Revealed – Erik Sviatchenko on Hogmanay win at Ibrox and his conversations with Brendan Rodgers

THIS WEEK we have been running Matt Corr’s exclusive interview with former Celtic Star Erik Sviatchenko. You can catch up with parts 1 & 2 of the interview from Monday and Tuesday evenings using the links below.

Erik wrote a brilliant foreword for Matt’s book Invincible and has been more than happy to talk about his time at Celtic. The first to instalments were a decent read but this evening and again tomorrow night things gets really interesting. Let’s hand over to Matt talking to the Invincible star Erik Sviatchenko…

Erik Sviatchenko interview with Matt Corr – Part 3

Matt Corr – You returned to Midtjylland on loan, Erik, following the injury you received early the following season, with that then becoming a permanent move in the spring of 2018. What were the main factors in your decision to stay in Denmark?

Erik Sviatchenko – I had two amazing years prior to returning to Denmark. The entire year of 2016 was amazing, those months with Ronny and then Brendan Rodgers came in.

I think there is sometimes a misunderstanding about what Brendan thought about me as a player. That perhaps I wasn’t his kind of player? That’s not actually true.

We were really close to each other. We were in Slovenia, pre-season, when he came over to me and said, “I’ve seen you play. I want to build the team around you.” He gave me really good indicators as to how I could develop, with and without the ball. I couldn’t have asked for more. He pushed me. Made me a Champions League player. I was in the side which won the League Cup against Aberdeen. I played something like 46 games that season.

Then it changed in January 2017. I hadn’t been fully fit but we had played 8 or 9 games in December. A really hectic schedule. But I was playing well. I had scored against Ross County just a few days before the game at Ibrox on Hogmanay.

Some people said I was at fault for the first goal that day but I made a tackle in the 85th minute which was vital in securing the win. That was as important as a goal in many ways. The first game after the break was a Scottish Cup-tie, away to Albion Rovers. I had a yellow card suspension carried forward from that game against Rangers at Hampden the previous season. Dedryk (Boyata) came in for that game. He had only made one appearance previously under Brendan, a night match at Kilmarnock. Brendan put his arm around me and said, “Everything will be fine.”

Dedryk played really well but again Brendan said, “Don’t worry.” Then, for the first League game, against St Johnstone, I was on the bench. I thought, ‘That’s weird.’ Now as I reflect and look back, I would sit out much of the next three or four games, as Dedryk and Jozo started together.

Dedryk actually scored a couple of match-winning goals in midweek games at Celtic Park at that time. I am not the kind of player to make scenes when I don’t start. This is just part of football. And then we were in the Dakota Hotel before the game against St Johnstone in Perth at the beginning of February, when I learned that Jozo had suffered a groin injury.

You never want to see a teammate injured but in football sometimes, sadly, that is where the opportunities arise, so there is something in the back of your mind which says, ‘This is my chance.’ Anyway, Brendan comes to me and says, “Erik, you’re starting.”

I played well in that 5-2 victory and I was in the team again the next week (a 6-0 home win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup) but then I was back on the bench for the next game, against Motherwell, and Jozo played. But only for one game. The following week, I was back in the team as Brendan made a few changes for the Hamilton game and many folk thought I was the man-of-the-match that day. I was sitting on a bike in the gym just after that when Brendan walked in and said, “This is the way I want you to play.”

I stayed in the team which played at Inverness and in a 4-1 win over St Mirren in the Scottish Cup, when Chris Sutton’s brother played against us. And I also started the following week against Rangers at home in a 1-1 draw. They attacked us from the first minute but we still tried to play our game. I played an ok game. So I had been a virtual ever-present in the team all the way through February until the international break in mid-March but then I was third choice after that. I would get a game against the likes of Partick Thistle and Ross County, when the squad was rotated. Otherwise, I was on the bench.

In the summer, we were at our training camp in Austria when Dedryk got injured and I came on for him. Brendan spoke with me, telling me that he knew what kind of level I could reach. This was my time. But I had a groin strain for 7-10 days pre-season, prior to the qualifiers, then, in the away game at Rosenborg, I was injured after 25 minutes. It was an MCL (medial collateral ligament) injury, so I was out for three months, basically August, September and half of October.

Dedryk was playing really well at that time. I really wanted to be playing again, to show what I could do but that opportunity never came. To end those two amazing years with an injury was a bit of a blow. I felt really sad that I never had the chance to say farewell to the Celtic supporters. But now that’s all in the past. I have so many amazing memories of all the good stuff instead.

In January 2018, we were at our training camp in Dubai. I guess I had realised by then that Brendan would never change a winning team. I knew I had to have game time. It was a really difficult call. I wanted to show myself again and needed games to do so. Midtjylland was the right choice at that moment.

I had a really successful six months back at Midtjylland. They knew me. What I was capable of. That was a really important factor. It was a safe choice but the right choice. We won the title again and I felt I was getting back to a level of performance that I was satisfied with. I was captain and one of the most important players. Would that be the level I would be going back to at Celtic? Or would I be third or fourth choice? All those feelings.

I would love for the Celtic fans to see how I’m playing now, because I know and feel that I’ve become even better than I was back in Glasgow. We won the championship again in 2018 and the Danish Cup the following year, and we were leading the League last season until the last 10 games but lost our breath a bit.

This season though, we have been outstanding so far, conceding only 18 goals. And personally, it has been nice to hear my name get mentioned when folk speak about their Player of the Year. So, on a personal level, I couldn’t have dreamed or asked for more, having started here as a 14-year-old.

Matt Corr – Midtjylland are currently top of the Danish Superliga, an impressive 12 points clear of FC Copenhagen, who we at Celtic are trying desperately to forget about, following the recent tie between the teams (albeit we did enjoy a couple of brilliant days in Copenhagen itself!). As a champion in both countries, you are in a unique position to compare and contrast the standards in Denmark and Scotland. What are your thoughts in that regard?

Erik Sviatchenko – The biggest difference for me is the fans. Not just Celtic but all other clubs enjoy lots of support. Hibs, Hearts and Aberdeen. Motherwell, Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle. It’s amazing to see. Football is a massive thing. The ‘identity thing’ is much more pronounced in Scotland.

If I was to compare, then I would say that you live like Celtic supporters. Everything revolves around it. That is something unique, which you don’t see in Denmark.

Level-wise? Quite similar for me. Midtjylland and Copenhagen are certainly up there with your top teams, although you have more spending power than Danish clubs. Wage-wise you can’t compare. The salaries are much bigger in Scotland, although in saying that, I believe there is a huge gap between what Celtic and say, Aberdeen, would pay players.

A team like Celtic relies on a lot of individual quality, whereas I think sides in Denmark are tactically strong in general. You mentioned that recent European tie. I thought that Copenhagen played that game in Glasgow really well. They were co-ordinated and kept the game really close. It is really difficult to compare Leagues. For me, it is all about how well you adapt. I adapted to the Scottish game when I played for Celtic and then had to do so again when I returned to Denmark.

The concluding part of Matt’s interview with Erik Sviatchenko will be published on Thursday evening on The Celtic Star.

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds 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

Comments are closed.