The first thought when pondering Mikael Lustig’s Celtic career not so long ago was that he seemed a magnet for misfortune on the injury front. Hip problems, strains and pulls dogged the 29-year-old right-back. Now, though, he is preparing to play through a whole year thanks to his participation in Euro 2016 with a Swedish side for which he earned his 50th cap in midweek.
Even with more than six weeks of the season left Lustig has already played more games for Celtic in this campaign than any other since he joined from Rosenborg in the winter of 2011. What he puts this new-found durability down to doesn’t exactly say much for Celtic’s medical department over his first three seasons in Glasgow.
“I haven’t struggled with muscle injuries for the last six or seven months,” he said. “That’s been an improvement, and it’s really important that I feel comfortable when I go out there. I’ve gone back to what worked for me in the past. Before I came to Celtic, I never had a problem. I’ve gone back to what I did at Rosenborg; what I did the day after the game and things like that. It’s more what I’m doing in the gym, things like that.”
What Lustig will be doing in a year-and-a-half isn’t clear as it stands. The player is out of contract at the end of next season. Speaking the other day, his manager, Ronny Deila, didn’t exactly suggest the club would rush to fix up “a very important player” for a long time. He stated bluntly “when players get older it’s not too positive to give them longer contracts because you never know, there’s more possibilities for injuries and other problems. So, we know the situation and we’ll see.”
If Celtic are going to sail close to the wind over fixing him up, then Lustig’s attitude seems to be that he can also play that game. “I’m just focusing on playing for Celtic over the next year and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “Last time I signed a new contract it was Celtic who came to me so at the moment I’m just sitting quietly in my boat.”
The vessel has been a little buffeted by the changeable conditions it has encountered. Deila might delight in the player putting together a run of something like 30 consecutive games when the best he had before at Celtic was four or five. His enthusiasm over a player he “didn’t hesitate” to make captain when Scott Brown was injured is also well placed.
Lustig, for his part, talked of being “satisfied” with the way he was feeling. Yet, he has not exhibited the same conviction or assurance as he did under Neil Lennon, a comment that could be made about Celtic as a football force. “We haven’t found the perfect 11,” the full-back said. “It’s been a little bit up and down; we’ll have two good games and then a little bit of a worse game.”
Lustig might be worse for wear after the exertions in the French finals in June. The scheduling opens up a potential conflict with the Champions League qualifiers that Celtic, assuming they win the title, will be pitched into come the middle of July. Sweden, in Group E with Belgium, Italy and the Republic of Ireland, play their last sectional match on 22 June – the very day players will report back to Celtic Park for pre-season. It is fortunate for Celtic that the calibre of player they now house means only Lustig, and possibly Belgian centre-back Dedryck Boyata will be stretched in the summer by the European Championships.
“I won’t get much of a break following it, but I hope to have a couple of weeks off,” Lustig said. “It’s going to be special as it’s two years [playing through]. When you get the Champions League straight away, you need to be ready for that. Maybe we’ll get some break in the winter next year – we’ll wait and see.”