DARNELL Fisher does not need to look far for advice on how to play at right back as he seeks to impress in the role in the absence of Mikael Lustig.
The 19-year-old started his fifth game of the season against Hearts on Saturday and was able to indulge his preference for roaming forward from defence against opponents who were focused on defending their under-siege goal.
As well as Lustig, who also likes to dash up the flank from the back, Fisher is benefiting from the guidance of Danny McGrain, once one of the finest examples of an attacking right-back anywhere in the world. The Celtic first-team coach’s renown does not necessarily mean so much to someone who was only born in 1994 – when McGrain was managing at Arbroath.
“I never knew about Danny’s career before I signed for Celtic but he tells us about how good he was all the time,” smiled Fisher after playing a part in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Hearts. “I heard even Pele was talking about him, so that’s when you know you are a good player. I’ve seen a few videos of Danny now and he’s alright.”
Someone as tender-aged as Fisher is perhaps more impressed by Lustig’s credentials, considering he was tasked with the job of marking Cristiano Ronaldo in the recent Sweden v Portugal World Cup play-off. Fisher’s chances to play have not been helped by Lustig’s good form this season, while Adam Matthews is another obstacle.
Now Lustig has been ruled out for a period of up to four months after hip surgery, while Matthews is still making his way back after shoulder injury. Fisher could therefore have a vital part to play over the busy festive period, where he can showcase what he has learned under Lustig and McGrain.
“Mikael has been great with me,” said Fisher. “I talk to him a lot and was asking what it was like to play against Ronaldo and Messi. He’s been a big help and I do learn a lot of stuff from him. I’m always asking him questions. He gives me loads of tips and is always telling me how important it is to drive the game from the full-back position.
“It’s important to keep getting on the ball and picking passes. It’s an important position and there is a lot of responsibility on the full-backs. The gaffer [Neil Lennon] and Danny McGrain are always telling me that.”
Fisher came on for Lustig in the Celtic’s big win over Hearts at Tynecastle in the Scottish Cup earlier this month. Indeed, his side were already six goals up when he arrived after 73 minutes.
“It was always going to be hard after the performance at Tynecastle and winning 7-0,” he said, of Saturday’s less dynamic performance.
“We knew Hearts would camp in and that we would have to be patient. But, thankfully, we broke through. We wished we could win 7-0 again but that was never going to happen. They made it much harder for us. They didn’t want to be embarrassed again and we had to dig in.”
While Fisher has his own target in terms of breaking into the team on a regular basis, the lack of incentive might become an issue in the dressing room after a weekend where Celtic’s lead at the top has been extended to ten points.
“The motivation is to stay unbeaten for the rest of the season,” replied Fisher. “That’s what the manager keeps drumming in to us. That’s what we are trying to do – win games and keep clean sheets. Is it realistic? We have to try. That’s what our target is, and I think we are good enough to stay unbeaten. We just need to keep going.
“Personally, there is motivation for me to stay in the team but I know it’s going to be hard with Adam and Mika here. They are two internationalists but I need to keep pushing and learning from them. I feel confident. That’s the type of person I am and you need to be like that coming into this team.
“You have to try to express yourself when you get the chance. Obviously, Mika will be out for a few months now but I wouldn’t say I was happy when I heard that. He’s a great player and he’s been brilliant for the team. But he’s in pain and needs to get it sorted. You still have Adam there but Mika will be a big miss for the team as he’s been in great form.
“I suppose it’s a bonus for me as there might be more chances and I have to take any that come my way. I just need to keep training and working hard.”