Cristian Gamboa could be said to have waited three months to become a Celtic player. Now he hopes his wait to re-ignite his career will be over when the firecracker of a derby against Rangers sparks to life in Glasgow’s east end a week on Saturday – even if that means stepping on to the pitch less than 48 hours after stepping off a flight from his home country of Costa Rica.
The 26-year-old right-back enjoyed a flying visit to his new club yesterday after a £1 million move from West Bromwich Albion he had heard mooted as the transfer window opened, before Brendan Rodgers was appointed.
By early yesterday evening, Gamboa’s next flying visit was to Central America. The 47-times capped international will be at the service of Costa Rica as they seek the point from matches away to Haiti on Friday and at home to Panama on Wednesday to ease them through to the next qualifying phase for the 2018 World Cup.
The pacy overlapping full-back hasn’t played club football since February as a result of being deemed too lightweight by Tony Pulis. He considers his international commitments as a plus not a minus, then, when pondering his readiness for a derby debut.
“I’ve been travelling like this for four or five years so I hope I’ll be ready because you get used to these flights, you get used to back and fore, back and fore every time,” Gamboa said. “So for me , I hope there are no injuries, I’m fit, and I can just wait for Brendan to say if he needs me or not. I think I’ll be ready. If he needs me I’m going to be. I know it will be difficult but I want to be here just playing, I want to be doing both [playing for club and country].”
Gamboa’s experiences of playing for Costa Rica in Rio suggest he will be ready to step up to the Champions League. His country’s high point on the international stage, the quarter-final showing at the recent 2014 World Cup in which the newest Celtic arrival played a significant role, eclipsed a certain Italia ’90 last-16 success that Scotland followers all-too-painfully remember.
“When you are playing in the World Cup you are up against the best players in the world,” he said. “So it’s just like the Champions League. I know it will be a different experience but I am looking forward to it. I have been out for a while but I’m ready. I just have to hope I get the call from the coach.
“Rio was the biggest moment for me and for my country. It was unfortunate we went out to Holland on penalties. It was a great experience and it is good to say you have played there.
“[The win over Scotland was our most famous] before Brazil. I was one, but I grew up with this idea of them beating Sweden, beating Scotland and they got to the next round. These guys were big names back home because they did that. Brazil changed everything. Now the people just remember Brazil but they still remember 1990.”
Gamboa doesn’t see assimilating into the Scottish way of life as testing a change as swapping the sun of Costa Rica for temperatures of minus 30 when he moved to Trondheim as Rosenborg’s replacement for Mikael Lustig in 2012. The Hawthorns beckoned two years later.
Rodgers’ expansive, swift-passing footballing philosophy should make Celtic more suited to the 5ft 8in defender’s abilities than the athletic, power play that is the trademark style of Pulis. “It was a difficult situation,” he said. “Everyone knows about the gaffer there and the way he likes to play. I didn’t fit into his plans and the way he played.
“Let’s just say it was different. Sometimes you have a manager who likes you, the next wants to do it a different way. That’s life in football. There are no hard feelings.
“It doesn’t matter to me now. I have closed the door and this one has opened for me at Celtic. This is a really big move for me and I am really happy to be here. This is the opportunity I was looking for.
“The manager here plays a style that does suit me. That was also one of the reasons I wanted to come here.
“I knew Brendan as the coach of Liverpool and how he liked to play. I’ve also seen some of his games at Celtic and he likes the team to have the ball and play attacking football. He likes to go forward and score goals. I hope it’s a style of play that I can do well in.
“When you are at a big club like Celtic you have to be attacking all of the time. You need to create and if you start something you need to finish it. The supporters always want to go forward. I enjoy playing that way but I have to prove it on the pitch.
“I first heard about the move when the transfer window opened. The last few days it has started to move forward and I’m happy to be a Celtic player.
“My situation wasn’t perfect as I wasn’t playing for a while at West Brom although I was playing for Costa Rica. It was an easy decision for me to make.
“This is a chance at a big club. I know there is a lot of pressure around, but I’m ready to prove to the fans. I want to settle here for a while.”