MIKAEL LUSTIG has started negotiations with Celtic over a new contract as he looks to make up for lost time with the Scottish champions.
The Swedish defender returned to action as a late substitute in Sunday’s 6-0 win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle, four months after undergoing double hip surgery.
Lustig has just one more season remaining on his current contract at Celtic but is optimistic he will be extending his stay with the club to build on the impressive form he displayed in the first half of this campaign.
“I absolutely want to stay longer,” said the 27-year-old. “I really enjoy it here. We have talked a little bit, Celtic want me to stay and I’m happy to stay, so we will see what happens.
“We always speak to each other, but I was focused on getting back to full fitness after the operation before we starting talking about a new contract. But both parties are really positive about it.
“Celtic has been good for me as a player. I was probably in the best form of my career this season before I had to have the hip surgery. I felt in good shape and my football was really good, so I think Celtic have made me a better player.”
Lustig was arguably Celtic’s most effective performer in their generally disappointing Champions League group stage campaign this season and the prospect of further involvement in Europe’s elite club competition is a major factor in his willingness to commit his future to the club. “It’s a really big achievement to reach the group stage,” added Lustig. “It’s getting harder and harder every year with the qualifiers coming so early in the season, but hopefully we can do it again.
“If you look at this season, in our first group game away to AC Milan we created a lot of chances, played really well going forward and had the opportunity to leave the San Siro with three points. But we let in poor goals to lose it and that was the story of the campaign.
“The previous year, when we reached the last 16 of the Champions League, we didn’t create as many opportunities in games but scored goals when we did. It’s those small things that make the difference. We need to improve defensively but I think we can be better in the Champions League next season.
“It’s strange that a team which recently reached the last 16 has to play three qualifying rounds, starting in mid July, but those are the rules and we just need to get on with it. It’s getting harder for teams from the smaller countries to qualify, but the best teams are going to get there and I think we showed in the last two years that we are meant to be there.”
Lustig is also hopeful he will still be with Celtic to see their rivalry with troubled Rangers being restored. He has never featured in an Old Firm fixture since joining from Rosenborg more than two years ago and was stunned at the attendance of 8,000 at Celtic Park on Monday night for the Glasgow Cup final between the clubs’ under-17 teams. “That was unreal,” said Lustig. “I don’t think you’d ever get a crowd like that for an under-17 game back in Sweden. It was a big game for the young players and I’m pleased Celtic won. I’ve never played in an Old Firm game, which is strange for a Celtic player, but I hope I get the chance one day.”
With just three games left of this season for Celtic, Lustig intends to keep working throughout the summer to ensure he recovers optimum fitness and form by the time the Champions League qualifiers kick off on 15 July.
“I feel as if I’ve just gone through four months of pre-season after the surgery,” he said. “I still need to work on my hips and do certain exercises every week. I’ll keep doing these over the vacation and hopefully I’ll be perfect for pre-season.
“It’s nice to be back and feeling part of the team again. It was the longest I’ve been out of action in my career – before this it was just three weeks. It has been tough but I always knew I needed an operation, so I was mentally prepared for it all. After Euro 2012 with Sweden, we started talking about an op on my right hip. I kept playing as long as I could. When I went in for the surgery, I ended up having both hips done. The right side needed it most, but it’s better to do both at the same time, or I might need another spell out in the future to get the left done.
“I still feel it sore in some positions but I’ve been told it might take up to eight months before it is fully ready. But in training, I don’t even think about it and that’s a good sign. I know I need to be a little bit smart about it, in case I put too much strain on things. It’s been up and down, but now everything should be okay.”
Lustig may feel just a little less at home next season following the recent news that his compatriot Johan Mjallby is leaving his role as assistant manager to return for a new challenge back in Sweden. “I’m sad to see Johan go,” said Lustig. “He has been a great help to me and the whole team. If you are a defender especially, and work with him every day in training, it is going to be a big loss.
“I used to look up to him when I was a young player in Sweden. He is a legend in my country and always gave 100 per cent when he was playing for the national team. If you are not doing the same for Celtic on the pitch, you know he is going to be pretty angry. That’s what he puts into the team. I wouldn’t say he was the reason for me signing for Celtic, but of course at the start if was nice to have someone like him from my own country to talk to. It’s hard to say how things will change without him. Ask me that again in a few months and I’ll give you a better answer.”
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
• Email your Scottish football question for the BT Sport panel to answer. The next show will be recorded on May 7 after St Johnstone v Celtic with the video available on The Scotsman website the following day. You can also tweet us @TheScotsman.
A line-up of experts will handle your questions after each BT Sport game. Most match days, the team includes Darrell Currie, Derek Rae and Gary McAllister.
Over this season, BT Sport will air 30 SPFL matches plus 10 Rangers games from the SPFL League One.
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