MAKING an early exit from the World Cup finals is not a new experience for Gordon Strachan, having been part of the Scotland squads who perished in the group stages of the 1982 and 1986 tournaments, but as he returned to his Parkhead desk yesterday the Celtic manager did so of his own volition.
Strachan called time on his stint as one of BBC TV pundits in Germany to start preparations for the new season in earnest, completing the signing of highly- regarded Czech international midfielder Jiri Jarosik from Chelsea on a profitable first day back at work.
The 28-year-old, who spent last season on loan at Birmingham City, has signed a three-year contract with Celtic who have the option of a fourth year. The fee is believed to be in the region of 2 million.
Jarosik is Strachan's fourth addition to his squad for the new season, following the Bosman captures of Kenny Miller, Gary Caldwell and Derek Riordan. The recruitment drive continued last night when Evander Sno, the 19-year-old Feyenoord defender, underwent a medical in Glasgow and is expected to complete a 250,000 move today.
Strachan revealed he would like to make at least two more major signings to meet the kind of playing resources he feels will be required to cope with both the defence of the SPL title and Champions League group stage. "We generally played 4-4-2 for all of last season," said Strachan, "but the longer we stay in the Champions League this season, the more we will have to think of different systems. In that regard, I'm delighted to get Jiri because he is a player with a bit of everything who has the natural intelligence to play in different positions.
"Some of the other new signings are younger lads who we will work on, but Jiri is very experienced at the highest level. I wasn't always optimistic we would get him because of the transfer fee but we managed to work our way around that, which is fantastic."
The 6ft 4ins Jarosik, capped 23 times by the Czech Republic, first came to the attention of Scottish football followers with his outstanding displays for CSKA Moscow when the Russians eliminated Rangers from the Champions League in the third qualifying round two years ago.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho snapped him up for 3 million in January 2005, but while he made enough appearances to collect a Premiership winners' medal at Stamford Bridge in his first half season, he was deemed surplus to requirements last year and loaned to Birmingham.
Although Jarosik was unable to prevent Steve Bruce's side being relegated, his eye-catching displays and eight goals from central midfield caught the eye of several clubs, but opted for Celtic. "I know this is a big club," said Jarosik, "and I want to play Champions League football every year, so that was important for me. I spoke to Chris Sutton at Birmingham about Celtic and he was very positive about them. I have championship medals from the Czech Republic, Russia and England, and now I want to win one in Scotland.
"It was difficult for me at Chelsea, because it is not so easy to get regular first team football, but Jose Mourinho understood I needed to play every week and he has wished me good luck with Celtic."
Jarosik expressed the hope that he will be joined at Parkhead by his compatriot Michal Kadlec, the 21-year-old left-back Celtic are attempting to sign from Sparta Prague.
Strachan, meanwhile, insisted Jarosik is not necessarily a straight replacement for Bulgarian midfielder Stilian Petrov who has asked Celtic for a transfer.
"We have had no enquiries for Stilian," said Strachan, "and he is due back on Friday for pre-season training. I see no reason why he should not be part of the team. His transfer request has made no difference."
Strachan also expressed his continuing confidence that captain Neil Lennon will sign a new contract, despite claims the Ulsterman is unhappy with the reduced terms on offer.
John Hartson was one of several players to report back yesterday, but the Welsh international striker has been given permission by Celtic to speak to West Bromwich Albion and it seems clear Strachan is content to offload him.