Champions League: Malmö flux has Celtic guessing

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As THE only Swedish club to reach the final of the European Cup, Malmö can boast a proud history. But what is most striking is the way they constantly shed their skin, meaning they are almost unrecognisable from the side that defeated Hibernian 7-0 only two seasons ago.

Indeed, the Malmö who face Celtic this evening in the first leg of their Champions League play-off tie have as much in common with the team beaten by Nottingham Forest in the 1979 European Cup final as the one that thrashed Pat Fenlon’s beleaguered Hibs in a Europa League qualifying tie.

Malm�'s Jo Inge Berget, formerly of Celtic, at last night's press conference at Parkhead. Picture:SNS

Malm�'s Jo Inge Berget, formerly of Celtic, at last night's press conference at Parkhead. Picture:SNS

There isn’t a single player who played in Edinburgh in 2013 likely to feature tonight. Remarkably, only one player who played in Malmö’s title-winning side of last year will play this evening, full-back Anton Tinnerholm. Part of the reason for this is that influential striker and captain Markus Rosenberg and midfielder Enoch Kofi Adu are both suspended.

But then neither of them were around for either of the Hibs games, which Fenlon’s side lost 9-0 on aggregate; Rosenberg was enduring an unhappy spell with West Bromwich Albion, while Adu was with Club Brugge.

The manager too has changed since then. Age Hareide replaced Rikard Norling and has overseen a radical overhaul. Several of Malmö’s title-winning squad have since departed in relatively big-money moves to France, Belgium and Germany, among other places. Their replacements are struggling to gel with the champions currently lying fifth in the Allsvenskaan. When Malmö were last in Scotland, Hareide was in charge at IF Helsingborgs, and three years ago faced Celtic in another Champions League play-off tie, won by the Scottish side 4-0 on aggregate. He does, though, have some happy memories of the experience. 
Indeed, he claims that on those occasions when Malmö play in front of sparse crowds in Sweden, he reflects about Celtic Park.

“When we play games in front of almost empty stands, I always think of Celtic Park,” he said. “It’s fantastic to come out here with the fans getting behind their team. It’s so important we keep that in football. Even if there is a lot of football on television, we must have football live.

“It’s the best live entertainment in the world. Places like this keep this up. They keep the live entertainment up. It’s so, so important for football. It’s not the same to see a game on television. You have to be there.”

Although clearly a football romantic, Hareide is dismissive of history – even his own. On the intriguing prospect of coming up against another Norwegian, the 39-year-old Ronny Deila, Hareide, 61, said: “It’s not a matter of a match between Norway and Norway. It’s a match between a Scottish side and a Swedish side. Ronny has years ahead of him, I have years behind me. So it doesn’t really matter.”

Hareide was also dismissive when asked if his own recent experiences against Celtic can count for anything now. He pointed out that just as Malmö have changed extensively in recent times, so too have Celtic.

“Football is about what happens tomorrow,” he said. “It is not about what has been done. It is about what should be done.

“You know it is so difficult to compare years in football,” he continued. “It is very difficult – like asking me if the Brazil of ’58 are better than Argentina of ’86. Or who was good last year.

“I said something back in May that I thought we [Malmö] were better than Celtic. That was based on the results last year. But that is historical data now. Today I am not so sure. It is more even maybe. Last year was a year when we succeeded everywhere, in the league and in Europe. So it is hard to compare. There were more star names maybe in the Celtic of 2012 – Samaras, Forster in goal.”

Celtic fans will certainly recognise the face of one Malmö player at Celtic Park tonight, even though it is partly hidden by a magnificent beard. Jo Inge Berget joined Malmö from Cardiff City in January, shortly after an ill-fated period on loan at Celtic had come to an end.

This experience reached a nadir in a game against Dundee at Dens Park when Berget was substituted four minutes before half-time after looking disinterested on the left side of midfield – a position in which he is likely to start tonight, ironically.

However, he did score twice on his home debut v Dundee United, something he hopes to replicate this evening. “As for my five or six months here, I enjoyed the first bit of it,” he said last night at a press conference in the Jock Stein Suite at Celtic Park. “I started all right. Then after a while it lacked in game time and I didn’t play much after that. It ended how it ended. I will always remember my two goals here on my home debut. I am hoping I am able to do that again.

Regarding the beard that he is currently allowing to grow out, he added: “It is nothing special. I had a beard before as well. It has grown long now. Maybe it can give me some strength. But it is just to look the part!” Similarly, Celtic will hope much-changed Malmö are more style than substance.