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A Gift From God - The Magnificence Of Moravcik
There have been very few players in the recent history of Scottish football quite as wonderfully gifted as the man known to Celtic fans simply as ‘Lubo’.

There have been very few players in the recent history of Scottish football quite as wonderfully gifted as the man known to Celtic fans simply as ‘Lubo’.

Born in Nitra, Slovakia Lubomir Moravcik was in the veteran stage of his career when he was brought to Celtic Park in November 1998 by then boss Josef Venglos.

The signing of the midfielder from German side Duisburg for just £200,000 was met with indifference from the Celtic support and howls of derision from a Scottish media who were soon made to look rather foolish indeed.

Even though we got Lubo close to the end of his career watch the movie and you will see that Lubo is without a doubt a Celtic Legend.

Aged 33 when he arrived in Glasgow, Moravcik had played most of his club football in France and despite being highly rated there and in his homeland he was very much an unknown outside of those spheres and in Scotland too. At one point he was to make a high profile move to Marseille until injury struck and hampered his career progress.

So he arrived in Glasgow, with something to prove to many. That would all change when Lubo made his debut in a 6-1 demolition of Dundee at Celtic Park on November 7th. The Slovakian midfield ace displayed an array of sublime touches and suddenly the Celtic support sensed that here was a very special talent.

The magnificence of Moravcik was confirmed in the sweetest fashion just a fortnight later when he scored twice and inspired his new club to a 5-1 thrashing of old rivals Rangers at Parkhead. The legend that is Lubo was born.

Moravcik seemed to have it all. Quick feet, wonderful vision and an eye for goal. Equally comfortable with his left or right foot Lubo possessed a level of skill not seen at Celtic Park – or in Scotland – for many years. His tricks and flicks were a joy to watch but in addition to being a supreme football entertainer Moravcik had a real cutting edge to his game and was much more than just a show pony.

Truth is that despite his talents there were many a game where he just drifted, and during the dark season under Barnes/Dalglish, he may have been a bright spark amongst most of the gloom back then but he was just as culpable for the poor results and performances as many others.

Despite his abundance of ability Lubo had never won a major trophy in his long career but that was to change at Celtic with the Slovakian playing a major part in securing honours for the Bhoys and re-establishing the side as the dominant force in Scotland.

It might have been the pragmatic skills of inspirational manager Martin O’Neill which ultimately toppled Rangers from their perch but it was the skills of Lubo and Henrik Larsson which ensured they did it with panache and style.

Nowhere was this better illustrated than at Ibrox on 29 April 2001. Celtic had already sealed the Championship and Rangers had made it known they were determined to show the Bhoys that they were really still top dogs. Moravcik slaughtered them in their own backyard. He scored two wonderful second-half goals in a 3-0 triumph in which during the second 45 minutes the Lubo inspired Celts to simply and mercilessly destroy their vastly outclassed rivals.

Celtic won the treble and the next season – Lubo’s last in the Hoops – retained the league as Moravcik finally had a chance to parade his skills on the biggest stage – the Champions League. He didn’t disappoint but even he couldn’t prevent Celtic’s unlucky exit from the group stage.

In many ways, he was underused in his last season with some arguing that Martin O'Neill did not know how to use flair players. Nevertheless, Lubo's entry onto the pitch was usually at vital stages in order to hold the ball, slow the tempo and retain possession.

Lubo left Celtic in the summer of 2002 for JEF Ichihara in Japan after four years, 129 appearances and 35 goals. While at Celtic Park he won two league titles, a Scottish Cup and two League Cups.

But even the most impressive of statistics can never do justice to the skills of Moravcik. He was a joy to watch and the memory of his performances will live long in the minds of the Celtic support.

Moravcik fondly recalls best of years and worst of years

(12 Mar 2009, The Herald)

There will be a Celtic reunion of sorts in the Czech Republic on Sunday, but the coming together will not occur with the Co-operative Insurance Cup final against Rangers in mind.

Some 1200 miles from Glasgow, Lubomir Moravcik will be stationed inside a television studio in Prague, adding his insightful analysis to pictures beamed in from Aston Villa's Barclays Premier League match with Tottenham Hotspur. The Celtic connection and memories of the League Cup, though, will not be far away.

Moravcik will speak warmly about Martin O'Neill, the manager who many felt got the best out of the Slovak during his four years in Glasgow and with whom he celebrated a League Cup success in 2001.

He will recall playing alongside Stiliyan Petrov, now with O'Neill at Villa as they push for a Champions League place next season, his team-mate when Celtic triumphed in the tournament in 2000 and who only missed out on repeating the feat a year later due to a broken leg.

Celtic's 2-0 win over Aberdeen in March 2000, the goals scored by Vidar Riseth and Tommy Johnson, was a rare bright spot that season.

The infamous Scottish Cup exit to Inverness had brought a swift end to John Barnes' reign at Parkhead, while Dick Advocaat's Rangers would canter to the SPL title by 21 points. The CIS Insurance Cup success was seized on by fans in the hope it may signal a bright new era, albeit with the team under the temporary charge of Kenny Dalglish.

For Moravcik it carried extra significance. The talented Slovak was in the autumn of a wandering career by the time Dr Jozef Venglos brought him to Celtic Park in November 1998, after years of relatively unrewarded service with FC Nitra, St Etienne, Bastia, and MSV Duisburg. Victory over Aberdeen belatedly earned Moravcik his first senior medal at the age of 34. Little wonder, then, that the moment remains embedded in the his mind.

"I don't remember much about the match itself but I know we beat Aberdeen 2-0 and it was my very first medal," he told The Herald. "It was a very special moment for me to get my first trophy and celebrate in front of all our supporters. It had been a difficult season for us.

"John Barnes had been sacked and Kenny Dalglish had not long taken over as manager. We knew Rangers were going to win the league so we wanted to get something from a bad season. I had scored in the semi-final so I felt I had played my part. The final was not a very exciting game but we won."

If that success was a consolation prize, the defence of the trophy the following season would become part of something much greater and more significant. Celtic, reinvigorated under O'Neill, were a far different prospect to the side that had been shorn of all confidence under Barnes and Dalglish. The 2001 CIS Cup semi-final against Rangers, though, proved to be something of a mixed bag for Moravcik.

Celtic powered through to the final with a 3-1 win but Moravcik was sent off in the final few minutes, along with Michael Mols and Claudio Reyna of Rangers. He lets out a small chuckle as he recalls that evening at Hampden.

"I was a bad boy that night," he added. "I had not been on long as a substitute when I got involved in something right at the end of the game. I remember there was a bad tackle and all of a sudden everyone was pushing and fighting. I can't remember how but I was in the middle of it all like Zorro. I was sent off which was a shame because we had just had a great victory. Luckily, I was able to play in the final."

If the semi-final had been frantic, then the final against Kilmarnock was an anti-climax. Not for the first time, the day belonged to Henrik Larsson, who bagged the match ball in a 3-0 saunter.

While the previous success was simply a case of salvaging an otherwise disastrous season, lifting the trophy in 2001 set the platform for an impressive clean sweep.

"The league cup is nice to win in its own right," Moravcik added. "But when you win it then it gives you extra confidence. We did not say anything at the time but maybe we started to think there was a chance we could win the treble."

Moravcik continues to follow Celtic's fortunes from afar. He was surprised, if not shocked, to hear about his old team's Scottish Cup exit to St Mirren last weekend, and relatively unimpressed with the goalless draw served up in the last Old Firm meeting.

"The last game against Rangers was not easy to watch," he said. "I hope it will be a better match on Sunday. I have to commentate on the Aston Villa game but I will have one ear ready for any news from Glasgow."



When did you first hear that Celtic were interested in signing you?
It was in 1998, about the end of October, when we played against Portugal in a qualifying game, and Dr Jo came to watch the game. After the match I saw them and they said they were interested in signing me. After that, things moved very quickly and the next week I signed for Celtic.

Were you aware of how your signing was received in some quarters?
Not really because everything had gone very quickly. Being 33 wasn’t a problem for me. I felt very fit and confident because now in football, that age is not too old. It depends on your personal feeling. When you feel good you train well and I never really had any bad injuries. In my head I was still young for football.

On November 21, 1998, you made your derby debut. What was it like to score those first two goals against Rangers?
Before this game we didn’t expect a big result against Rangers because they were dominating in the league. I was a little bit scared about what would happen in the game because it was my first derby although I was very motivated for the game. But I was a bit scared – about the result, not about my game because you can play well but if it’s not a good result, it wouldn’t be good for me, but it all went well for me, I scored two goals and everything changed for me after that.

Why do you think the Celtic fans took you to their hearts so quickly?
I think because I’m a straightforward, simple guy. I was taught to keep my feet on the ground and be nice to the people around you, be modest. And I don’t think I ever changed. Maybe others would say differently but in my head I never changed. I’m still the same guy from Nitra, a small town, small village, and this is from my education

What do you remember about the 6-2 victory over Rangers in Martin O'Neill’s first season?
I remember Henrik’s goal when he chipped the ball over the Rangers goalkeeper. It was at this time when we started dominating in the Scottish league. It wasn’t a surprise like my first game when we won 5-1, because we were playing well, we were top of the league and it was also a perfect game during my time at Celtic and I’ll remember that game for the rest of my life.

You scored another two goals against Rangers at the end of that season, at Ibrox, and your celebrations then were a bit different from 1998. Was it because you really knew and understood what the derby match was all about by then?
I knew this game was one of the most famous games in the world and in the media, even in France, they’d be talking about it. And this game (Ibrox 2001) was special for me because it was almost my last chance to confirm my quality, especially away from home at Ibrox. This time we had a very confident team and we played very well, and we showed everyone that we were a stronger team than Rangers. I didn’t expect to play in that game and I was very surprised when Martin O’Neill read out my name before the game. And I said to myself that it might be my last chance to play well at Ibrox and to score two goals – I was very happy. When you score once in this derby game, people might say, maybe he was lucky. If you score twice, then people can see it’s not luck and you can see in my face that I was very happy. By then I knew that I didn’t have much time left at Celtic so I was pleased to have a good game that day.

Who were the other team-mates who impressed you during your time at Celtic?
We had a really good team. Paul Lambert was a really important guy, in the dressing room and on the pitch. Neil Lennon came and he became a very important part of the team. Chris Sutton up front was great - also, John Hartson, who was a good guy and good player. Alan Thompson, who had a fantastic left foot. Jackie McNamara. Also, Tommy Boyd when I first came to Celtic who was a very important person in the club, and also my French friends – Didier Agathe and Stephane Mahe, who helped me very much – and during my time at Celtic, Stiliyan Petrov was also a really nice guy and a very good player.

What were your feelings when you played at Celtic Park for the last time?
I was prepared for that. I had said at the beginning of the season that it would be my last season. Unfortunately, we didn’t win that game – it was a 1-1 draw with Rangers – but if you finish at a club where people love you, you always feel sad when you have to leave, but at the same time I was satisfied with my performances at Celtic. Now, years after leaving Celtic I realise I was a bit unlucky, because I joined when I was 33 and I should have come when I was younger and played more for Celtic, a few more seasons and some more important games. But I couldn’t have come earlier because nobody knew me in this part of Europe. Altogether, I was very satisfied and very happy to have played for Celtic.

Posted by voc1967 on Tuesday 01 September 2020 - 22:49:10 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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