“..AND IF YOU KNOW YOUR HISTORY!”
LORDS OF THE WING
With Celtic fans lording over the recent signing of Kyogo Furuhashi, and with good reason too, there is perhaps scope to question just how much the Hoops’ followers seem to embrace one position on the field above all others; that of the Wingers.
By Jonathan Foley
Last month’s defeat to Rangers at Ibrox saw manager Ange Postecoglu confess that he should’ve played the Japanese forward in a more central role. It still oesn’t deny the fact that, in an overall sense, the recent summer signing from Vissel Kobe is a dab hand at showing his talents while charging down the flanks. This is not entirely new at Celtic.
Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone will always live in the hearts of Celtic fans. His dazzling dribbling ability and sultry skills in the wider areas of the field earned him the reputation as perhaps being the club’s greatest ever player. In a time of damp and mud-soaked pitches, the wee man from North Lanarkshire won 19 major honours with Celtic, including the European Cup in 1967.
With 135 goals to his credit during his time at Paradise, Jimmy Johnstone’s name will forever resonate with the Celtic faithful. His precocious and mercurial talents were noticed on a global scale while his small stature, gapped teeth, fuzzy red hair and quick-witted humour made him as normal and approachable as the everyday man on the street.
While he had many famous goals and performances, there are some parts of his life that remain the stuff of legend. His late goal at Ibrox to win the league title at the home of their fiercest rivals or twisting and turning the Inter Milan defence while giving them guff about how their Ambre Solaire gel was going to set their hair on fire, so they should maybe “phone yer maw, big man!”
In slightly more recent times, one might also recall a certain dreadlocked Swede who also wore the number seven jersey. Henrik Larsson went on to become Celtic’s third place all-time leading goalscorer, but it’s worth noting that when he signed from Feyenoord in 1997, the original plan for him was to play off the main two strikers up front; Andreas Thom and Darren Jackson.
While ‘the Bhoy who would become King’ was molded more into more of a frontman, there were many times during his Celtic career where he showed his capabilities to drift towards the wide areas. Here, he could send in crosses, make runs towards goal himself and still service the latter partnership of John Hartson and Chris Sutton in attack. Winger or striker? It matters not!
It’s reasonable to suggest that in Larsson’s second season (1998-99), the arrival of Slovakian-born winger, Lubomir Moravcik, possibly allowed him the freedom to go and take up the striker role. With Lubo now taking over the responsibility of supplier from the left-flank, Larsson had more freedom to focus on scoring goals.
For his part, Lubo ‘God’ Moravcik, was simply a joy to watch. Scoring two goals against Rangers on his full home-debut was just the start. Already well into his mid-thirties, he was the ultimate two-footed player, who was an absolute master of the dead ball, when it came to free kicks.
He could entertain too.
Who would have thought controlling a ball, dipping from the sky with your rear-end was possible? By the time he was 36, he was still starting in victorious Celtic teams in the Champions League; famously nutmegging Pavel Nevded of Juventus in 2001, and letting his Czech counterpart know all about it by sticking his tongue out at him, in a schoolyard-like manner.
Of course there were other wide players whose names were sung from the stands of Celtic Park down the years: Alan Thompson, Didier Agathe, Jackie McNamara, Aiden McGeady, Emilio Izzaguere, Scott Sinclair, Kieran Tierney et al.
There’s one man who still stands out in the memory, after all these years, and that’s another Japanese star who pulled on the famous green and white hoops; Shunsuke Nakamura.
‘Naka’ signed in 2005. Little was known of him at the time, but the fans were in for a treat. After a slow start initially, he adapted to life in Scotland and his sublime skill and incredible work-rate endeared him to the Celtic faithful. In his four seasons with the club, he lifted the SPL trophy three times, as well as the Scottish Cup in 2007, but that’s just part of the story.
With celebrity status back in Japan, Nakamura made regular television appearances there where his party-piece was kicking footballs from a Yokohama alleyway which would find their way through the one open window of a moving bus. Banzai! Celtic would certainly reap the rewards of his technical ability and there were certainly some iconic moments thrown in along the way.
During a tense Champions League clash with Manchester United in 2006, Naka sent Celtic Park into delirium when his 35-yard free-kick sailed over the United wall and found the top corner of Edwin van der Saar’s net. Six months later, he did likewise with the dead-ball, when his stoppage-time free-kick curled around Kilmarnock’s wall, hit the net, and the title was sealed.
And that’s not forgetting his other long-range special. This time in a win-or-bust clash against Rangers, in 2008. To this day, people still can’t fully explain how he struck an escaping bouncing ball with such veracity that somehow managed to change direction midway through the air and, basically, burst the net. If it was anyone else, you wouldn’t have believed it, but this was Naka.
Sure, we love goalkeepers, centre-halves, holding midfield players, but at Celtic, there seems to be something magical about some of the Bhoys who lord the wing.