic settle down into the playing style that the manager has brought to the club, and incidentally it’s one that we saw something similar from AZ Alkmaar and we’ll see on Thursday night against Real Betis, although hopefully their legs will be heavy after their tough La Liga game against Granada last night.
“The good thing is Celtic are up there in the league and only three points behind (the)Rangers, which is nothing. It’s still so early in the season too. One of their best players in Kyogo Furuhashi isn’t fit, some guys are making their debuts and you could see them taking cramp against Ross County, which is normal.
“I thought Carter-Vickers was excellent and he’ll get better with time as well. Hart has made a big difference as well with the sorts of saves he’s made. The club has been through a lot of transition, but there’s a lot of good stuff out there for Celtic right now.”
Lambert’s role in Martin O’Neill’s team, position the park and in wearing the armband is these days the remit of Callum McGregor and Lambert can help but be impressed by the current Celtic captain. “The skipper, McGregor, keeps on getting better every time I see him. I thought he looked a bit tired against Ross County after being away with Scotland, but that kind of thing is normal.
“David Turnbull was maybe a bit quiet in that match, but when I have seen him he looks a goal threat, without a doubt. They have also got James McCarthy to come off the bench as well. I think the midfield is the strongest part of the team. Going forward they look exciting at times too. Kyogo, when he comes back, will make a hell of a difference again. He really showed his quality before he got injured.”