Matt O'Riley claims Celtic could win Champions League as he addresses prospect of summer exits

Matt O’Riley remembers being recognised only once during a year spent with MK Dons. It has been somewhat different for the midfielder over the past season-and-a-half at Celtic, with acknowledgement of his talents arriving on a daily basis both from supporters but also from the growing number of clubs keen to entice him away from the Scottish champions.

The 22-year-old’s contribution to Celtic’s treble – in particular a league-leading 12 assists – has arrived hand in hand with him growing as an individual and dealing with the pressures and expectations that come from playing in Glasgow.

As a relative unknown who was signed for just £1.5million, he believes the team’s consistency has allowed him to reach new heights in his own game.

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“I knew I would get better as a player as the level was higher than at the club I was at previously,” he said. “But I didn’t know what else to expect to be honest. I didn’t know the size of the club and the intensity of the fanbase. I didn’t realise when you went out on the street I would get recognised as much as I do. I think I got recognised once in the year that I was at MK Dons which kind of shows you the difference.

Matt O'Riley is keen to improve on Celtic's Champions League showing next season. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)Matt O'Riley is keen to improve on Celtic's Champions League showing next season. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Matt O'Riley is keen to improve on Celtic's Champions League showing next season. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

“It was a big change but one that I really enjoyed as I’m actually playing for a club where it means so much to the people in the city and the fans. Naturally you want to do well for them as well.”

Celtic endured a tough time in this season’s Champions League, finishing winless in a group that included Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk and RB Leipzig. Watching the recent Real vs Manchester City semi-final brought back memories of his own twin-joust with the Spanish giants.

“I find it tough to watch those games sometimes as I’m thinking, ‘we could be there if we’d performed better’,” added O’Riley. “Of course, these clubs probably have more money but that doesn’t mean too much. We’ve signed a lot of players on cheap fees and they’re probably now worth ten times the amount. It’s all perspective and opinions. We just worry about what we do. I’m not saying we’ll win it – although we obviously could if it all went well – but if you perform well and don’t think too much about outcomes and expectations then you’ve always got a chance.

“In terms of players I faced, there were lots of different challenges in the shape of guys like [Luka] Modric and [Toni] Kroos and then there was someone like [Mykhailo] Mudryk [formerly] at Shakhtar who was very direct. Those were the most enjoyable games for me in the season just because your levels were always pushed.”

O’Riley hoped the bulk of the Celtic squad would stick together for next season’s campaign but trusted the club to adequately replace those who move on.

“I don’t know what will happen this summer with outgoings and comings in,” he added. “But if we do lose players then I’m sure the recruitment team will bring in good replacements as we saw in January and over the last 18 months or so. I’d say around 90 percent of the signings have been successful which is pretty rare in football. That shows the recruitment has been good.”



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