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High on the happy side

IN God, he trusts.

The Honduran full-back points his fingers to heaven in gratitude at regular intervals but complements divine inspiration with human perspiration. It is a combination that offers Izaguirre personal delight and the promise of extraordinary riches.

The Celtic player will celebrate his 25th birthday next week and can anticipate a summer playing for Honduras in the Concacaf Gold Cup and pondering offers from both his present club and a series of suitors.

His election as the Cheque Centre PFA Players’ Player of the Year is the most recent of tributes to the marauding full-back who has impressed with his technical ability, his physical resilience and his desire to succeed. Celtic took a chance in signing the player from Motagua, but it has paid off handsomely.

The acquisitions of Izaguirre and Biram Kayal have been followed almost immediately by intense speculation where both will play next season. This is the most sincere of tributes from the outside world.

Izaguirre takes it all in his free-flowing stride. He regularly invokes the “blessing of God” but knows that the Almighty is not exclusively concerned with the career choices of a rapidly improving full-back. He is clear about his belief in God but also firm about the personal responsibilities that form the life of an amiable family man. “I point to heaven because I am a Christian, that’s the reason behind it,” he said yesterday, explaining a pose that has become almost his trademark. “I pray before I go on the pitch.”

Izaguirre, whose parents are both teachers, adds: “It’s something I’ve done since I was a child. I always give thanks to God for what I’m experiencing, whatever I’m going through. Now the fans have started doing it when I go up to the crowd to applaud them. They make the sign back to me.

“I’ve always been a Christian, I go to church here with my family. But religion doesn’t influence any of my decisions.”

Izaguirre means by this that he does not specifically ask God for direction to a particular club. This is a process he undertakes on his own. The summer he will be presented with a series of opportunities.

Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, has already said the club is considering improved offers to both the Honduran and Kayal. The presence of David Moyes, the Everton manager, in the stands as Celtic defeated Dundee United 4-1 on Sunday is further evidence that the Barclays Premier League is eyeing Lennon’s stars with an envy backed by substantial cash. Manchester United and Liverpool have also been linked with Izaguirre and Kayal.

“First and foremost, I’m just thinking about this season, the next four games and the Scottish Cup final. That’s where my focus lies,” says Izaguirre in response to questions about his future. “If, after that, we sit down and talk about a contract, that’s fine. But I’m signed to Celtic for the next three years and I’m happy about that.”

Izaguirre has been heartened by the way his wife, Virginia, and two-year-old son, Emilio, have revelled in the Scottish experience. “The most amazing thing for me is to see my son so happy here. Everybody here has treated us so well. I am happy to stay here. I would like to stay here. But it’s not always a decision that depends on me. It is also down to the club and to Peter Lawwell [chief executive]. But, as far as I’m concerned, I’m happy to remain at Celtic.”

He has ambitions. “I’ve already reached several goals in my career. Now I want to win the league with Celtic and hopefully go into the Champions League, to really do something big with Celtic.”

If Izaguirre seems a slight figure, he has proved himself mentally and physically strong. He has adapted to a new culture and become comfortable in a league that demands a toughness in its successful participants. The challenges of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League run-in bring a smile.

“I’m enjoying it. There are four games remaining and, if we win them, we pick up the title. That is fantastic,” he says. “I have dreamt of finding myself in a team in such a strong position to challenge for the championship.”

But how has he found the physical battles? “The coach in Honduras had done a course in Germany. So he came back and really trained us hard, using different techniques he had learned. That is why you will find many Honduras players doing well in Europe. We are physically prepared for it,” he says.

He is also prepared for the lucrative offers. “For me and my family, money is not the most important thing,” he says. “I want to win the league with Celtic. There is no money in the world that can replace that. You can’t buy this kind of success. That’s, for me, more important, to keep winning titles and playing well.”

His motivation is simple. “I love playing football, I love training, my family love to watch me. The best support I can have is from my family and, if they’re happy, I’m happy.”

The tenets of the Izaguirre belief system seem simple. He loves family, believes in God and disdains Mammon. “I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed every single game I’ve played,” he says of his first season of Celtic.

His faith works, but so does Izaguirre.

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