Celtic defender highlights major factor that will boost Ange Postecoglou Champions League hopes

A new manager, a new beginning but something of the old comforts.

Celtic's Stephen Welsh promotes the club's season-ticket renewals at Parkhead on Wednesday. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Celtic's Stephen Welsh promotes the club's season-ticket renewals at Parkhead on Wednesday. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

That is the combination Celtic defender Stephen Welsh hopes will help the club overcome FC Midtjylland in the Champions League second round qualifier with which the Ange Postecoglou era will begin. More particularly, indeed, Welsh is looking to the home comforts denied Celtic across the pandemic to provide the impetus in the Greek-Australian’s competitive opener - which Wednesday’s European draw decreed will bring the runners-up from the Danish league to Glasgow on July 21 for the first leg of a tie that concludes a week later.

Glasgow’s expected move down to level one for coronavirus restrictions by then means there could be upwards of 1,000 fans inside Celtic Park. It may not seem much but Welsh believes that could make a big difference. The soullessness of an empty 60,000 stadium undoubtedly affected Celtic as they fell apart last season. Punters could assist Postecoglou in putting them back together again for a tie on which so much rests. If Celtic progress they will be assured of European football till Christmas, a scenario that will also spare Postecoglou from making an unwanted first impression.

Yet, even if Celtic’s new manager has yet to meet his players, yet to begin assembling his backroom team or revamping the squad, Welsh refuses to consider that the prospect of navigating three qualifying rounds in the Champions League could be adjudged too much too soon. “We’re not thinking about the Europa League. We’re focusing on going on and winning the tie, with the hope we can get fans back by then,” he said. “It would give us a lot of confidence playing in front of them at Celtic Park again.

“It is such a big stadium so it has felt so empty. Watching the Euros, and seeing a full stadium the other night [in Budapest] the atmosphere was brilliant. Even with just a few thousand the atmosphere can change, especially at Celtic Park, which can be such a daunting place for away teams. If there’s only a few thousand, we’ll take it. We just can’t wait to get the fans back in.”

One man who will be eager to experience any Celtic Park experience again will be in the away ranks in five weeks’ time. The Danish team’s captain Erik Sviatchenko has been linked with a move back to the Glasgow club with which he spent two years. He is believed to be keen for a return having featured heavily in the invincibles treble-winning campaign of 2016-17. Welsh remembers the amiable and fashionable 29-year-old for different reasons from that time.

“Erik was a regular when I started training with the first team and he was someone I looked up to,” said the 21-year-old. “He’s a great defender and a big personality and helped me a lot. He talked me through training sessions, spoke to me afterwards and just helped me with the basics. I was only 16 or 17 and he was a great help bringing me on. He’s also a bit trendy for a centre-half but he didn’t give me any fashion advice. Maybe I should have asked him… Centre-halves don’t really tend to be trendy but he was. He’s just a lovely big guy and an even better player.”

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