TO HEAR the views of some English pundits and players, you would think Emilio Izaguirre of Celtic should have been dragged to the Tower and hanged, drawn and quartered for his “attack” on England striker Daniel Sturridge during the pre-World Cup friendly in Miami.
It looked bad, no doubt, as it does any time a player kicks a ball at a stricken opponent, but it was so clearly out of character by Izaguirre that common sense and diplomacy should have prevailed – and it did, at least between the two players themselves.
“The worst thing about the England game in Miami was the incident between myself and Sturridge,” admitted Izaguirre.
“But I apologised many times to him because this is not the type of player I am. I don’t like to hit other players, it’s not my style of game, so that wasn’t nice – we shook hands at the end of the match.”
Izaguirre was more disappointed by the failure of Honduras, who scored only one goal in Group E and finished in last place behind France, Switzerland and Ecuador, who all beat them. He also did not appreciate the criticism of Honduras’ tough playing style.
“The Honduras team were criticised at the World Cup for our physical style of play,” he said. “But I think teams like Argentina and Uruguay, all the Latin American teams, play this way.
“But Honduras were penalised too much for little things in Brazil. It was as if the referee was waiting to punish us, which was very unfair.
“I look at it from the point of view of a football player. The first match against France was 0-0 when Wilson Palacios got a red card, and that was something that really damaged us.
“I felt we were affected a little bit by everything that was said about that and the way the matches were being refereed didn’t really work in our favour. I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but I felt the same things didn’t happen to other teams who played the same way.
“The World Cup is finished now, it’s in the past. I’m just focused and looking forward to the new season with Celtic, and I’m just hoping that this season can be even better than last season for the club.
“Brazil was a very nice experience. It was a special feeling to play for my country in such a great tournament. My wife managed to come to Brazil and we had a good time over there. But unfortunately my children didn’t make it because they didn’t get the special vaccines required for Brazil. We’re now back together and it feels good.
“I’ve not had a lot of rest but it’s just circumstances. I’m really happy with my condition at the moment and I’m eager to play more games now.”
Unlike any Scottish player, at least Izaguirre took part in the World Cup, the second time that he has done so.
The 28-year-old’s full name is Emilio Arturo Izaguirre Giron and it’s a good bet that hardly any Celtic supporter had heard of any of his names when he signed from Motagua in his native land four years ago after showing up well in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
They soon knew all about the left-back as he turned in a string of impressive performances that culminated in him winning four Player of the Year awards at the end of his first season.
Now armed with an extended contract that will see him stay at Parkhead until he is 32, and with his young family settled in Scotland, Izaguirre has long since recovered from the broken ankle that saw him sit out most of his second season at Celtic.
He was not quite the same player as before last season, but still played more than 40 times for the club including five of the Champions League group stage matches.
Neil Lennon was a fan of Izaguirre – “he had a big influence on my career at Celtic,” said the Honduran – and new manager Ronny Deila seems to be so, too, as the player was in his familiar role in the opening match of the season against KR Reykjavik last week.
The return match is on Tuesday at Murrayfield, as Celtic Park is hosting the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony the next day.
Even with a 1-0 lead from the first leg, Izaguirre sounded a note of caution: “The most important thing about the match on Tuesday is to make sure that we don’t think we have already qualified.
“I have never been to Murrayfield before but I am sure there will be lots of Celtic fans there supporting the team. We will get a chance to train on it on Monday.
“I don’t care about winning by a bigger margin, I only hope to win this match and then we will think about the next one. The dream is to win the Champions League.”
The speculation surrounding possible moves for Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster and centre-back Virgil van Dijk is soemthing he understands, having been there himself after that excellent first season.
“It also happened to me,” said Izaguirre. “Before my injury I had a very good year and I was linked with a lot of other clubs, but I am sure even if Celtic sell one very good player they will bring in another. That is the business.”
It’s a buying and selling business at which Celtic have been successful in recent years, not least in recruiting the unknown Izaguirre for just £600,000 and seeing him blossom into a player whose worth is now ranked in the millions.
“At the moment I am very happy here at Celtic,” he emphasised. “I am grateful to the team, and all the staff, and the fans. I have a long contract here and I am not planning to go anywhere.”