THERE would seem to be little for Daniel Majstorovic to look forward to right now. He is out of the impending European Championship finals with a cruciate injury.
He is out of contract at Celtic in the summer, with a new deal unlikely to be forthcoming. And stretching out in front of him are the very advanced stages of his career as a professional footballer, with the Swedish centre-back turning 35 today.
Majstorovic, though, refuses to see the knee ligament rupture he suffered in a freak training-ground collision while with the Swedish national side in Croatia five weeks ago as having wrecked his last hope of playing for his country in a major tournament. Even with five months rehabilitation ahead of him, the fearsome-looking stopper is daring to look beyond the Poland and Ukraine jamboree and towards the possibility of a Brazilian carnival to crown his, thus far, 48-cap international career.
“I’m thinking about 2014 and the World Cup in Brazil. That’s a big one,” he said at Lennoxtown yesterday. “Who knows if that’s realistic but it’s something I’m thinking about. I was in the squad for the last Euros. I was a sub in those games. But I can’t change what’s happened. I can’t go back in time so I just need to look forward.”
Majstorovic maintains he never considered his playing days might be over when he learned the extent of the damage after a “crazy” stroke of bad luck for the second time this season – the incident occurring not long after the defender had made his way back from a cheekbone fracture suffered against St Johnstone in December.
“It was just like the situation with my cheek. It just happened,” says the player. What happened was that, in the last minute of training on a “s*** pitch” in Croatia the day before our game. Zlatan Ibrahimovic pushed Anders Svensson, and the midfielder fell on to Majstorovic’s knee “with all his weight”.
I didn’t really know straight away there was a problem. I felt my knee come in but my first instinct was to get up and see if I could stay up. I walked to the doctor and told him something had happened in my knee. He asked if I could walk OK, which I could. Because of that he didn’t understand what had happened but both my ligaments were gone.
“As soon as he realised the cruciate was gone, we went to the hospital. I never considered my career was over. The only thing I thought was: ‘S***, I will miss the Euros’. It was a sad moment for me. A lot of things went through my mind. It was hard because it was something I worked hard on for a long time.
Majstorovic says he feels “so good” and is “still so hungry” that he is “fully confident” he will return to the same level.
“I know my body; I am a fighter who wants to work,” he states. Barring any reactions, he is targeting being fully fit again “after the summer”. He is naturally circumspect about whether he will be a Celtic player by then.
“There’s been a lot of talk about my future,” Majstorovic says. “I need to respect that situation. My only priority is having good rehab, then we will see what the situation is. I think both parties want to wait until I am fit before we talk about the future. Right now the only thing on our minds is to win the league. That’s the priority.”
It will arrive is Celtic take a point at Kilmarnock on Saturday. When the championship is confirmed, it will bring up a notable hat-trick for a player often unfairly maligned. His questionable mobility and decision-making mean he has had a number of moments to forget in his two years in Glasgow. Yet, he was having many more moments to relish when his cheekbone caved in like cardboard after meeting the head of David Robertson in Perth, as Celtic were on their way to claiming a seventh-straight league win.
He said he felt the he was “in the form of his life” and he was a central player as Celtic turned around their title fortunes. With 17 league appearances, he will be a deserving recipient of a league winners’ medal to add to those earned with Malmo and Basel. No player claims championships in three countries and 48 caps for a nation that regularly qualifies for major finals without being of a good standard – even if the Scottish media and public choose to set them up as an Aunt Sally.
But for a late slip, Majstorovic could have been looking at two titles as his haul. The year delay makes this one all the more special. “I’ve enjoyed all my time here. Every time I step out in training, every time I play a game,” he says.
“Last year we won the cup, this year we have a chance of doing the double. Winning the league would be very special after what happened last year. It would be a massive moment for us all. This group has been working hard for two years. I think we will really deserve it, especially when you think of our start and how far behind we were. We really believed in the spirit and the quality of this group. We’ve grown together and believed in our qualities.”