It won’t be the first time that Scott Sinclair has been at the Allianz with his team when this evening Celtic face down Bayern Munich in their own backyard. But tonight’s Champion League encounter will mark the first time he will feel a genuine sense of belonging within one of the world’s greatest footballing amphitheatres.
It may not have cut any ice with England manager Gareth Southgate, but Sinclair’s 16-month Scottish experience has transformed the winger into a player who considers he has earned the right to mix it with the game’s glitterati. He is a leading light for Celtic when it comes to their most daunting challenges. It was a very different story when he last sampled the Allianz on a Champions League evening. Then his talents weren’t even allowed to flicker.
That night to rue for Sinclair came when he couldn’t even make the bench for Manchester City on 17 September, 2014, for a game that the English side lost 1-0 to a goal from Jérôme Boateng, one of the many Bayern players that remain from three years ago. Sinclair, by contrast, does not remain an inhibited figure in such company.
“I was the 19th man for City back then, but now I’m coming back with a role to play and I am enjoying it,” said a Sinclair who hooked up again with his footballing mentor when signed by Brendan Rodgers for £3.5 million from Aston Villa last summer. “It just goes to show the progression in my career, but I want to keep progressing and improving. I’m at Celtic and enjoying playing Champions League football. I am in a much different head space now. I am enjoying playing, I’m scoring and winning. It was tough getting relegated at Villa and the dark days when you ar, maybe, not getting a game. But it’s different now. You need to enjoy these occasions because this is what it’s all about.”
Enjoying the possibility of being beaten up by a Bayern side that Rodgers believes have been given a “bounce” by reappointing Jupp Heynckes can hardly be considered straightforward. Celtic haven’t won in any of their previous 10 visits to Germany – one of the three big nations in which wins have eluded them along with Spain and Italy – and Sinclair “doesn’t buy” any “crisis talk” in Munich that surrounded the decision to replace manager Carlos Ancelotti.
Rodgers’ men might be fresh from that rarest of highs that came in the form of the Champions League away win in Anderlecht last month, but Bayern belong in far more exalted company, even allowing for their 3-0 defeat by Paris Saint-Germain that led to Ancelotti’s axing. The Munich club will look to feel good about themselves by dishing out the sort of treatment to Celtic that PSG did with their 5-0 slaying of their Glasgow hosts. Sinclair maintains, though, that lessons will have been learned by Celtic from that evening.
“Every game we play at this level we gain experience. PSG were unbelievable that night to score that many goals. We went away from it and reflected on ways we could improve,” the 28-year-old said. “We did that in Anderlecht – it was the club’s first away win in the groups for five years. We showed we improved and that is what we will keep trying to do. The goals haven’t changed. Every time we go into these games we have nothing to lose. We just need to have belief and confidence. We want to enjoy it and try to come away with a result. You can’t have any doubts. You are talking about going up against players who have won this competition and who have won World Cups. You need to put that to one side and make sure we give them a game.”
Former Chelsea player Sinclair will be on the opposite side of the pitch from a man who proved an inspirational figure to him at Stamford Bridge, with Arjen Robben in the home ranks this evening.
“He was unbelievable,” Sinclair said of the Dutchman. “I looked at him as a wide player and some of his touches were unreal. You just look at the way he can go past players.
“At that time at Chelsea there were guys like Damien Duff, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joe Cole – as well as Arjen. It was difficult for me to get past a few of those players as an 18-year-old.
“Arjen was right up there. He’s world class and you can see he still has his qualifies. Everyone knows what he is going to do but stopping him is a different matter.
“You need to double up on him, and make sure when he does cut in he is running into more bodies. I’m sure I’ll be running back more than usual, but that’s okay, it’s about doing the job for the team.”