For a long time now jock Stein has kept Celtic going by telling them “the next game is the big one.” Now fact has caught up with him and the next one is indeed the big one and no less than the Club Championship of Europe. That is precisely what is involved when Celtic play Inter Milan in the final of the European Champions Club tomorrow evening.
We will play an offensive game – we’ve come to play a game of football not fight a war.Jock Stein
When Celtic play Inter Milan on the plush stretch of turf in the hollow between the hills in Lisbon and Estoril it will be the climax to a season which has bordered on the unbelievable. They will be attempting what no club has ever carried off – the treble of National championship, National Cup and European Cup. Not even Real Madrid or Inter Milan or Benfica have been able to do this.
And who is to say that these young men ho have so spectacularly raced to the top in world football would not be successful?
There was more evidence today of their excited standing in world football when they were invited to take part in the Malaga Rose Bowl tournament at the beginning of August and asked to play two exhibition matches in South America in addition to playing Real Madrid on June 7.
Their popularity stems from the fact that in the dull football world of method and theory they think positively and go for goals. They are the equivalent of the dashing Real Madrid of the Di Stefano, Puskas era, they are the new cavaliers of football.
Today in Estoril in Celtic headquarters Jock Stein accepts the new adulation with sound commonsense. In a shp today he was trying on a hat. It was too small and he told the sales girl: “This one would have fitted me last year.” The team, too, can still joke about success .
Today as they stayed in the shade and dodged the fierce sun the players radiated confidence. Inter will know they have been playing whatever the result. Inevitably one looks on inter as the fading champions as were Real Madrid three years ago, and there could be no brighter and popular successors than this Celtic.
Jock Stein said: “I think the advantage has moved to us. They are now worried about us.” Indeed Inter are and have been since they beat Real Madrid in the quarter-final of this tournament. Herrera said then: “The only team that gives me much concern is Celtic, they are very fast and robust.”
Today there was a strange confirmation of fact. Three youths who had hiked from Dundee asked Stein for his autograph. One of them said: “Don’t worry Jock, no team could stand up to Celtic’s speed.”
Stein started to answer: “You canny look at it like that son.” And then he turned to me and finished: “We will beat them with speed. Maybe some teams could stand up to Celtic’s speed but I don’t think Inter can.”
And so in this great final Celtic’s normal drill will be cut. In other away matches on the continent they have played a tight defence for 20 minutes and then turned the runners loose. There will be just ten minutes for nerves to settle, and the speed and more speed will be called for.
Today, after Inter trained, Helenio Herrera announced his team and there was no mention of Suarez. Herrera said that Mauro Bicicli, 32 years old and balding, would take his place and be asked to do the same job. This will be his first European Cup-tie.
Jock Stein accepted calmly the news that Suarez was out.
“I have been assured that Suarez will be flown in tomorrow and, on the other hand, I have been assured that his injury is genuine and serious.
“The preparations that the team have made have included for dealing with Suarez. It might be better for us if he did play,for he cannot be fully fit, and there are no outfield substitutes allowed. It does not matter one way or another.”
Helenio Herrera handled an impromptu press conference with equal ease in three languages yesterday. Asked to name Celtic’s weaknesses, he said: “I’ll tell you after the game.”
We would humbly suggest that it does matter a good deal. Suarez cost Inter Milan £214,000 and he is one of the greatest midfield players on the world. An undistinguished 32 year old who was sent to Genoa five years ago on loan can hardly be an adequate substitute.
The loss of Suarez along with the fact that Inter, twice winners of the cup, must be past their best, does throw the advantage to Celtic, We would add, too, that when we saw Mazzola at training this morning he looked pale and drawn as would anyone who last week was laid low by tonsillitis. There is much encouragement for Celtic.
Helenio Herrera, the magician of Milan, was unusually jovial after Inter trained this morning. He told me later: “Our only weakness is to beat a team committed completely to defence. We have been held at home by inferior team because our breakaway tactics do not do well against a mass defence,”
“We cannot have massive attacks for we will not weaken our own defence. We like opponents to extend their defences for then they are most vulnerable.” Presumably he hopes that Celtic will rush recklessly at his defenders. That would be surprising. Stein is no fool.
Johnstone, Chalmers and Lennox we would assume will be given their running to do and their dashes could be expected to tear Inter’s defence out of it’s rigid formation. The Itlaians will not be allowed to play leisurely out of trouble, as they like to do. At any rate Suarez is the man to take the play so elegantly out of defence and he will be missing.
Wallace will be up with the runners and will help the defence and Auld will be the free man in midfield – the Suarez of Celtic – and if he hits a game then all will be well.
Inter could find themselves being beaten in midfield for Murdoch and Auld look superior to Bedin and Becicli and if they win there then the mature Inter defence will be in trouble against Celtic’s runners.
Since training this morning Celtic have relaxed. The watched England v. Spain on television tonight and will relax again tomorrow. They have been brilliantly prepared physically and mentally, and today the green and white hordes have been pouring into Lisbon to give them encouragement.
Tomorrow the stadium will be filled and over 6,000 will be from Scotland. We can but guess at the jollifications if Celtic win. The Portuguese are swinging towards Celtic. Today Torres, the giant Portuguese centre-forward, told us: “I hope Celtic win – that Herrera talks too much.” We asked of Eusebio. “He hopes Inter.” said Torres, “but then he wants to join them.”
It will be a great night for Scottish and British football if at last the Continental monopoly is broken. I think honestly that it will be.