Lubo Moravcik was a bona fide legend in mainland Europe.
Zinedine Zidane described him as one of the greatest no.10s in football. Pavel Nedved, who grew up watching Lubo play for Czechoslovakia said “I was fortunate to play at Celtic Park in the same game as Lubo” [Celtic Wiki].
Yet, when he arrived at Paradise in 1998, he was an unknown quantity to the Scottish football press. Hugh Keevins described him in the Sunday Mail as “one of Dr. Jo’s old pals, the unknown Lubomir Moravcik!”. He’s since apologised, of course [Daily Record].
And the reason he’s apologised is because Lubo went on to be an absolute marvel for the Bhoys. Even years after he left Celtic, he’s remembered with incredible fondness. Even at 33, the ‘Gift from God’ lit up Celtic Park on a weekly, sometimes bi-weekly basis.
How did he react to the doubts from the columnists, though? Callum McFadden of the excellent Football CFB got to ask the Slovakian wizard just that.
Lubo said [Football CFB/YouTube]:
“At that time, Mr Venglos was very important person for me. He told me “don’t be scared, don’t worry about journalists”. He said “I know what you know, I know your quality”, because I had [a] very good pre-season in Duisburg. Physically I was really [well] prepared.
“Even at 33, I’d still been feeling very good. After that, I went on the pitch with a lot of respect. It’s never easy. But with a lot of hope, [that] I can do something. Paul Lambert, I knew him because he won the Champions League with Dortmund. Henrik Larsson, because he was at World Cup 94.
“Somebody who helped me a lot was Eric Black. He spent 5 years in France, he spoke French. He told me “Lubo, that atmosphere, you will be really happy to play for Celtic. 64,000 people at every game.”
Celtic hero Lubo Moravcik: right to believe in himself
While it was a signing that came out of left-field, especially given Lubo’s age at the time, it certainly worked. With nearly a decade of French top-flight experience under his belt, and a season with MSV Duisburg, the midfielder didn’t need to prove himself to anyone.
He had amassed nearly 90 caps for Czechoslovakia and Slovakia before he’d joined the Bhoys. So he had every reason to believe in himself, and play with confidence. Even if the atmosphere took him aback, just a little.
“I had a lot of respect, but I believe[d] in myself.
“Every player must be happy playing for Celtic in that atmosphere. That is why you play football. It’s for the fans, for the pleasure. After all the money, popularity, it’s second. First is your feeling.”
The memories he gave us will live for a long, long time. At Celtic, he won two league titles, two League Cup titles and a Scottish Cup. His incredible technique, propensity for the unexpected and exquisite finishing with either peg were remarkable.
So, all these years later, it’s no wonder that writers are still falling over themselves to reappraise the Gift from God.