Mikael Lustig believes the global appeal of the Old Firm fixture has diminished in recent years but insists winning it still remains the best experience a Celtic player can enjoy.
The Swedish international defender joined Celtic shortly before Rangers’ financial collapse in 2012 – and their four-year absence from the top flight of Scottish football.
Lustig has since played his part in Celtic’s recent dominance of the fixture but admits it no longer attracts as much attention in his homeland.
“It was bigger before, back in Sweden,” said the 31-year-old, pictured. “The Old Firm games used to be shown live on the telly there when Henrik Larsson was playing for Celtic and I used to watch them. This fixture hasn’t lost anything in Scotland but maybe the rest of the world doesn’t see it the same way.
“Of course, we still get really excited about these games. It’s a full stadium and it always means a lot to the fans.
“It’s a special game and you can feel it building up during the week. You can sense that something extra. It’s an amazing feeling when you win against Rangers because it means so much to the supporters and everyone else. It’s the best feeling there is.”
Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s Scottish Cup semi-final, however, Lustig insists it will have no material impact on Celtic’s status as the country’s leading club.
“We want to win as many trophies as we can. But if we don’t win this weekend, we won’t start panicking because we still know that we are the number one team in Scotland,” he said. As for Celtic’s Old Firm record-equalling unbeaten run, Lustig believes Graeme Murty’s squad must be increasingly bemused.
“They are probably thinking ‘What has gone wrong?’ over this run and how to try something different,” he added. “I would rather be on our side. We know what this means to the fans and the more wins we get, the happier the fans are.
“Rangers have improved. We were over 30 points clear last season and the gap is closer now. There’s always a lot of talk before we play them about whether they’ve got any closer and whether they can take a point or even win the game. But we just stay humble. If we do that, then we have the best squad and we should win.”