In modern football, players showing loyalty to a club over several seasons is an increasingly rare occurrence. This rare loyalty is often expected to come from the local lad, steeped in a club’s histoty and a supporter of it from birth. At Celtic Football Club this special bond was instead created with a player from the other side of the world, who hardly could speak a word of English when he arrived.
Signed on August 18th 2010 for a fee of £650,000 from Honduran side Motagua, Emilio Izaguirre was one of new Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s first signings. Given the number 3 shirt with his first name on the back, Izaguirre, nicknamed Izzy by the Celtic faithful, quickly became a fans favourite.
Izaguirre made his debut in a 1-0 away victory against Motherwell on August 29th 2010. Notably, giant English goalkeeper Fraser Forster also made his Celtic debut in this match and the ineffectual Irish striker Daryl Murphy scored the game’s only goal from the penalty spot. The Honduran quickly won plaudits for his bombing forward runs and link up play. In a 2015 interview with the Celtic View, he talked about that first outing in green and white; ‘I remember the match. I started training with Celtic on August 27 and played two days later on the 29th. I was very nervous before this game because I had just signed. I remember Shaun Maloney playing and Georgios Samaras as well and he always supported me. I tried my best and tried to concentrate and win the game. Afterwards I was very happy with that moment.’
Izaguirre was an improvement in the left back area, so often a weak link in the Celtic defence, and an area previously occupied by Lee Naylor for four seasons and then very briefly by Danny Fox. He scored his first goal for Celtic on 30th October 2010 in a 3-0 win away to St Johnstone, intercepting a pass and slotting the ball past the Saints goalkeeper, before some hilarious celebrations with the Celtic fans including a supporter in a green body suit! A cult hero was born.
As he explained to Celtic View ‘I’ve seen that goal again but I remember it in my head and it’s like that with every moment at Celtic. I have it in my head and I never forget, from start to finish. The fans, staff and players are so good with me. I always want to play for the club because I love Celtic. All the people around Celtic are so good with me and I’m very grateful with all people involved with the club. Everything I do is to pay them back for the support.’
Consistently good performances saw Izaguirre crowned Scotland’s Professional Footballer’s Association and SPL Player of the Year Awards as well as Scottish Footballer of the year for 2011, a rare feat for a defender and especially a left-back. It was all the more impressive being achieved by a player coming directly from the Honduran league adapting to the total different climate, society and football culture on Glasgow.
Then disaster struck in Izaguirre’ second season. On August 7th 2011 in a 1-0 away victory, a hard challenge from Aberdeen’s Peter Pawlett accidently saw Izaguirre land in an awkward position resulting in a broken leg. It would keep him out of action until 2012 and even when he eventually fully recovered from his horror injury he was never able to consistently replicate the award winning form of his first season.
While entirely understandable given the severe nature of the injury it does leave a question of ‘what it’? How good could have Izaguirre became has it not been for the fateful day?
What we do know is that Izaguirre was a true fighter and brilliant professional who gave his all and always tried to preform to the best of his ability. While still being a great attacking threat, he became weaker defensively, often losing his positioning and leaving gaps in the left back area, a weakness that opposition teams would regularly target, sometimes with great success.
Nevertheless, Izaguirre remained a fan favourite and his song ‘’Emilio Izaguirre, Celtic loves you more than you will know’’ was regularly heard at home and away games as Celtic romped towards several consecutive league titles, Scottish Cups and League Cups in one of the most successful periods in their history. Izaguirre would also compete for Honduras at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, playing in the group stage matches against France and Ecuador.
However, the rise of Kieran Tierney during the 2015/16 season saw Izaguirre reduced to a substitute role. It was an ideal situation for Celtic, with two top quality players competing against each other for a place in the team, one a promising talent, the other an experienced internationalist.
Tierney has credited Izaguirre as a key part in his development as a young footballer. In speaking to to the Belfast Telegraph in 2015, Tierney said; ‘Emilio is a great player. He has played in the Champions League and World Cup so I still have a long way to go. He has great experience and he has been great with me. I still look up to him and I talk to him at training and he gives me tips’.
One notable highlight for Izaguirre in this period where Tierney had started to eclipse him was in the 6-0 victory over Dundee at Celtic Park, when he scored two goals and missed a penalty for his hat-trick, his spot-kick getting closer to Row Z than the back of the net.
At the end of season 2015/16, it looked certain that Izaguirre was to leave Celtic. On May 15th 2016, Celtic thrashed Motherwell 7-0 on trophy day and the day was turned into a celebration of his time at Celtic, the celebrations arguably overshadowing the departure of the Norwegian title winning manager Ronny Deila.
Indeed it was a surprise that Izaguirre remained at Celtic after the closure of the summer transfer window despite such intense speculation regarding his future. Nevertheless, while he initially remained a bit part player, Kieran Tierney received a significant ligament injury in October 2016 that ruled him out of action for several months. Izzy would once again taste action in the Champions League against Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Mönchengladbach, and also played his part in the 2-1 Hogmanay victory over Rangers at Ibrox. It was to be his last run as the starting left-back for Celtic, with Tierney reclaiming his place once fully fit. Izaguirre’s final Celtic appearance was in the 5-0 away win against Partick Thistle on May 18th, 2017, nearly a full 7 years after Celtic acquired his signature. Club captain Scott Brown the only player remaining from when Izaguirre’s arrived.
On 25th July 2017, Izaguirre posted on his official Instagram page that he would be leaving Celtic to join Al-Fayha FC, the champions of Saudi Arabia. He wrote ‘Today is a very sad day in my life. I never thought that one day I had to say goodbye to a club that I love so much and that gave me everything in football, all my dreams came true in my professional career as a football player. I want to say thanks to you all the people working at Celtic Park, all the staff working at Lennoxtown training ground, the security staff, the kitchen staff, the kitmen and everybody else. A every special to all the Celtic Fans that made me feel at home, to the Ultras Celtic Fans Green Brigade. I love you all!!!’.
Emilio Izaguirre played 251 matches for Celtic, scoring five goals, while winning six consecutive league titles, two Scottish Cups and two League Cups. There can be no doubt that his Celtic career was a resounding success. In his leaving post, Izaguirre signed off with ‘Hail Hail, I love Celtic forever!!!’’.
The feeling is mutual, Emilio Izaguirre; Celtic loves you more than you will know…