AFTER scoring goals in successive outings, hopes are high among Celtic supporters that Stefan Scepovic is beginning to live up to the hype – and drama – that surrounded his signing.
It looked increasingly likely that the club were going to miss out on the Serbian striker after he was reported to be on the verge of sealing a deal with Getafe as the transfer deadline drew nearer. This would have meant him remaining in Spain, where he had started to settle after signing for Second Division club Sporting Gijon.
But Celtic’s persistence prevailed. Talks broke down with Getafe, and Scepovic’s proposed £2.3 million move to Celtic was resuscitated. Rather than taking on Spanish champions Atletico Madrid for Getafe at the weekend, Scepovic was scoring in Celtic’s 2-0 win over Kilmarnock at a rain-drenched Celtic Park.
Tonight he has Partick Thistle in his sights as Celtic host their Glasgow neighbours in a League Cup quarter-final tie. It is not quite El Clasico, which Scepovic watched unfold on television at the weekend. He might have been taking on the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona had the move to Getafe worked out.
Does he have any regrets about being unable to test himself against Ronaldo and Lionel Messi? Can Lennoxtown in the rain offer a rival attraction? On the subject of the miserable weather, Scepovic just shrugged. “For me it is not a problem. When I was in Spain I was living in the north so it is almost the same,” he said.
As for high-profile games against Ronaldo et al, he added: “Of course it’s nice when you play against those kind of players. But why not do it with Celtic in the Champions League next year? Everyone at the club wants Celtic in the Champions League and why not?”
Scepovic is confident that his ambitions can be satisfied with Celtic. He is clearly interested in settling somewhere for a period of time after a nomadic existence since leaving Serbia as a teenager to play in Italy.
This is in contrast to his football-playing father Sladan, who remained in Yugoslavia until his late 20s, whereupon he joined the Cypriot club Apollon Limassol, before ending his career in Spain with CP Merida.
Sladan Scepovic is, of course, well remembered for scoring the decisive goal 25 years ago for Partizan Belgrade that knocked Celtic out of the Cup Winners’ Cup on the away goal rule, after the tie finished 6-6 on aggregate.
Domestic football was stronger in the days of the old Yugoslavia, meaning players could leave their mark on the European stage despite not leaving the country. But then leaving was not even an option.
“It was different in my father’s day,” explained Scepovic. “It was the rule in the former Yugoslavia that you could not leave the country until you were 27 years old. That was reduced to 26 and then 15.
“You get more experience when you go out of the country and every club in Serbia loses about seven young players. Some players take their chance when they leave the country, some players take their time. I have said I would take a little time to adapt to the football here but I really believe in myself and I can do a lot better.”
At the age of only 24, Scepovic has already played for 11 clubs, many of whom while on loan. He wants to establish himself at Celtic. Following goals against Astra Giurgiu and Kilmarnock after six unproductive appearances, he has begun to do so.
Scepovic could be the striker Celtic have been crying out for after the failure of several signings from the continent to make their mark at the club. He hopes to continue flourishing in tandem with on-loan Manchester City striker John Guidetti, whose recent burst of goals had placed a degree of pressure on Scepovic to come good. “I said that I would need time to adapt to the football here and I am really training hard,” he said. “The manager and every one of my team-mates are helping me to adapt quickly.”
After starting in his first two games, Scepovic valued being able to watch Celtic from the bench as he worked out how the team preferred to play, which he describes as a “pressing style”. Communication is not one of the difficulties he has encountered. Scepovic’s English is improving already. He is used to this life by now, having moved to Sampdoria on loan so early in his career. Since then he has played in Belgium and Israel, as well as Spain and Italy.
“Yes it was difficult at first,” he conceded. “I remember in the first one or two months [in Italy] there was one other Serbian player there, and he helped me a lot. It became a bit easier the second and third time I was away. Now it is normal.”