THERE has naturally been much talk over the summer about how Celtic stand to benefit from a strong Scandinavian mentality. The appointment of Ronny Deila created that chatter.
Even before the Norwegian pitched up as the club’s new manager, though, they were already doing just that, though. In the fortnight between Neil Lennon leaving and the deal for Deila, defender Mikael Lustig signed a new, three-year deal. The Swede did so without any fuss, without his agent circulating English clubs of his status, and without delaying in case there might have been a better offer elsewhere.
A year on from the protracted sagas that led to Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper heading south, Lustig did not see a template in the Kenyan joining Southampton and the striker moving to the subsequently relegated Norwich City.
“I can only speak for myself. The Premier League is probably the biggest in the world and I cannot blame them for making that decision, but I look at the whole picture,” said Lustig, who described his new coach as “probably the most exciting manager in Scandinavia”, the player having come up against his former club Stromsgodset when with Rosenborg. “Why not sign a new contract with a club that I am happy with in a city which my family and I are happy with? It was not a hard decision for me to stay here.
“I love playing for my country as well and you never know what can happen when you change club. Norwich went down, but it was always a dream for Gary to play in the Premier League and he has done it now. Victor did well in Southampton, too. In my case, I feel I have done the right thing.
“To be able to play in a really big club and win titles as well as playing in Europe every year [makes me happy here]. It is really hard to go to a bigger club than Celtic for me. Of course, if you are one of the best players in the world, you can maybe pick and choose. However, I feel that I would go to a smaller club if I was to make a change.
“I am not going to lie – money, of course, is important for me as well, but it is not that important. Maybe if I was on my own, I would have a little more ice in my blood and wait a couple of months to see what happens, but, from the first day we started talking about a contract extension, staying was the only thing I was thinking about.”
Playing in the Champions League is clearly recompense for operating in a relative backwater. Lustig considers Celtic’s pairing with HK Reykjavik in the second round qualifier “a quite good draw”, but cautions: “For those guys, it’s probably going to be one of the biggest games of their careers. I know the Icelandic players’ mentality. They never give up and are really proud of themselves.”