Lubo Moravcik was a key part of the Celtic team around the turn of the century and a big reason behind them turning around the tide in Scotland, despite the fact that he was well past his 30th birthday, even when he had first joined the club. He would go on to establish himself as a fan favourite at Parkhead during his four-year run there.
Many had believed that his time at the club was coming to an end by the time Martin O’Neill was appointed as manager but stunningly, Moravcik went on to play some of his best football under the Northern Irishman.
He would end up leaving the club in 2002 though, in order to move to the J1 League to play for JEF United Ichihara and reunite with Jozef Venglos, the man who had brought him to Celtic in the first place.
Celtic would make the final of the UEFA Cup the very next season though and looking back, Moravcik does view it as a mistake on his part to leave the club. As reported by The Herald, he said:
“My first talk with him [O’Neill] wasn’t really successful for me because he didn’t know what role I could play in the team.
“But everything changed when we had a discussion face-to-face.
“I told him I was ready to move because I was 35 and I wasn’t young anymore. He said if I wanted to stay he would give me an opportunity to play some games. The first game I played in Luxembourg I scored two goals and he knew then that he could use my quality for the team for the season.
“I think it was the best season of my career because I finished with 15 goals and played a lot of games for my age. He knew how to use my quality for the team – not all the time, but at the right time.
“At the end of the season we were happy and I signed for another season. But I think I made a mistake because at the start of the season I said it was my last for Celtic. I made a mistake. I should have stayed for one more year because Celtic could have won a European trophy – with me!”
Moravcik reveals regret at timing of Celtic exit
Moravcik had announced at the start of the 2001/02 season that it would be his last for Celtic, and he did go on to leave for JEF United after that.
But considering the football that he was playing at that stage of his career, he could have easily stayed on for another season, even if he would not be a first-team regular. O’Neill certainly knew how to get the best out of him.
Would the result of the UEFA Cup final been different if he had remained at the club? Who knows! There is no point thinking about things which cannot be changed though. Moravcik had a great Celtic career and it should be celebrated, even though he might have left earlier than he should have.
This article was originally posted here