It has the ring of a contest straight from the late stages of the European Cup: Celtic v Internazionale. It has the whiff of history, prestige. The memories will hang like mist around Parkhead – Stein, Gemmell, Mazzola, Facchetti. It is a game embroidered with heritage, and a pre-match appearance from the surviving Lisbon Lions will ramp up the decibel level of a 60,000-strong crowd.
Then comes kick-off. Then the reality of the present will invade the glorious past. Perhaps the match will counter reduced expectations, but we will still know that neither Celtic nor Inter are what they were.
That assessment could refer to 1967, when Celtic became the first British club to win the European Cup – against Inter, famously, in Lisbon. Or it could refer to 1972, when the teams met in the semi-final and had to be separated on penalty-kicks.
It could even refer to more recent days – Inter won the Champions League under Jose Mourinho in 2010, while Celtic beat Barcelona in Glasgow in November 2012 and played in the last 16 of that competition four months later. The slide has been swift.
More than half the Celtic team that defeated Barcelona have left, as well as manager Neil Lennon. The likes of Fraser Forster and Victor Wanyama are at Southampton while the scorer of the winner that night, teenager Tony Watt, left for Belgium and has just joined Charlton.
As for Inter, they are on to their seventh manager since Mourinho and none of the starting XI which overcame Louis van Gaal’s Bayern Munich in Madrid in May 2010 will play in Glasgow on Thursday night. San Siro turnover is such that there may be just two of the Inter team who lost 3-0 at Spurs two years ago.
Yet the Italians will have recognisable faces. Roberto Mancini, who preceded Mourinho at Inter, has returned to the hot seat. He will be trying to compensate for a mediocre season in Serie A with a serious run in Europe’s secondary competition. For the first time it rewards the winners with a Champions League place next season, with the final to be held at San Siro.
Inter are 10th in Serie A, 15 points off an automatic Champions League qualifying position. Mancini has been back three months and it has been unspectacular. But for the first time Inter have had consecutive victories under the former City manager, defeating Atalanta 4-1 away on Sunday after a 3-0 win over Palermo.
Xherdan Shaqiri scored his first goal since his January transfer from Bayern and his inclusion in the squad means no place for the on-loan Arsenal striker Lukas Podolski.
Nemanja Vidic sat out Sunday’s win at Atalanta but the former Manchester United defender is expected to start and has been talking up Parkhead.
“Throughout my career I have played in some really tough places,” Vidic said. “Every game I have played in Turkey stands out for passion created by the fans, but the best has been at Celtic Park.”
Davide Santon, recently arrived from Newcastle, is likely to be alongside Vidic, and protecting the back four should be Gary Medel. Relegated from the Premier League with Cardiff City last season, Medel cost Cardiff £11m and Inter £10m.
Those are sums Celtic have never spent and manager Ronny Deila made that point yesterday. “If you look at the budget Inter has, it’s different from ours,” he said. “It’s a different league and different level. Everything is possible in football but we have to be realistic. We’re not favourites, but it’s a cup.”
Considering Celtic have won their last eight matches, conceding one goal – last Saturday at St Johnstone – Deila might be expected to sound more confident. But as his assistant, John Collins, said: “If we make mistakes or we’re not compact, then they [Inter] will punish us. That doesn’t always happen in the Premiership.”
For Thursday night’s match midfielder Kris Commons is still doubtful with a hamstring injury while right-back Mikael Lustig and midfielder Charlie Mulgrew are both missing.
Should Mancini’s team justify that concern, and they are odds-on favourites to progress, there will be another verdict on Celtic and Scottish football. Inter will move on.
Yet these will remain two historic clubs seeking to forge new histories – 1967 was 48 years ago.Reuse content