FOOTBALL: Prospect of Old Firm debut fires Bellamy

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The Independent Online
CRAIG BELLAMY, Celtic's new loan signing, is counting down the days to his first Old Firm game, especially as the striker was brought up in a Celtic-supporting area.

Bellamy is expected to face Rangers at Parkhead on 20 February in a game likely to have a major say in the destiny of the Premier League title. The Welsh international striker was loaned out by Newcastle following a row with the Premiership club's manager, Graeme Souness.

"The area I am from is real Celtic," he said. "I don't want to go into it too much because I don't want to upset the other half, but Celtic have a big say where I am from in Wales and a lot of my friends and family were delighted when I signed because it means a lot to them. I have always had a soft touch for Celtic."

Bellamy has yet to make his debut for Celtic, having been left out last weekend because Martin O'Neill, the Celtic manager, feared he would suffer an injury on Dunfermline Athletic's plastic pitch.

He is now likely to make his first appearance at Inverness on Saturday, in the final League game before the meeting with Rangers. "This is probably the best place you could be, at Celtic Park in front of all those fans against Rangers, and I will be keeping my fingers crossed that I will be in the team and make my home debut in that game," he said. "I know I will be blown away during the first few minutes because it is a big occasion."

The Celtic defender Bobo Balde has revealed that the contract negotiations which saw him turn down a move to Middlesbrough were conducted by himself, without an agent. Balde said: "It's true I do all my negotiating alone; no agents at all. There have been a lot of people phoning around to say they speak for me but they don't - I don't have an agent. When I go to speak to the manager or the chief executive I always speak for myself.

"Maybe that is unusual but for me everything is simple. I knew what I wanted to be paid and how long I wanted my contract to be." Birmingham City had also been keen to sign the defender but they too ended up disappointed.

"Of course the Premiership was an attractive option for me because you know that in that league there is a big challenge of playing against great strikers almost every week," Balde said. "But, if I had left to go to either Middlesbrough or Birmingham, I would have been moving to a smaller club than Celtic."

Across the city, the Rangers manager, Alex McLeish, has smoothed over his disagreement with the club's goalkeeper Allan McGregor.

McGregor hit the headlines last week when comments attributed to him criticised the club for signing the Netherlands international Ronald Waterreus. The knee injury that ruled out Stefan Klos for the rest of the season had prompted McLeish to recruit Waterreus from Manchester City, especially as McGregor was cup-tied for the CIS Insurance Cup semi-final with Dundee United.

McGregor's displeasure was made public on the day of Rangers' 7-1 win at Hampden Park and it remains to be seen who will be chosen to face Hibernian at home on Saturday.

McLeish said: "Allan got sucked into a few things last week but he knows that after a sit-down with me that a club like Rangers must have an experienced goalkeeper on its books."

McGregor added: "It was a shock when I heard the gaffer had signed another keeper because a few people had said to me that they did not think this would happen. Of course, it is up to the manager and you have to respect his decisions so I will just keep working as hard as ever and hope I do enough to earn a starting slot in the team.

"I realise the next six months could be the most important of my Rangers career and I am just desperate to show everyone at the club what I can do."

The Rangers striker Dado Prso has declared he is enjoying life at the club following his move from Monaco last year. The Croatian has scored 14 goals for Rangers so far. Prso said: "I am really happy at this club because I came here to win the title and we are in a good position and now we have the CIS Cup final to look forward to as well.

"The fans are so passionate here and I love living in Scotland," he added. "I am really settled. My kids go to school and we are happy. I always thought I would settle quickly and I really feel a part of the squad."

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