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Soccer Scene Lethal weapon Larsson starts Celtic golden era

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joe Behan

Henrik Larsson continued to boost Glasgow Celtic’s preparation for next season when the super Swede was crowned Europe’s top-notch striker. Now Celtic will enter Champions League 2001-02 with one of the most recognized strikers in the world.

Larsson’s 35 goals in the Scottish Premier League has been met by many a soccer expert with a shrug of the shoulders.

"A sure it’s only the Scottish League," many a critic will say. "There are only two teams in the League anyway," is the constant remark on the SPL. However, taken into account that Larsson beat the 25 goals scored by Lazio’s Hernan Crespo does indeed make the critics think twice about knocking what the Swede has achieved.

The soccer world will know more about Larssson in August when he receives the Golden Boot award in Monte Carlo in front of the biggest names in the soccer world. Opponents in the Champions League will come to realize that Celtic have a lethal weapon.

Potential CL opposition such as Lazio, Real Mallorca and Barcelona will know exactly who Mr. Larsson is and for sure the eye is on who Martin O’Neill will buy in the next few weeks.

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Fans boost transfer market

Thanks to Celtic’s 52,000 season-ticket holders, Martin O’Niell can shop big time with an amazing £20 million. Chairman Brian Quinn’s increases directly related to ticket prices have paid off. Tickets are like gold dust these days at Parkhead. Basically the fans are financing for the new-look Celtic that will take on the Champion’s League. Parkhead is becoming somewhat of a bank overnight and is now matching its arch-rivals in one or two financial areas of the game. Secure times look like they have arrived at Parkhead, but are the possible transfers good investments for success in the CL? There is much speculation at the moment on certain players and it gives us insight as to where O’Neill sees the Hoops’ weaknesses.

Bobo Balde is not signing quickly enough at Parkhead even though O’Neill has offered the central defender more money than Bastia and Marseille. While O’Neill has given Balde the expected respect for time, as the player’s mother is ill, the Celtic boss has and must move on for a key central defender. Balde’s family matters are even more complicated because his wife is pregnant. O’Neill’s patience seems to have worn thin with Balde, and now Erlend Hanstveit, from Brann Bergen, is on the Irish manager’s schedule to see play. As money is no object, Everton’s Michael Ball is already the back up for Hanstveit.

It is no secret that Celtic is looking for a top-class goalkeeper and O’Neill’s interest in David James may turn a few heads. James has not signed on the dotted line at Aston Villa and many a Celtic fan will hope it’s the same for the Hoops. Nonetheless, James prefers to live in the north and Scotland could be his dreamland. Of course, a chance to play against the Euro elite for the Bhoys would only enhance his international career. For now it does not seem that James is the right keeper for Celtic, but knowing Martin O’Neill, it is wise to hold off any criticism. After all, goalkeepers peak in their 30s and James has just reached the big three-zero. Celtic enters a new era where they now compete with the likes of Everton and West Ham in the bid for James. Where Everton are pricing the experienced keeper at £3 million, Celtic has no problems with Villa’s asking price of £6 million.

Muzzy Izzet has admitted he is unsure if his future lies at Filbert Street for Leicester City. The Turkish delightful player is in the midst of talks with his agent regarding any possible moves with Celtic in the mix. Although Izzet has signed a three-year deal for Leicester, it now looks like City are reshaping the side that Martin O’Neill built during the ’90s. Izzet is not shy about admitting that he has not heard anything from Parkhead, where his ex-teammate Neill Lennon became a Bhoy overnight.

O’Neill is also looking to spend £4 million for French international striker Tony Vairelles.

It is not working out for the Lyon forward, who is now desperate for a transfer and the chance to get into CL is just the ticket to lure him Scotland bound. No doubt playing alongside Larsson is very attractive and, for sure, Chris Sutton will not be easy to push aside. The strike force at Parkhead is shaping up with an international flavor. Vairelles is the player who put Celtic out of the UEFA Cup when John Barnes was the Celtic manager. Vairelles has had a disastrous career. Lyon shipped him to Bordeaux on loan, but things did not work out for him there, either. O’Neill has an eye for grabbing unsettled players and turning their careers around, Sutton being the prime example.

The list of transfers that may be on their way to Parkhead indicates that O’Neill is looking to strengthen the spine of the team shape, and that’s right down the middle of the Hoops. Are the transfers world-class players? No, it doesn’t look like it. But it is typical of Martin O’Neill buying; he is one of the best shoppers in the game. His buying tendencies are very much like his old boss, Brian Clough. We simply have to wait to see if the newcomers keep the Golden Boot of Henrik Larsson shining.

Keane to finish Golden Era

There could well be a continental look to the Hoops and, interestingly enough, all put in place by O’Neill, a Northern Irishman from Derry. The Irish connection will not be denied at Parkhead as the Bhoys will travel to play Eircom teams Cork City and Shelbourne. The most interesting Irish story for Parkhead’s future is that Celtic fan Roy Keane has mentioned he would like to finish his career at Parkhead. If O’Neill is still there at that time, one would have to expect that Celtic will be an established Champions League contender. With Keane’s arrival, one would expect more competition — that’s if O’Neill is still digging for gold for Glasgow Celtic at Parkhead. Hail, hail, the Celts are here.

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