Happy birthday Emilio – 36 today. Here’s our valedictory which appeared in NTV 251 when he left the club in 2017. (We’ll draw a discrete veil over his second spell during the 2018-19 season)
Serious question: Is Emilio Izaguirre the best left footed left back Celtic have ever had?
All the other top candidates for best full-back (basically Tommy Gemmell or Danny McGrain) were right sided, so was Tom Boyd. Going back into the 60s prior to Tommy and the 50s we don’t really have any outstanding candidates.
In recent years we have had McKinlay, Mahe and Naylor, passable players on their day but nowhere near as good as Izzy.
He signed in the summer of 2010, part of Lenny’s rebuilding programme after the Mowbray debacle, for £650k from Honduran side Motagua. Previously he had been asked to trial at Ipswich and was linked with other moves but for whatever reason nothing had come to fruition.
But after he played in 2010 World Cup he arrived in Scotland.
The 2010-2011 season was a bit of a funny one for Celtic. On the one hand Lenny built a young and exciting team that was a pleasure to watch; on the other we probably should have had a treble. The league campaign suffered from a horrible run in November/December and the League Cup ended in defeat in the final after a well below par performance, although Izzy didn’t go down without a fight – quite literally, as he was sent off in the final minute of extra time having cleaned out Weiss in a fashion that was more than pleasing.
We ended up winning the Scottish Cup, which was the least we deserved from the season and things looked very rosy indeed, thanks in no small way to the absolute gem we had at left back.
He had essentially had an almost flawless season, quick, superb first touch, good crosser, nasty when he had to be, better attacker than defender, but still a better defender than most of our left backs since Danny McGrain. There didn’t seem to be any obvious holes in his game. He even chipped in with a superb goal at Perth to set up a 3:0 win. One of the other highlights had been an overlap and cross for Gary Hooper in a 3-0 win against the hun (still in existance at the time).
At the end of the season he cleaned up the POTY awards and inevitably had the media falling over themselves to link him with any EPL side they could think of.
Izzy wasn’t interested. He brushed off all such talk and gave the papers nothing, which was refreshing.
He looked all set to continue where he left off at the start of the following season and then the roof fell in at Pittodrie. As he went to play in a cross from the left wing he was tackled (cleanly) but he fell awkwardly catching his right foot in the turf with his full weight falling on to it. His ankle was broken and required surgery. He was out of the side for 6 months, during which time we fell 15 points off the pace before storming back to go clear the top of the league before his return.
On his return there was a feeling that he wasn’t quite what he had been before. Maybe he wasn’t quite as sharp, maybe a touch slower… whatever it was he was never really linked away from us again, which suited us just fine in truth.
As we went on our run of championships Izzy was pretty much a constant pick until the arrival on the scene of Kieran Tierney.
His main attacking impact was with assists, but in September 2015 he came very close to scoring a hat-trick in a 6:0 win over Dundee. Having scored twice from open play – one after a nice dummy run followed by a neat 1-2 and scored with his right, the second poached at the back post – he was given the chance to convert a penalty to seal the deal. Sadly he took the word ‘convert’ a bit too literally and toed the ball miles over the bar. Strange for someone normally so composed on the ball.
It wasn’t long after that when Tierney appeared on the scene and replaced Izzy, but even then he has shown real class, never taking a huff, or running to the press with a sob story.
Tierney himself has pointed out that Izzy was always a help in training and when his chance came to step back into the first team the wee Honduran was as reliable as ever.
He was excellent in the Hogmanay game at Ibrox and in fact he barely put a foot wrong the whole time Tierney was out injured that season, even though he must have known he was only keeping the left back spot warm for KT coming back.
Meanwhile, away from Celtic he had other pressures to contend with. A friend of NTV frequents the same barber as Izzy and used to ask after him with the staff. On one occasion he was told he had just missed Izzy but he was slightly down that day. When he asked why he was told that Izzy had received a phone call from his mother saying that his brother had been kidnapped again. Yes, again!
His home country of Honduras is now considered the most violent on the planet (averaging 20 murders a day in 2012), and clearly as a successful footballer he would have been a target for criminal activity which must have been a terrific strain on him.
His move to Al-Fayha netted the club a nice fee and if any rumour is to be believed will give Izzy a very nice wage rise, which at 31 and on the down slope, albeit the early stages, will be welcome.
So again I ask the question; Is Emilio Izaguirre the best left footed left back Celtic have ever had?
I suppose the answer might be: Yes, for now, but there’s a guy called Tierney who might have something to say about it.
He left us with 6 championship medals, 2 League cup medals, 2 Scottish Cup winners badges and the best wishes of every Celtic fan.
He will be welcome at Celtic Park for ever.
What about Jim Kennedy, a true defender and power house at a time when we were a poor side. Having followed Celtic since the fifties I would say he was as good as any and better than most.