Interview: Emilio Izaguirre, Celtic defender and Honduras international

EMILIO Izaguirre shakes his head furiously then buries it in his hands. The Celtic defender has fought back from a broken leg but still has one major hurdle to overcome. “In two weeks’ time I will have another go,” says the Honduran. He’s talking about his driving test which he failed for the third time on Thursday.

Izaguirre can mock distress over a minor pain because he is over the major one, a pain the 24-year-old suffered when he snapped his ankle at Pittodrie in the club’s second game of the season. It left last season’s player of the year unable to contribute to the first four months of this campaign. Yet however grievous the incident for the player, he felt compelled to watch television replays of it.

“I heard a click but I didn’t know what it was then reached down and felt the ligaments were swollen,” he says. “After the first month, I didn’t stop going to the gym. I was in there every single day.”

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That is how he coped ahead of his return to the senior side on 2 January. With three starts since, the defender says every week he is feeling “better and better”. A deeply religious man, Izaguirre maintains he never felt low or isolated, even 3,000 miles from home and unable to immerse himself in his job.

“I actually never felt really sad, I was always focusing on getting better and that kept me going,” he says. “And I always felt part of the team anyway because I was there to support them. That made me feel stronger, work harder with my rehabilitation and make sure I got back in the team. It was very, very tough for me and my family for me to be out for so long but I am very grateful to God for helping me get back playing again.”

And Scott Brown. The attributes that make the Scotland midfielder a fit for the Celtic captaincy may sometimes escape outsiders but Izaguirre is gushing over what Brown brings to the squad dynamic. Sharing hour upon hour of gym-time with the fun-loving Fifer, who was building up his fitness following ankle surgery, has the full-back beaming from ear to ear.

“He is crazy, crazy,” says Izaguirre, the phrase the only one he provides in English in the course of an interview otherwise conducted through a Spanish interpreter. “Scott Brown, Kelvin Wilson, Mark Wilson, we were all in the gym together most days and we got support from each other. Spending time in the gym with Scott was crazy. He is very funny, but I think he is a very good captain, he gives us all a lot of support.

“He is always a happy person and is one of a kind in a way. He is always first into training and first to show the rest of the team the way. He supports everybody, and the experience he has of playing here with Celtic and knowing other big players helps. The leadership he shows and the charisma he has is contagious in a way.”

Izaguirre’s warmth could be similarly described. He begins and ends sit-ins with the written media by going round each one and shaking their hands. An endearing affectation, the player is just too damn respectful to his God and fellow human beings to serve up any juicy titbits on his Honduran buddy Jorge Claros, currently on trial with Rangers.

The pair were pictured shopping in Glasgow this week, the same day that Claros was quoted as saying a move to Rangers would set him up with Scotland, his research having told him that the club had won more league titles and cups than any other in Scotland. What does Izaguirre think of that claim?

“As a player I wish him all the best, as I do with all other players. But if we ever get on the field against each other, we will not be friends. It is none of my business if Jorge signs for another team, but I only speak highly of other players, the decision will be down to the coaching staff at Rangers. He is a very good man marker and is very good at running. But I am at Celtic so I don’t want to say anything about any other team.”

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Plenty was said over the summer about Izaguirre being the target for other teams, notably Manchester United. He signed a contract extension already agreed with Celtic during his time on the sidelines but says of the Old Trafford link: “My goal is to concentrate on Celtic then we will see what happens.”

The player doesn’t draw great comfort from the fact that, with his injury occurring right at the start of the season, he has been able to return for the title run-in and the decisive days in cup competitions awaiting Celtic as they chase the treble. He does admit, though, that there is a personal aim he wants realise.

“I was frustrated by the injury because I didn’t want my first season at the club to be like a ‘one-off’ thing,” he says. “I hope the second half of the season will show that I still have a lot to give to the club.”

So integral was Izaguirre to the Celtic cause that there is little doubt he will give them plenty; enough to see them atone for the defeat at Inverness that allowed Rangers to clinch their third consecutive championship.

“The title is an objective obviously that we want to reach,” he says. “Last season, for very little, that objective escaped through our hands.” His Celtic team are in the driving seat in a manner that shouldn’t have Izaguirre agonising.