There seem to be no limits to what Scott Sinclair can achieve this season. And the Celtic winger isn’t in a rush to set any. Named the Scottish Football Writers’ player of the year, the 28-year-old became the first Englishman to land this honour since Paul Gascoigne 21 years ago.
Gascoigne was the player that Scottish football used to pinch itself at having been able to attract. Until, that is, Henrik Larsson graced these shores for seven years from 1997. The Swede became a Celtic totem of greatness in the modern age second only to the Lisbon Lions, currently being commemorated for the 50th anniversary of their European Cup win.
Larsson’s feats under the stewardship of Martin O’Neill set the early 2000s as the benchmark for Celtic in the post-Lions era. Now Sinclair is willing to venture that a new gold standard could be forged across the coming week.
If Celtic avoid defeat in their final league game at home to Hearts this afternoon and complete the treble with victory over Aberdeen in next Saturday’s Scottish Cup final, the £3.5 million buy from Aston Villa believes it would make for a 47-game domestic unbeaten run that shouldn’t be perceived as a product of powerpuff opposition to Brendan Rodgers’ side but peerless form of the champions.
“It just goes to show how well we have done as a team,” said Sinclair of Celtic’s pursuit of the first defeat-free domestic season in the Scottish game. “It hasn’t been done, an invincible treble, which means something is working in the team and with the manager. We can go back, years and years, and talk about the Larssons and all these big names and they didn’t even do it, so it’s a massive achievement. But we haven’t done it yet, we need to keep going and hopefully I will be talking to you guys and we have made history.”
The Scottish Cup final provides Sinclair with the opportunity to put to rights an unhappy run in such occasions. You could say he has history with cup finals, having never played in a proper one – the 2011 Premiership play-off final against Swansea, in which he netted a hat-trick, doesn’t count – despite three clubs he has been with reaching them.
He “wasn’t there” at Wembley when Manchester City lost the FA Cup final to Wigan in 2013 after a season of non-involvement with the senior side was ended earlier by surgery to a blood clot on his shoulder. Two years later, he was at Wembley for the FA Cup final but this time his role was unused substitute as Aston Villa were thumped 4-0 by Arsenal.
“I knew I wasn’t playing. I played a couple of games leading up to it. It was one of those times as a player you know going into the game, but that’s all behind me now and I have good things to look forward to. When you are not playing every week, it’s different to when you play a massive part. The Swansea promotion, so long ago, was the only sort of big day [I’ve had].”
A hamstring strain against Barcelona is responsible for that because that injury in November counted him out of the 3-0 League Cup final filleting of Aberdeen.
“It was so disappointing to miss that final because it had been so many years since I played in one. I just had to move on from that, keep going and now I look forward to next week. I enjoyed the day anyway because I had played a massive part in the lead-up to the final.”
Celtic and Rodgers have revitalised the on-field existence of Sinclair – as the Irishman did in taking him to Swansea from Chelsea – and in the process also altered perceptions of him off it. His relationship with actress, model and one-time paparazzi favourite Helen Flanagan led to Sinclair being considered as practically an accoutrement within the blingified, WAG world.
While in moving to Glasgow he has hardly escaped a fierce public glare, his award-winning, 25-goal-season exploits with Celtic have allowed the glitzy, glamour aspect of his day-to-day to be set in context.
“It’s always going to be like that, everywhere I go [that people are interested in my relationship]. It gets blown out of proportion when you are not doing so well. They say the celebrity lifestyle when you are not doing so well, but I don’t hear that now because I am doing well on the pitch.
“There’s always going to be pressure. It comes from being a footballer and having a girlfriend who is in the public eye as well.”
Professional pressures have invigorated Sinclair at Celtic. “As soon as I came off the bench [for my debut] and got my [winning] goal at Hearts it’s been non-stop from there,” he said. A transformation in a career that, Swansea apart, had been more stop than start at Chelsea, City and Villa. “I wanted to come and play football and enjoy it again. Not everyone has that mentality. You pick up nice money down there [in England] and people have nice lives.
“It depends on what type of person you are. Whether you are at a big club, it’s great to just get everything back on track. I always knew that Celtic was a massive club. But the intensity of playing in front of 60,000, that’s when it really hits you. You think wow, this is something special. That brings a pressure, the pressure is winning games. Up here we are the best team and we are under pressure to win every games. That’s a good pressure.”
Larsson fed off that for seven years, arriving in Scotland at around the same age and with the same need to find a football home where he was appreciated on the back of a difficult spell in his career.
“I am enjoying every moment of my time here and I’m in no rush to move on,” added Sinclair. “This is the happiest time of my career so far, I can honestly say that, so I don’t need to be looking too far in the future. I concentrate on coming in with a smile on my face and looking forward to playing in the games.” If nothing else, Sinclair certainly wins it hands down in the smile stakes with Larsson.