Ledley hopes squad stays together after making big impact on grandest stage

Joe Ledley battles Alex Song for the ball. Picture: SNS
Joe Ledley battles Alex Song for the ball. Picture: SNS
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MAKING waves on Europe’s grandest stage can leave any team outside the elite vulnerable to suitors interested in those that created the splash.

Celtic midfielder Joe Ledley knows it is in these waters that his club will now be sailing following a win over Barcelona that, according to the Welshman, “will live with us for the rest of their lives”. How much of these lives they will want to commit to the Glasgow club is now the question.

Ledley hopes others will feel like him. His agent is currently in talks over a contract extension on his current deal, which expires in the summer of 2014. Ledley was told he was joining the wrong Premier League when he left Championship side Cardiff City for Celtic instead of Stoke three summers ago. Now his team has scalped the world’s most lauded club to give themselves every chance of progressing in another league, the Champions League, Ledley says he has proved the Scottish football denigrators “wrong – again”.

“I hope I can stay. It’s a fantastic club; I love playing for Celtic,” the 25-year-old said. “People are always going to criticise Scottish football for some reason. Personally, I think it’s a fantastic league. To play in the Champions League is a huge honour too and we have proven that Celtic is a great team to play in.

“I’m very happy and it was a great move for me to sign for Celtic. I could have maybe gone to a Premier League team and just sat in mid-table. I didn’t want that. I like winning games, I want to win things and play in the best competition in the world – the Champions League. I’d have liked to be in the tournament a bit earlier but we finally did it in my third season and it’s a fantastic feeling. It’s been worth the wait.

“To play in the Europa League last season was fantastic but we were hungry and wanted more. We finally got to the Champions League and it’s by far the best moment of my life.” Moments he wants to treasure with those who helped make it possible. However, Victor Wanyama’s ambitions are unlikely to be contained by the Scottish football environment. Beyond the Kenyan and other players such as Gary Hooper and Fraser Forster, the irresistible rise of Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s coaching stature is now causing him to be considered by other clubs. The Irishman’s blunting of Barca was a triumph of plotting and planning and Ledley is effusive in praising both his man-management and methods.

“He is by far the best manager I’ve ever had, along with Gary Speed,” the midfielder said. “He’s young, hungry and wants us to win as young players. He’s brilliant to work with every day. He wants us to work hard and improve in training. You have to be at it all the time. He’s still learning and he has a great future. His tactics were fantastic. We worked on set-pieces and other things and it paid off over the two games.

“There will be interest from England because he’s a fantastic manager, and very passionate in what he does. There will be interest in everyone but we need to keep our feet on the ground and keep going. There is more to come, definitely. It took us a while to gel. Players were coming and going, but we got there and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, we can keep the group together, bring people in and improve the squad.”

It will be difficult for the current crop to improve on the remarkable result they pulled off in such an spine-tingling atmosphere on Wednesday night. And Ledley acquired a special memento to go with his memories.

“I got Xavi’s strip after the game and I was delighted with that,” Ledley said. “He’s a fantastic player. As a footballer you always look up to the top players and he is one of the best ever. I asked for his strip and he said he would give me it in the tunnel. The Barca players went off the pitch early and I thought he would have been gone. But to be fair to Xavi, he waited for me and we swapped shirts.”