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'Mikael is the kind of guy that you would want your daughter to marry'

WHEN Mikael Lustig ambled forward from defence to lash in a goal from 30 yards against Hearts on Sunday, it was perhaps him reminding everyone what he is capable of.

Mikael Lustig scores at the weekend. Celtic's attacking outlook was a big part of the reason he chose them when leaving Rosenborg. Picture: SNS
Mikael Lustig scores at the weekend. Celtic's attacking outlook was a big part of the reason he chose them when leaving Rosenborg. Picture: SNS

The Swede has been one of Celtic's most accomplished performers this season but, while the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Charlie Mulgrew and Kris Commons have all had praised heaped upon them at one time or another, Lustig's solid but largely unflashy displays have tended to pass by without comment. It seems that consistently reliable performances are now expected of the 26 year-old as a matter of course.

That is not to say he is not appreciated. Manager Neil Lennon is a huge admirer and described Lustig yesterday as "an outstanding player, not just at domestic level but at European level too." The defender, who signed from Rosenborg in January 2012, is under contract until the summer of 2015 but an extension has already been waved under his nose. Rubin Kazan tried to prise the player away from Celtic a year ago and there will surely be others who will try their luck either next month or in the summer, hoping to land a player Lennon believes encompasses "everything you want from a modern-day full-back".

Lustig is said to be as composed off the field as he is on it; something of a deep thinker. When he chose to leave his native Sweden in 2008, he elected to sign for Rosenborg ahead of other more enticing moves as he felt their style of play best suited his game. It was the same when he left Norway after four seasons. There were offers from the Netherlands and Germany, while English clubs were also sniffing around, but Lustig made it clear he wanted to sign for a club that would indulge his natural inclination to attack. "I'm not the kind that likes to sit back and defend a lot," he said. "That's why I would prefer a club that is one of the better in their league." That countryman Johan Mjallby was already on the books as Lennon's assistant was also a significant factor.

Those who have studied Lustig's development closely believe he has made a real effort to improve the defensive side of his game. Jörgen Lennartsson was assistant, then head coach, of the Sweden under-21 team from 2006 to 2010, a period during which Lustig first performed at that level. Lennartsson was moved then to state publicly that he felt Lustig had the potential to one day become an established figure in the senior side, a claim borne out by the 46 caps the player has subsequently gathered.

Lennartsson has kept tabs on Lustig's progress, the pair crossing paths when Celtic met his Elfsborg side in the third qualifying round of the Champions League earlier this season. He remains as impressed by him now as he was in the early days. "Mikael has had the progression we hoped and that we thought was possible for him," Lennartsson told Herald Sport. "He has had to work on his defensive skills as he was always wanting to attack. That was maybe his weakness in the early days. He has worked hard on his defence so that now it is not common for him to be beaten one on one by clever, skilful forwards. He presses well, moves his feet quickly and blocks crosses well. I can see Neil and Johan have worked with him a lot on that side of things."

Lennartsson talked up Lustig's personal qualities as well, the coach able to look beyond the grunge-style facial hair and tattoos to declare the defender someone he would be happy to marry his daughter. His well-balanced personality, believes Lennartsson, has helped Lustig overcome disappointment and given him the strength of mind to always look to improve his talents.

"Not only the football part of him is impressive but the human being itself," he said. "He's a good character, a good person. You can always trust him 100% and you know what you will get. He's always there for his team-mates, he's always happy and willing to work hard. He's not the kind of player that is up and down whether he is in the team or not, or whether his performance has been good or not. He's the same human being every day, very professional, and an excellent character. "When a young player moves abroad they must have patience and realise you have to learn more, to fit in and develop. Mikael has that character and patience. He knows he must always look to improve. And if he has to sit on the bench for a while he won't fall out with the coach. He will just work hard to get back in the team. That is what you have to do to go to the highest level."

Lennartsson does not claim to be privy to Lustig's thought process when it comes to plotting out the future. Based on experience, however, he predicts the player will take his time before settling on his next destination and that a top half Barclays Premier League club is not be outwith his grasp. "He needs to improve his defensive quality one more step if he is to go to a higher level," he said. "Then it is important that he goes to a club where they play with attacking full-backs.

"But I think he can go to the Premiership. Maybe not a team in the top six but beneath that he is good enough. And if goes there he will have the right temperament to work hard and make sure he is a success there too."

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