EUROPEAN football at his new club seems to agree with Dedryck Boyata. And even if the Belgian’s principal duties are stopping goals, Malmo might want to mark out the Celtic centre-back as a dangerman in Wednesday’s Glasgow leg of the clubs’ Champions League play-off, writes Andrew Smith
The 24-year-old has been involved in two European nights at Celtic Park. He has scored in both of them. Moreover, the late header from Boyata that secured Ronny Deila’s side a precious 1-0 home win over Qarabag in the last round proved to be the matchwinner in a tie that did not produce another goal. Yet, even if the roar that greeted his winner was deafening, it wasn’t as defining or delighting to the defender as what followed a week later on a sandy track and in sizzling conditions.
“To score against Qarabag was a great moment,” he said. “The bigger moment was at Qarabag when we played well on that pitch and in that weather. The final whistle in Baku was a bigger moment than the goal in Glasgow – by far.”
A 60,000 sell-out is predicted for this week’s visit of the Swedish champions. They will enter an arena capable of generating so compelling a footballing soundtrack that it has been cited as having no aural equal by such stellar football figures as Lionel Messi, Xavi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, again this week, Michael Owen. Boyata is struggling to understand how the atmosphere will be even more intense than in the last round. “Against Qarabag it was amazing,” he said. “If it’s better than that, I cannot imagine that – because I have never felt that before.”
Boyata has been a nearly man as far as featuring in the group stages of European football’s most prestigious tournament has been concerned. The £1.5m summer signing from Manchester City was stripped when his former club visited some of the most storied stadiums in Europe, and faced up to some of the game’s most famous names. But he was never called upon to remove his tracksuit.
“I’ve been to the group stages before but I can’t say I was really part of it. I was on the bench at least six or seven times but never came on to the pitch.
“I was on the bench for Barcelona and Bayern Munich. It was the last-16 tie against Barca so I know how high the standard is and I know about the pressure.
“I was on the bench at the Nou Camp the year before last and against Bayern both years. These are really big games. You can see all the big players on the pitch and you want to be part of it – when you don’t get on, it’s a bit frustrating. This year if we qualify it will be a big step from my point of view, and very important for the team. The Champions League is the tournament in which everybody wants to play.
“I had some difficult years and that’s always hard mentally. This year is another step and I don’t want to think about what I have been through. I didn’t actually think about what people would think of me coming here but if it goes well, then of course I hope they see I took the right decision. If I can get to the Champions League, that would be a success.”