Kelvin Wilson, a veteran of more than 200 games with Notts County, Preston North End, and Nottingham Forest, glowed on Wednesday night in the marquee set up outside Parkhead for the press to ambush participants in a famous victory for Celtic.
Wilson, at 27, has only ever commanded a transfer fee of £300,000 and came to Celtic in 2011 on a pre-contract agreement. In the new year the Englishman will prepare for a knock-out tie in the Champions League as compatriots Joleon Lescott, James Milner and Gareth Barry at Manchester City and Ashley Cole, John Terry and Frank Lampard at Chelsea ponder life outside the biggest club competition in the world.
Wilson's initially unconvincing form and tendency to pick up injuries make the story all the more remarkable. Yet on Wednesday he stood at the heart of a Celtic defence – sorely tried on occasion, particularly by Emmanuel Emenike – and now has the luxury of a wish list that includes a tie with Manchester United, the retention of the best talents at Celtic and the addition of reinforcements by Neil Lennon, even if these challenge his own starting position.
Wilson is keen to emphasise that he and his team-mates do not see the last 16 of the Champions League as the end of a journey that has included trips to Finland, Sweden, Spain, Russia and Portugal.
"We've beaten Barcelona, the best team in the world," he said, "so we're confident we can beat anyone here. I would like to draw a Premier League team and Manchester United are the only group winners, so that would be nice. It would be Scotland v England. This is not just because some people thought I was crazy coming here in the first place but United are one of the biggest clubs in the world and I've never had the chance to play them."
The belief in the Celtic dressing room has been bolstered by results in the qualifying rounds and their 10 points in the group stages. "I don't think anyone expected us to beat Barcelona or beat Spartak home and away," said Wilson. "We don't go shouting it from the rooftops but we've always been confident. We've quietly gone about our business and proved everyone wrong."
The qualification has raised the profile of the club, the manager and the players, he added. "Will people down south start to look at our manager now? Maybe so," said Wilson of the burgeoning reputation of Lennon. "He's done a great job here because we're the first Scottish club to win 10 points in the Champions League, so he's doing something right."
There will also be strong interest in Celtic players, particularly Gary Hooper, who scored the first goal against Spartak with a stunning drive, and Victor Wanyama, who was suspended for the Spartak match but who has been highly influential this season. Fraser Forster, the goalkeeper already called into an England squad, has had a spectacular Champions League campaign.
"I imagine there will be interest in our players but why would you want to leave now? We're in the last 16 and not many players get to compete in the Champions League, never mind reach this stage. We're all cup-tied for the competition anyway so I don't think anyone will go. I hope not, anyway."
Indeed, Wilson believes Celtic may strengthen the squad. "I'd welcome some signings in January and if the gaffer thinks that's needed he'll go and do it – even if he wants another centre-half. Fill your boots, gaffer. We'll welcome anyone the way we always have – the way I was welcomed in."
But what of that moment as Kris Commons struck the penalty that gave Celtic a passage to continued Champions League football. "When he put his foot through it and hit the bar I was like 'aargh!' – but it went in," said Wilson using the language of the comic book.
His concentration throughout the match was such that he was unconcerned by news of the Barcelona v Benfica match, though at one point there was a roar from the Celtic support that suggested the Catalans had scored.
"I assumed Barcelona were winning. It was only at the end I found out it was 0-0," said Wilson. "When we went in at half-time I forgot that we needed a result in that game as well, so I didn't even ask what the score was. I was just focused on what we had to do."
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