Erik Sviatchenko spent some of his free time this week at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow, perusing the work of Turner Prize winning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.
“He’s becoming one of my favourites,” says the Celtic defender who toured the exhibition with his father, Ukrainian-born contemporary visual artist Sergei Sviatchenko, and mother who are visiting him and his recently born first child for a few days.
The Danish international’s background and choice of venue for some rest and recreation has already set him apart from the traditional professional footballer’s image.
But Sviatchenko, who has made a positive early impression on the Celtic support since joining the Scottish champions in January, also intends to stand out from the crowd as one of the top defenders in European football over the next few years.
That ambition, which he happily volunteered yesterday as he helped launch Celtic’s new playing kit for next season, is one reason why he is unfazed by the prospect of a relentlessly busy summer schedule with club and country. There will be precious little time for visits to museums or art galleries for Sviatchenko who, once Celtic wrap up their campaign on 15 May, will have a brief break before joining up with the Denmark squad for the Kirin Cup in Japan where they will play two matches on 3 and 7 June.
Celtic are due to resume pre-season training under their yet to be determined new manager around two weeks later, with the focus firmly on the first leg of their opening Champions League qualifier on 12 or 13 July.
“It’s an honour for me to be with my national team and I’d never say no to them,” said Sviatchenko. “I want to be involved and I think I’ll be in the squad. It’s not a problem for me. I’ve only been playing for Celtic since January, after a break at the end of last year when the Danish season finished, so other guys have played a lot more matches than I have.
“It might be better to keep playing through, anyway. It’s always a balance between holidays and recharging batteries or just keeping on going.
“I feel in a good flow at the moment and I could keep going because my body feels great and I feel great. Sometimes, you need to look at the bigger picture. The season is long and you need to build it up and not peak too early.
“But I think it’s fine. Hopefully I’ll go away, have good sessions and games with the national team. I’ve never been to Japan before, so that’ll be a good experience. Celtic knows about the international players playing this summer and, maybe, we’ll get five days more off before coming back for pre-season. But it’s about being professional. We’ll all have our programmes to follow.
“I haven’t struggled with the changes I’ve experienced since coming to Celtic. I’m composed as a person, I know what I want to do and I know how to play football. It’s just a part of saying out loud that you want to be one of the best defenders in Europe. To do that, you have to deal with changes that come.
“I said that I wanted to move abroad from Denmark and it has been a long and tough way towards it. Now I’m here and now it starts again. I’m at a new club and I want to be the best I can here. So what I’ve done before goes into my backpack and I start a new career in some way because people didn’t know who I was before I came.
“I will try to do my best to be one of the best defenders in Europe. That’s what I am so concentrated on all of my things such as nutrition, how I sleep, how I train, how I analyse games. A playing career lasts maybe ten years, so from now until ten years on, I’d be grateful if I could do other things, so it is good to have ambitions and strive for something that is great. You need something to give you the confidence that you need to perform at the present, too.”
Sviatchenko stole the limelight during Celtic’s post-match celebrations after last Saturday’s 3-1 win over Hearts at Tynecastle which effectively secured the club’s fifth consecutive league title. The 24-year-old’s curious dance routine in front of the 1,500 travelling fans has become an online hit and may be repeated on Sunday if Celtic get at least the point they need at home to Aberdeen to formally retain their Premiership crown.
“I’m breaking the internet with that one,” said Sviatchenko with a smile. “The dancing was just a moment of joy from me. I’d hurt my shoulder during the game, so knew I couldn’t do a somersault like some of the boys did.
“So I decided to dance instead – it was a mix of the Beatles and modern twist and shout! It was just nice to see the boys having fun and seeing smiles on everyone’s faces. We have to be together and that was a good example. Winning on Sunday would be a tremendous way to officially clinch the title.”