By Joe Behan
FC Basle manager Christian Gross is desperate to beat Glasgow Celtic today in the Champions League and prove a point to people in British football, namely Tottenham Hotspurs, that he is a quality manager. Gross said that he would “love to bring his team to Parkhead to show the British what he can do.”
Gross didn’t last long at Spurs, having been dumped by Alan Sugar during the 1997-98 season.
“I wanted to stay longer with Spurs and make a success of my move to England, but Sugar didn’t want to keep me,” Gross said. “It still hurts.”
It seems Gross has a bone to pick with British football and seems to think that Celtic are the team that represent such a scrap, though its doubtful that the Celts would ever consider themselves British in the first place.
On a personal level, it sure looks like Gross is reaching to make this Champions League encounter a grudge match, and that does not look good for the Swiss outfit. It’s one thing to try and get spurred on for a game, but to do it on a basis that rings false reveals a lack of confidence.
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“We are focused at the prospect of a tie against Celtic,” Gross said. “It is a big incentive, although more of my players have played in front of large crowds like they had in Glasgow than you might imagine.”
Why does Gross have to announce that his players will not be intimidated by Celtic’s fans?
It’s naive to think that Celtic Park is like any other big stadium on the globe, because it’s not, and certainly the large crowds of Hoops will be like no other supporters that Basle will have encountered. By the time Gross arrives at Parkhead his British agenda will be left at White Heart Lane, and any experience his players have of large crowds will get a rambunctious recall.
In the background, Martin O’Neill would rather take note of Basle’s Swiss league and cup double. After a 22-year wait for title glory, Basle is on a high and are a dangerous opponent. That’s what O’Neill will be focused on, not on what Gross has to say.
In the bhoys’ match over the weekend, Aberdeen were always second best as they fell by the wayside to a 4-nil drubbing by the Celts.
It was the order of the weekend in preparation for Champions League after Celtic somewhat struggled to beat Dunfermline the week before.
But matters were sorted against Aberdeen with goals from Johan Mjallby, Chris Sutton, Momo Sylla and Paul Lambert. The scoresheet spells serious danger for Basle as Henrik Larsson will be determined to make up for his many misses over the weekend.
Nonetheless, Celtic are two points ahead of Rangers already after the Gers could manage only a draw against Kilmarnock in their opener. The Blues are now in third place after Hearts pumped five past Hibs to go second, with Mark De Vries scoring four.
There is a long way to go, of course, and against Aberdeen O’Neill had the luxury of bringing on Shaun Maloney, Stephen Crainey and David Frenandez; the bhoys were rested for Basle and fans got to see some hopefuls at Parkhead.
There is so much at stake for Celtic to win this CL clash and a win will indeed open the Parkhead purse. There are many a big dollar to be made once reaching the CL qualifying group stages and some pace is desperately needed down the middle of the field for Celtic.
In typical O’Neill style, the cautious but confidant Irishman said, “If we’re lucky enough to get through, we only have a couple of days after that to make a transfer. But that would not stop me searching around and looking at the possibilities now, in case that situation occurs at the end of the month.”
Anything less, Mr. O’Neill, would not be good enough. Still, he is a happy man at the moment and was delighted with the weekend performance against Aberdeen when he sensed that, before the game, “The players were really up for it.”
And be rest assured for O’Neill and Celtic it was all about getting up for it in preparation for today’s home leg against Basle FC.
Shamrock remember Nolan
Many a Celtic fan played and attended the recent Billy Nolan Memorial 5-a-side held by the Shamrock Soccer Club in Sunnyside Gardens. But Celtic topics did not engage the opening conversations as the Shamrock family spilled into the Gardens.
“Did anybody see the game the other night?” asked Mick Hennessy. “Did you see Zidane, every time he got the ball I was grinning to myself. He’s unbelievable. It’s like when you play in a game with U 12s. You throw a shape or sell a dummy and everybody on the field buys it. And to think that Zidane was doing this against world-class players.”
Players gathered around and talked about the French footballer and Real Madrid, who had just played against Roma in Giant Stadium.
“He plays like he is in a training session,” Jem Cronin said, “the way the game should be played.”
As Zidane faded out of the idle chat, players grouped around their tables in the Gardens and got ready to play.
Robbie Kilbane kept an eye on the soccer event and summed it up when he said at the end of the day, “How come Eltin Coleman isn’t manager of the Shamrocks’ first team? Every year he out coaches everybody, and now he is the champion again.”
Shamrock president Scottie was very pleased to present the Nolan Cup to the winners for his 13th time. First team coach Billy Henderson was optimistic to see the nucleus of his side attend the 5 a-side.
“All our players return this year for the first team after we finished third in the league last season — I’ll take that,” he said.
Shamrocks have gained the use of the St. John’s University facilities and their approach is becoming more and more professional.