McNamara hungry to guide Wolves into golden future

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The Independent Football

While Wolves and their manager, Glenn Hoddle, were flushed with success at capturing the 31-year-old Scotland defender, the 5-0 defeat by Artmedia Bratislava and 4-4 draw with Motherwell with which Celtic opened the Gordon Strachan era suggested they might miss him more than they had thought.

McNamara is saddened by the way his decade at Celtic ended and disappointed, as a fan of the club that his father also represented, by their early results. However, he is more concerned to look forward to new challenges, starting with Wolves' Championship opener at Southampton today, rather than back in anger.

Playing-wise, he left Glasgow on a high, putting behind him the "sickener" of relinquishing the title to Rangers by lifting the Scottish Cup after the defeat of Dundee United at Hampden Park. There was also a testimonial match, with 53,000 supporters honouring McNamara. But he maintains the offer of a deal was not forthcoming, a version disputed by Celtic, and Wolves stole in to take him on a Bosman free transfer.

"The way it happened left a bit of a sour taste," he says. "If I'd known my testimonial was going to be my last game, I'd have said goodbye to the fans. I waited until June for Celtic to sort things out and watched other players getting signed up. But then they came out and said I was holding the club to ransom, which was absolute nonsense."

Wolves offered him the two-year contract he sought. "I felt Celtic didn't want me, whereas I felt good and valued when I spoke to Glenn Hoddle. His presence was a big attraction. I know what happened with England, but I can tell you that among players his stock is still very high.

"The way he sold the club to me influenced my decision. He told me he was confident we could go up even though it is a notoriously hard division to escape from. It would have been great to have come to the Premiership, but I believe that this is a top-flight club in everything but current status. It would mean more to me to be promoted with them and sample it next season. That would be a massive achievement."

McNamara has slotted in seamlessly at right-back, earning lavish praise from one of Wolves' senior coaches, who likened his quiet professionalism and technical ability to that of Denis Irwin. His impact has been all the more striking because he spent pre-season 300 miles from his family. "I signed on a Tuesday and my wife had our third child on the Friday," he says. "It wasn't ideal, but that's football."

The presence of two compatriots, Kenny Miller and Colin Cameron, helped him to assimilate in a dressing-room that also houses a Nigerian, a Korean and a Romanian, plus an old foe from the 1997 Uefa Cup tussle between Celtic and Liverpool, Paul Ince. "He's so fit, a great athlete," says McNamara. "I couldn't believe he was coming up to 38."

"But then there are a lot of good players here. With 46 league games - coming fast and furious, every Saturday, Tuesday and Saturday - you need a big squad. One thing I'm pleased about is that we play teams twice as opposed to the four times I was used to in Scotland, which became monotonous after a while."

There are aspects of his time at Celtic he is sorry to leave behind, however, notably their European adventures. "I won't deny I'll miss those nights. I was fortunate enough to lead the team out in the Nou Camp against Barcelona last year, and to play against the likes of Milan and Bayern Munich. Yet I don't mind playing at smaller grounds like Crewe, Luton and so on. I've done it before. That's the reality of the job."

There will also be a pang of regret or nostalgia next time the Old Firm collide. His fondest Celtic memory is of when Rangers were routed 6-2 in Martin O'Neill's first derby. He takes pride, too, in "being part of the side that stopped Rangers winning 10 titles in a row [after equalling Celtic's record of nine] - that was a big thing for everyone at the club."

Like all wearers of the hoops, he knew the feeling of being public property and has enjoyed his summer of relative anonymity. "When I walk down the street here, or go in a shop, nobody bats an eyelid. It's been strange, but it'll be great for my family when they come down." Trading the goldfish bowl of Glasgow for the golden palace of Molineux, McNamara will settle for the recognition that goes with a job well done.