Football: SCOTTISH FOOTBALL: McNamara back to boost Celtic

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The Independent Online
JACKIE McNAMARA returns to the Celtic fold for the first time in almost two months at Dunfermline today believing he is rid of a knee injury which has troubled him since February.

The Scotland midfielder was part of Celtic's title-winning team and felt able to join Craig Brown's squad at France '98 but admits until his most recent operation his fitness remained a concern.

In many respects, McNamara, Scottish Player of the Year last season, has been a victim of his own success with both club and country keen to have him play. But last month he gave into the inevitable and had further surgery.

He said: "The knee problem meant I couldn't play as well as I wanted so after this operation, I rested properly because that is what the injury needed. I am ahead of schedule. My gym work has got a lot of flexibility back to the joint, and now the knee feels strong again. There is some swelling, but I'm ready to play.

"I had felt the knee wasn't right for a while, and to be honest, I should have had some more rest last season, but I couldn't because the League race was so tight and then came the World Cup. It had reached the stage where I was playing at weekends but could not face a midweek fixture."

The Celtic head coach, Jozef Venglos, admitted that the player will require a further late fitness test before today's game, but expressed delight McNamara's recovery is now imminent.

"He has trained again with us, and we are pleased with his recuperation," he said. "About his qualities, I don't need to speak because it is known he is a fine professional. We shall need to make a final decision on whether he starts, but we are happy that he is at the stage we can speak like that."

Celtic are confident that Henrik Larsson has overcome his midweek exertions for Sweden when his goal defeated Bulgaria before picking up a slight knee problem.

Venglos was himself overseas in midweek but declined to reveal which international he attended. However, he was seen at Brussels Airport where, unwittingly, Venglos and Scotland's general manager, Jock Brown, joined the same plane as that carrying the Scotland Under-21s and media.

Venglos grinned: "We are working on signing new players. It is an ongoing process, but we have no information. We have not spoken to any players."

As ever, Dunfermline refuse to be overawed by the prospect of a member of the Old Firm visiting, with their assistant manager, Dick Campbell, embodying the East End Park mood.

He said: "You have to respect Celtic because of the quality they have got in their ranks, and they would expect to beat us. But that respect goes out of the window as far as effort goes, and we'll be disappointed if we don't take three points."