THERE was a distinctly muted response from Celtic fans at the recruitment of a thirtysomething in exchange for a paltry fee from an inconspicuous German club two years before the millennium.
The individual concerned in the switch had never won a solitary honour in his club career elsewhere and would not have attracted a second look had he sauntered down Sauchiehall Street during the good old days of the rush hour.
Autograph hunters were not on red alert for the arrival of the club’s latest addition, a veteran operator apparently cloaked in anonymity.
There was no fanfare of trumpets to welcome the performer to his new home. Not even a strangled toot was heard. The entire signing was low-key and the transfer was pilloried far and wide even before the player had set foot in the country.
HOOP HOOP HOORAY…Lubomir Moravcik celebrates his two-goal performance in his derby debut with Celtic romping to a 5-1 victory at Parkhead in November 1998.
One leading national newspaper journalist scribbled something along the lines of “if anything, the cut-price signing has merely caused Celtic further embarrassment.”
That particular hack, known to your humble scribe but never an associate, later left the inky trade to take up a PR role at a team residing in Govan.
Knock me down with a feather? You couldn’t knock me down with a bulldozer when the news emerged of his defection.
The reaction to the Celtic signing was fairly brutal and, in some observations, downright insulting. The loudmouth brigade registered on the Richter Scale as the guffaws grew throughout the land.
The fatigued and hackneyed “biscuit tin” barbs came thick and fast as a queue formed to cast aspersions on the Hoops’ “laughable” capture of a so-called “unknown” operator.
Cheerleaders to fight the recruit’s corner were as rare as hen’s teeth.
LIFT-OFF…Lubomir Moravcik is walking on air as he rifles in the opener in the 5-1 rout of Rangers. Arthur Numan gets a close-up view of the new Celt’s prowess.
The £330,000 paid for the individual was, of course, utterly eclipsed by what was occurring across The Clyde with our neighbours feverishly working their way through a library of cheque books at an eye-popping, blistering pace.
A parade of expensive purchases were applauded wildly as the conveyor belt delivered the likes of Van Bronckhorst, Numan, Mols, Amoruso, Negri, Porrini, Klos, Albertz, Kanchelskis, Charbonnier, G’uivarch, Amato and Uncle Tom Cobley.
Presumably, Tore Andre Flo wasn’t available at the time, but the beanpole Norwegian frontman finally caught up with the gravy train a couple of years later, a snip at £12million from Chelsea. Of course, there were appropriate and drastic consequences for such spectacularly reckless spending. As we are all aware, it didn’t end well.
Back in the unenlightened 1998, some curious eyes were cast in the direction of Celtic’s “cheap option” and knowing heads nodded in unison when the team lost 2-1 to St Johnstone in Perth in the player’s second appearance.
The newcomer was written off after a mere three hours of action. A tad harsh, you might think.
A week later, the entire situation turned on its head. Humble pie emerged as the staple diet of the so-called “experts” and others who should have known so much better.
In the midst of the apparent acid test of a Glasgow derby, the derided performer enveloped proceedings with a mesmerising, virtuoso presentation throughout a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle as the lavishly-assembled collection of opponents were dismantled in remorseless fashion in a one-sided confrontation at a pulsating Parkhead.
GLASGOW BELONGS TO ME…Lubomir Moravcik is a roaring success as he scores oe of his double in the 3-0 success at Ibrox in April 2001. Swedish duo Johan Mjallby and Henrik Larsson join in the Govan glee.
The previously-mocked Bhoy claimed two exquisite strikes as Celtic, with Henrik Larsson playing his majestic part, romped to a justifiably satisfying 5-1 triumph over an overpriced Rangers side on a memorable November afternoon in the east end of Glasgow.
No doubt you will have already identified the “cheapskate signing” as a certain Lubomir Moravcik.
No-one could have blamed the little Slovakian for being slightly traumatised at the inhospitable reception that had awaited him in Glasgow.
At 33, his future was most assuredly behind him, we were informed, but this is the same player who captured the hearts and minds of anyone who possessed a scintilla of knowledge about football.
Moravcik rose above the unwarranted criticism and inexcusable bile to remain with the club for four seasons, winning two titles, two League Cups and one Scottish Cup.
Not too bad for a has-been.
I cite the Moravcik experience for one very good reason. I am listening to hasty criticism of Celtic’s summer acquisitions such as Marco Tilio, Odin Holm, Yang Hyun-jun, Gustaf Lagerbielke and the others who have barely had a reasonable period of time to settle into a new environment, to embrace a different culture.
Ah, the folly of being too quick to judge, my friends.
You would have thought some would have learned from history, wouldn’t you?