A Gift from God
It’s probably fair to say that Lubomir Moravcik was nearing the twilight years of his career when the 33year old was signed from Duisburg in Germany, by Celtic in November 1998 by Manager Dr Josef Venglos.
Being signed for Celtic at such an age, it’s true some people had their doubts, as to whether Celtic had brokered a good deal, his signing also prompted a few ridiculous statements from the Scottish Media. One such hack was Hugh Keevins, who thought Celtic’s biscuit tin signing of Lubo for 300k was laughable, another media hack was even more foolish, in his condemnation, a certain Mr J Traynor said “The signing of Lubomir Moravcik at a cut price has merely caused Celtic further embarrassment.”
Just a couple of weeks later at Celtic Park it took Lubo just 12 minutes to make both hacks eat their words, when he scored his first goal against Traynors flute boys, Lubo scored his second of that day in 49 minutes, a further two goals from Henrik Larsson and one from Mark Burchill handed out a 5-1 thrashing to the now dead club from Ibrox. How does that hang with you now Mr Traynor ? At least Keevins finally admitted to being wrong (albeit twenty years later) and said he regretted every word he wrote about Lubo.
Celtic fans however, did not have to wait the full two weeks to find out Lubo had talent in abundance, on his debut for the hoops earlier, Celtic thrashed Dundee at Parkhead 6-1, he was inspiring, and the fans sensed there and then, that he was something special, and it wasn’t long until those fans were paying tribute to Lubo in a regular orchestrated “We are not worthy” bowing gesture towards him.
The following year Lubo was not selected much by the changed and inexperienced Manager John Barnes, who preferred to play record signing Eyal Berkovich, this decision was not popular with the fans, and along with Henrik’s leg break in Lyon, and the Caley Thistle bombshell, they all ultimately cost Barnes his job.
The departure of John Barnes, and then Kenny Dalglish meant that in June 2000 Martin O’Neill took over the Celtic managers job, and Lubo would again return to prominence.
Moravcik was certainly one of the most talented two footed players ever to have played in Scotland, It’s actually incredible to think that someone with such an abundance of talent had never won a major trophy before coming to Celtic. Lubo played mostly in Slovakia, France, and Germany, his former clubs, included Sporting Club Bastia, Nitra, St Etienne and Duisburg.
Although Lubo was virtually unknown when he arrived in Scotland, he did have a good career before joining Celtic, I mean it’s not just anyone you could ask to fill the previous number 10 shirt of Michel Platini worn at Saint Etienne, now is it ?. Lubo is still regarded as a hero to St Etienne fans. There were reports that he would join Marseille previous to coming to Parkhead, but he got injured and thankfully for Celtic fans, that move never transpired. He was also a top class internationalist, finally winning roughly 80 full caps for Czechoslovakia/Slovakia. Throughout his brief time at Celtic Lubo would go on to win two Premiership titles, two Scottish league cups and one Scottish cup. Like any very talented individual Lubo could drop in and out of games, but when he was on, boy was he on.
In the Old firm game, now known as Demolition Derby, in August 2000. (back in the days when Celtic had someone who could actually take corner kicks) Chris Sutton scored his first Old Firm goal from a break from a Lubo corner kick in only 50 seconds into the game, another Lubo corner was met by Stiliyan Petrov to make it 2-0, and Lubo’s beautiful twist away from Fernando Ricksen, in the penalty box, as he turned and set up Paul Lambert in the 12th minute, with that Lubo look as if to say “Here scud this make it 3-0” was exquisite, many of you may remember the commentator excitedly saying “This is an Annihilation !!”
Celtic’s fourth goal will be remembered fondly, and was voted by some, as their greatest ever old firm goal, when Henrik collected a pass from Chris Sutton sprinted away from Tugay, calmly nutmegged Kontermann and sublimly chipped the ball over Klos to send the fans into a frenzy.
Probably Lubos best game against the blue hordes, was at Ibrox in Celtics Treble Season of 2001, They were ultra confident Celtic would not beat them, to knock them off their perch, as their last defeat by the Bhoys at Ibrox was six and a half years earlier. They were unaware that Lubo had not read the script, as a matter of fact, that day he tore it up and handed it back to them, Lubo scoring twice while handing them a 0-3 home defeat, Henrik Larsson getting the other goal. This was the beginning of the end for their dominance, and Lubo and Larsson’s class combined would terrorize most defences.
One other game of note for Lubo was Celtic vs Juventus Champions League game at Parkhead in 2001. Lubo was selected by Martin O’Neill to start in this game (that Celtic needed to win to qualify, while hoping for Porto to drop points), for his creative talents, and showcased these beautifully in the Champions League by setting up 3 goals, one for Joos Valgaeren, after skinning the defender Paramatti three times with some lovely twists, and 2 for Chris Sutton, by way of a corner kick, and free kick (Suttons second goal was a peach), incredibly Lubo was booked for diving after being tripped just outside the penalty box by Ferrara, who was consistently fouling throughout the game. (The french referee did not handle the game well at all). Lubo should have scored a couple in that game himself, and Henrik also missed a golden chance or two, it was a game which Celtic won 4-3 Henrik scoring the other (a penalty) after Sutton was almost wrestled to the ground in a cage fighting manner, and it was a game which Celtic should have had at least one more penalty if not two.
Make no mistake this was a quality Juventus team, and Lubo was immense that evening. Unfortunately for Celtic, Porto did not drop any points, and I often think had Martin played Lubo more in that Champions League round, Celtic could have done much better. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, alas it was not to be and Celtic then dropped into the EUFA Cup/Europa.
Lubo’s thunderbolt 30yard goal against Hibs at Easter road in our 1-4 win in August 2001 was a peach. Other strikes, left foot, right foot the likes of against Motherwell and Man Utd (Ryan Giggs testimonial) are still joys in my mind, as are many more, and in the game against Hearts when he trapped the ball with his arse, absolutely delightful. Lubo had a god given talent that had “the ability to lift arses off seats.”
For these players to compliment Lubo in such a way, shows just what a special talent he was.
Henrik Larsson: “Lubo is going to be almost impossible to replace, as players like him do not come around very often.”
Ronald DeBoer: “Lubo is a player that makes people want to come and watch football”
Paul Lambert: “Lubo is the most skilful player I have ever seen at Celtic in my time there.”
Zinedine Zidane: “He is probably one of the best No.10’s that I have ever seen.”
Pavel Nedved: “I was fortunate to play at Celtic Park in the same game as Ľubo, but not fortunate with the way he played against us”
Eric Cantona: when asked to swap shirts, after a game. “No i want Lubo’s shirt”
When Lubo finally left Celtic, three years later in 2002 aged 36 for Japan, it was to meet up with the man who gave him his first international cap, and the same man who brought him to Celtic, Dr Josef Venglos. Lubo will forever be fondly remembered by Celtic Supporters as “A gift from God !”
Lubo is now a football agent working from his home in Nitra Slovakia and the Vice President of the Slovakian FA.
Here’s a reminder of a wonderfully talented, two footed midfielder, that we were blessed to see when he joined Celtic, even if only for such a short time.
The final words should come from the man himself.
Lubo Moravcic: “The Celtic fans said I was a gift from God, but it was the opposite – Celtic was a gift from God to me.”
The above is by ASWGL. Should you fancy firing one in for the front page yourself the email address as always is firstname.lastname@example.org