Matt O'Riley makes bold claim over Celtic's Champions League chances - 'I'm not afraid to say crazy stuff'

It would be unfortunate if such a thoughtful and switched-on individual as Celtic’s Matt O’Riley were a fan of irritating Eurodance popmeisters 2 Unlimited.
Celtic's Matt O'Riley insists he won't look at any team the club draw in the Champions League as "big dogs" in believing that the Scottish champions can bare their teeth against any opponent. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)Celtic's Matt O'Riley insists he won't look at any team the club draw in the Champions League as "big dogs" in believing that the Scottish champions can bare their teeth against any opponent. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Celtic's Matt O'Riley insists he won't look at any team the club draw in the Champions League as "big dogs" in believing that the Scottish champions can bare their teeth against any opponent. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

The 22-year-old certainly seems to live by the mantra of their ear-bleeding 1990s techno smash No Limit, though. For the London-born Danish international sees no ceiling on where his career can take him. This fledgling season, in which he has been instantly lauded by Brendan Rodgers, already taking him on to two goals from two games. Yet, his goals for what is achievable for the Scottish champions in their forthcoming Champions League campaign are even more stirring. The stellar nature of the opponents to be faced and the budgetary mismatches they will be on the wrong end of cut no ice for O’Riley when assessing what would be a realistic outcome for his club in the competition. A tournament that, despite playing well in, they exited through finishing bottom of their group last year, with two draws from their encounters with Shakhtar Donetsk, as they lost home and away to both Real Madrid and RB Leipzig.

O’Riley has always been an unabashed dreamer. And that includes visualising lifting trophies…including the one with the big jug ears contested by the cream of European football. “That's always been my mindset from a young age,” he said. “I feel quite lucky to have a mindset where I've always dreamed since I was quite young. I've done quite a lot of stuff in terms of visualisation. You go through phases where you try different things because you're young and you want to keep learning and seeing what works for you. I'm on quite a unique path and I'm enjoying the journey very much, so it's all cool.

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“I'm not afraid to dream or say crazy stuff like I really believe we can beat anybody in it [the Champions League]. I don't just say it - I do mean it. It is possible. It's not like it's in the stars. We are going to be there in the group, so we have the chance to win the games. [With this] next crack at the Champions League I think you are more prepared and more ready mentally because you know the level and should back yourself to really go for it. I just hope all of us in the team really believe we can actually do something this year because I think it’s possible, of course I do. It’s football isn’t it?

“We have seen things in the past where teams not expected to win things do win them. Leicester won the Premier League [in 2016] and I think we should go into the Champions League believing we can win every game. Not necessarily expecting to, but we have to give ourselves the best chance of doing well. Of course, I understand that [budget] argument from a fans’ perspective and an outside perspective. But I just look at it from a human perspective. I look at a player on the other team and, fair enough, they might be in a Real Madrid kit or a Barcelona kit but they are still a human being like I am and the rest of my team are. And if we play well today we can definitely win a football match. It might not be possible, we might not be favourites in every game, but it’s still possible. Scottish football gets a bit overlooked and the Champions League is the platform to really show that the teams in this league can play good football and really compete. Going into this year I would like to put a marker down and say, ‘okay we are actually here for a reason…’”

O’Riley certainly isn’t wide-eyed about being along for the ride and simply getting the chance to share a pitch with some of the game’s glitterati. To the extent he has no preferences for who Celtic are placed alongside in the draw in little over a fortnight. "I don't really mind,” the midfielder said. “We had Real Madrid last year, so I've ticked that box…There are enough good teams to have some fun regardless. I'd take anyone. I want to try and get through the group, no matter who we get. We have to go out there to win. I don't think we should look at the teams and be like: 'these are big dogs'. We should go in thinking that we are in a group of four teams and let's try and get through."

If only the Celtic support shared his belief in the potential of the club’s squad as it stands. The faithful appear twitchy that there will be anything under a £20m spend before the window shuts to ensure the club are equipped for their participation in the most unforgiving environment. Jumping all over recent reports they could be willing to part with £9m to acquire Wolves winger Daniel Podence and are contemplating a £7m move for French left-back Quentin Merlin. A goalkeeper, midfielder and striker also on the fans’ wishlist. The desire for such an extensive upgrade could be entitled to make those currently on the books feel a tad delicate, and a little undervalued. O’Riley doesn’t fret about such matters, though.

“The players aren’t thinking about that so much. We can’t control any of it,” he said. “I come in here, I train like we all do and naturally you hear noise, stuff floating about. But half the time you don’t believe it because you know how many things aren’t true. I’m sure by the end of the window the team will be in a very good place regardless. It’s natural that from a fans perspective you obviously want the best players to play for your club and big names. It’s nice when you have a bit of attention, bit of a buzz. But as long as we are winning games, playing well, then it shouldn’t really matter.”

All that matters in the immediate term is negotiating a tricky Viaplay Cup tie away on in-form Kilmarnock’s plastic pitch come Sunday. O’Riley expects the Rugby Park men to adopt the man-to-man marking with which Aberdeen and Ross County had some joy in their defeats to the Scottish champions over the opening weeks of the season. That “can be tough”, he acknowledges, but Celtic’s movement - and the pace of their frontmen Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda - as well as “staying on the same wavelength” can counter that.

“It’ll be a difficult challenge,” he said. “They have started the season very well. It’s no excuse, but their pitch is artificial and that can make it hard to play fluid football. But in saying that, I think we have the quality to break them down. I’m also used to those kind of pitches so that’s fine. I just mean from the sake of playing really fast flowing football, the games can be a little bit slower because the ball doesn’t move as quickly. Unless it’s pouring down with rain, which is probably will be in Scotland…We took our chances there last season. We scored quite early in the games we had there which always helps. I think we scored two or three goals within the first half hour. [If teams press] we have a really good threat in behind. We saw that at the weekend with Daizen and Kyogo [in the 3-1 win at Pittodrie]. There aren’t many people in the league quicker than them. Having that option to go in behind, and flip teams, is going to be very important.”



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