Perspective makes McNamara a winner

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The Independent Football

A year ago, Jackie McNamara's life was torn apart. Not the usual footballer's moans. Losing the Uefa Cup final to Porto just a few weeks earlier did not even register on the scale of real grief after his mother died of cancer.

A year ago, Jackie McNamara's life was torn apart. Not the usual footballer's moans. Losing the Uefa Cup final to Porto just a few weeks earlier did not even register on the scale of real grief after his mother died of cancer.

It put everything in perspective. Contracts, money, a place in the team. When players talk blandly about needing security, McNamara knows from personal experience that every day ought to be cherished.

That is why he happily accepted a new contract last week to remain at Celtic for another year. It will be his 10th season. McNamara has no intention of leaving Parkhead for greater riches, but his value was underlined last week when he was voted Player of the Year by the Scottish Football Writers.

The quiet, unobtrusive Scotland player had beaten off opposition from his own more vaunted team-mates Henrik Larsson, Chris Sutton and Stilian Petrov to claim the award. What made McNamara's recognition all the more remarkable is that he began the season as he ended the last one - on the bench.

What Martin O'Neill has always prized about McNamara, in four years in charge of Celtic, is that the 30-year-old Scot has never grumbled about being left out. Not even last May in Seville - but by then, his mother's fading health was the real heartache.

Were it not for McNamara, O'Neill would have been unable to switch to a flat back four this season after years of resolutely following 3-5-2. McNamara, signed from Dunfermline Athletic in 1995 as a right-sided midfielder, has played out of position on the left all season in order to accommodate the right-footed Stanislav Varga in defence.

The change has been seamless, but then McNamara comes from an adaptable family. His father, Jackie Snr, was once outed as a communist at Celtic in the 1970s. His brother, Donnie, is a ballet dancer. "When the team were getting to the final of the Uefa Cup, I couldn't really knock on the manager's door saying that I should be playing," McNamara said last week as he reflected on his transformation from a place in the chorus line to a principal role.

In the absence of the injured Paul Lambert, McNamara inherited the captain's armband, and his father was there in Barcelona when he led Celtic out on to the biggest stage of all in this season's Uefa Cup tie.

"There have been quite a lot of great moments this season, such as lifting the Scottish Premier League trophy last weekend," said McNamara. "Obviously, the Nou Camp was a fantastic experience. It was great to run out there and to win the tie. Being captain in the Old Firm games too, and winning them.

"I want to finish my career at Celtic. My dad left here before his time, to join Hibs, but the whole family still supported Celtic. I think we are all closer - I have two brothers - since my mum died."

When Larsson goes and Lambert retires, McNamara will be the only remaining link with the pre-O'Neill side who won the title in 1998 to break a long, bleak period of Rangers domination. He is in no doubt about the difference between then and now as he surveys a third championship in four seasons and prepares for the Scottish Cup final on 22 May against his old club, Dunfermline.

"This is the better squad," he declares. "In 1997-98 we only had 18 players. It was incredible how fortunate we were to go through the season with very few injuries. This season we've had a lot, but we've managed to cope. We have been without Chris Sutton and John Hartson at key stages but managed to come through it all."

Scotland also value McNamara's service now. Jettisoned two years ago by Berti Vogts after his first game in charge - a 5-0 thrashing from France - it has taken McNamara time to regain favour. It has taken seven years to amass 24 caps. "That has been frustrating, especially when I was in Celtic's side and still being overlooked, but there is time yet for more caps," he said.

McNamara, though, may not be heading to Estonia with Scotland on 27 May for a friendly as his wife is due to give birth: another case of football being no match for life or death.

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