Football:Celtic depend on home-grown Bhoy

Calum Philip says Simon Donnelly can hold the key to Uefa Cup progress
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The Independent Online
THIRTY-ONE years ago, Celtic left Zurich having made the first instalment on football's most priceless piece of silverware. On Tuesday night, they return to the city seeking to buy time in their quest to return to that former glory.

The situation facing the Bhoys from Parkhead could hardly be more different from 1967. Then, they dismantled FC Zurich 5-0 on aggregate on their way to winning the European Cup. Now, the Swiss side are poised to gain their revenge by knocking Celtic out of the Uefa Cup.

Despite the startling commercial success that Celtic have enjoyed off the pitch, creating the biggest ground in Britain and enjoying a pounds 27m turnover, they are mere gnomes, in footballing terms. FC Zurich are humble in comparison. Their coach, the former Nottingham Forest player Raimundo Ponte, has built a side for a fraction of what Celtic spent. And there is the irony.

While Celtic now pursue Australian striker Marko Viduka by dangling a pounds 3m carrot in front of Croatia Zagreb's nose, they will turn to a player who cost nothing to deal them a rescue package in the nerve centre of Swiss banking. Simon Donnelly's two goals last week against Aberdeen reminded supporters that, despite what seems like a perennial club obsession for buying up new strikers, he remains their best option.

While Harald Brattbakk has failed to deliver the goals his prolific reputation promised, not to mention the pounds 2.2m cheque paid to Rosenborg, and others, such as Pierre van Hooijdonk, Paolo di Canio and Jorge Cadete, have upped sticks, Donnelly has been faithful.

Only Henrik Larsson has scored more goals this season for Celtic than the 24-year-old Scotland international who is one of the few homegrown players in the Parkhead ranks, fulfilling the expectations that Liam Brady, who discovered him, had of Donnelly.

"I've seen a few guys come and go," smiles Donnelly when he thinks of the expensive queue of goalscorers Celtic have bought but failed to hold. "Yet five and a half years later, I'm still here and I'd like to think I have given the club good value.

"Some times you wonder if you are appreciated as much as the big signings, but a club like Celtic is always going to be linked with new strikers. Fans also demand big-money signings now, but I have always had confidence in my own ability and I think I can do a job for Celtic."

Ironically, money is something that will be very much on Donnelly's mind when Celtic fly into Zurich tomorrow morning. He has yet to negotiate a new contract and could move to England next summer as a free agent as his one-time Scotland under-21 colleague, Stephen Glass, did last June.

But at the moment, Donnelly only has Europe on the horizon. It is the place where he has enjoyed considerable success, scoring six times in the Uefa and Cup Winners Cups - including a penalty against Liverpool last season - since breaking into the Celtic team in 1994.

A seventh goal might prove to be the most valuable of the lot, because it would give Celtic a place in the third round of a Uefa Cup. "A goal would be nice," Donnelly said. "But it's more important to get a victory and get into the next round. A club like this has to be involved in the later stages. I won't forget the Liverpool games. They were special to be involved in and European football is definitely something I enjoy."

It still irks Donnelly that Zurich gained a 1-1 draw at Parkhead in the first leg, saying: "We would have won the first leg if Tom Boyd had not been sent off at half-time. Even with 10 men, we kept it tight and it was only a freak goal that did us in.

"We can go over to Zurich and get a result. We've done it before away from home in Europe, so we know how to get a victory," Donnelly declared. The striker netted in Portugal earlier in the competition against Vitoria Guimares, and said: "We need to put in a good performance the way we did in Guimares, and make sure we score."

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