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Lustig has a healthy lust for life at Celtic after overcoming injury woes

THE immediate past has been painful for Mikael Lustig but he has cause to look to a brighter future.

The 27-year-old Swede has undergone operations on both hips and has endured an enforced break of four months. He is, though, now back in the first-team squad and ready to commit to another contract at Celtic.

The Swede has struggled with his hips for some years but an operation became inevitable in December when the condition became unmanageable.

"After the Euros two years ago we started talking about an op," said the full-back. "For the past two years it can sometimes be good and sometimes bad. It's up and down, but now everything should be okay."

The condition has almost been a persistent companion on Lustig's rise to prominence as a Champions League and international footballer. "It's been a long journey, but I'm there now," he said.

"I still feel my hip sore in some positions but I've told it might take six to eight months to be fully ready. But in training I don't think about it so that's a good sign."

There is never a good time for a professional athlete to undergo an operation but the timing of Lustig's injury must have been particularly galling. He has gained in confidence and stature since signing for the club on a pre-contract deal in January 2012.

He was outstanding in the first half of the season, with his reputation being enhanced in Europe despite Celtic's disappointing run in the group stages.

Lustig, though, is keen to stay at Celtic and determined to be part of a squad that proves to be competitive in the group stages of the Champions League.

"Absolutely, I really enjoy it here," said the player, adding that talks had already started over extending the contract that runs out next year.

"Celtic want me to stay and I'm really happy here, so we will see what happens," said Lustig who confirmed he had not wanted to speak about a new deal until he had returned to fitness.

He was sunny about the prospect of staying in Glasgow.

"Both parties are really positive," he said. "Celtic have made me a better player," he said, looking forward with some anticipation to the new campaign that will start with a series of Champions League qualifiers in July.

"Next season, we know that first of all it's a really big achievement to reach the Champions League," he said. "It's getting harder and harder every year. Hopefully we can do it again."

He did not shrink from a blunt assessment of the group stages last season but pointed out there were moments when the record of five defeats with one victory over Ajax could have been made so much better.

"If you look at the first game in Milan, we had chances to get out of there with three points," he said of a 2-0 defeat in the San Siro.

"We played really well going forward and created maybe 14 or 15 corners. The season before, maybe we didn't create as much but we scored goals when we had opportunities.

"It's these small things that make the difference. We probably let in too many easy goals last season - ones we weren't losing the year before - so we need to improve on that. But in the game overall, I think we can be better this year than last year."

He admits that there have been moments when the rehabilitation has been draining. "It's been hard being alone here at Lennoxtown running when they are playing games at the weekend," he said.

But his inclusion in the squad for the match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the weekend was welcomed and he came on to play for 20 minutes.

He now continues a period of extended exercises to prepare him for the rigours of next season.

His tally of international caps has grown to 41 at Celtic and he has played in the Champions League but there is one facet missing from his cv at Parkhead.

He has yet to feature against Rangers and reflected on the under-17 match between the Glasgow rivals that was played at Celtic Park on Monday night, with green and white colours being attached to the City of Glasgow Cup after a 1-0 victory in front of 8000 fans.

"I don't think you would get a crowd like that for an under-17 games in Sweden," he said with a smile. "It was unreal and really important for the players that they won, as they won't play in front of 8000 every week. It was a big thing for them."

Lustig now hopes to settle his future and to banish his hip problem to the mists of time. He believes he has much to look forward to at Celtic.

The Champions League and a fourth consecutive title for the club tops the agenda but there is a personal target.

"I've never played in an Old Firm game. That would be unique for a Celtic player but I hope I get the chance, absolutely," he said.

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