Wednesday 13 December 2017

McGeady out to spark Premier League interest with Celtic reunion

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A statue in honour of Aiden McGeady? Neil Lennon could barely disguise his bemusement yesterday when a Russian journalist wondered aloud if Celtic had considered erecting one after raising £9.5m from the 2010 sale of their star player to Spartak Moscow, their opponents in the Champions League this evening.

It followed a bizarre exchange where the same reporter asked Lennon if he would give beleaguered rivals Rangers a digout if he had £100m to give away, or queried if Celtic would call in Sean Connery if they ever reached the same level of despair.

But while Lennon subsequently asked a nearby UEFA official if the inquisitor was a real journalist, he did politely deal with the McGeady question."You need to do a little bit more at a club like ours to get a statue," he said. "Only people like Jock Stein and the great Jimmy Johnstone have been worthy of that."

McGeady will of course know that, given that he grew up as a Celtic fan and is well aware of their history.

And the bigger picture for the 26-year-old is that the chance to play Champions League football is about more than reminding his former employers what they are missing.

Instead, it's a platform to let suitors in England know that he is capable of operating at the highest level after an underwhelming contribution at Euro 2012, a tournament that represented a huge opportunity for the enigmatic performer.

While McGeady has taken to life in Moscow and appears happy under Spartak's new Spanish boss Unai Emery, it's no secret that he harbours ambitions of one day lining out in the Premier League.

With a sizeable British audience sure to tune into this evening's early kick-off, this encounter has another element for the Irish winger on top of the emotional significance.

Lennon, who didn't always have a straightforward relationship with McGeady, admits that he is still the player who could pose his defence the most difficulty tonight, adding that his all-round contribution is now superior to what it was during his SPL days.

"In the games I have watched Spartak play, Aiden has probably been their best attacking player," he said.

"He looks in good condition. We all know how good he is on the ball but his movement off the ball is excellent. He covers the ground very quickly and he will be a threat.

"I think there is an extra edge when you are playing against your former club, and he will want to show everyone how his all-round game has improved since he left."

McGeady made a good impression in Spartak's opening 3-2 defeat at Barcelona and acknowledges that, from the Celtic point of view, the return to Glasgow will be the enjoyable part of this twist of fate.

"To be just back playing at Celtic Park, for a different team, is going to be a great experience. When the draw came out my phone was ringing off the hook with everyone phoning and texting me about the draw and how good it was. It's going to be exciting."

This game is serious business, however, and Spartak need to overcome shaky form and register a victory to improve their qualification chances. Realistically, they are vying for second with Celtic and Benfica, given Barca's expected dominance.

"It's going to be a difficult game for us and, likewise, I think Celtic think the same," added McGeady.

"Generally our record over the past few years hasn't been that great at home but, possibly, Celtic aren't used to playing on an artificial surface so it's possibly going to be a tricky match for them."

Spartak Moscow v Celtic

Live, Sky Sports 2, 5.0

Irish Independent

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