PAUL Lambert has, unlike Frank Sinatra, very few regrets when he looks back on his life and career.

He helped St Mirren to lift the Scottish Cup as a baby-faced teenager, won the Champions League with German giants Borussia Dortmund, ensured that Celtic prevented Rangers from completing 10-In-A-Row, was named SFWA Footballer of the Year and represented Scotland in the World Cup finals.

The lad from Linwood in Renfrewshire worked hard, made the most of his ability and excelled for both club and country at home and overseas for no fewer than 20 years.

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Yet, when Lambert reflects on his distinguished playing days now there is still one failure that eats away at him – the extra-time defeat the Parkhead club suffered in the UEFA Cup final back in 2003.

Recollections of that painful 3-2 loss to Porto will come flooding back to the former Celtic midfielder when his old club return to Seville to play La Liga rivals Real Betis in their opening Europa League group game on Thursday evening. 

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“Will seeing the team go back there this week bring back memories for me?” he said. “Yeah, bad ones! That’s the biggest regret the players from our era had – that we never won it there. We were so close to doing it.

“I still say that stadium wasn’t big enough to hold the crowd that we took. I don’t think the pitch was good enough for a European final either. But we ran them so close, a really good Porto team who went on to win the Champions League a year later. I think it all hinged on a bit of luck, really.

“But probably if you ask any of us from that squad, that game and not winning it will be the biggest regret for us.”

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The Celtic side that beat Blackburn Rovers, Celta Vigo, Stuttgart, Liverpool and Boavista during the unforgettable UEFA Cup run in the 2002/03 season is considered to be one of the best in their entire 133-year history.

Didier Agathe, Bobo Balde, John Hartson, Lambert, Henrik Larsson, Neil Lennon, John Mjallby, Stiliyan Petrov and Chris Sutton all played for Martin O’Neill’s team during that halcyon era and are revered by supporters to this day.

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However, Lambert feels Ange Postecoglou’s men are more than capable of enjoying the same sort of continental and domestic success as their predecessors in the coming months due to the experience they have in their ranks. 

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“On these kind of nights it’s when the big players step up and step forwards,” he said ahead of the Group G match in the Estadio Benito Villamarin. “I’m pretty sure that’s what will happen on Thursday in Seville.

“Joe Hart has been through it before. There’s the likes of Callum McGregor who’s a national team player and has been through it. Cameron Carlon-Vickers has played in big games with Tottenham and knows all about it as well.

“It’s about those bigger players having the ability to keep a cool head on things when you go into games like this one. It will be a hell of a tough game going to Betis. It will be a hell of a tough group as well. But at the same time it will be great for Celtic to be a part of it.”

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Lambert was a defensive midfielder who was more than a match for any opponent he came up against - including French great Zinedine Zidane when Dortmund beat Juventus in the 1997 Champions League final.

He believes the same is true of Jota, James McCarthy, McGregor, Tom Rogic, Ismaila Soro and David Turnbull. He has no concerns about them being able to compete with Betis even though their manager Manuel Pellegrini can field Sergio Canales, William Carvalho, Andres Guardado and Guido Rodriguez in the centre of the park.

“Callum keeps on getting better every time I see him,” he said. “I thought he looked a bit tired against Ross County after being away with Scotland, but that kind of thing is normal anyway.

“David Turnbull was maybe a bit quiet against County too, but when I have seen him he looks a goal threat without a doubt. They’ve got James McCarthy to come off the bench as well. I think that area of the pitch is the strongest part of the team. Going forward they’re looking exciting at times too.”

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Lambert, who managed at Norwich City, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Stoke City, Wolves and Ipswich Town after retiring from playing, has been impressed with the impact made by Postecoglou since the Greek-Australian coach replaced his friend and former team mate Lennon in the summer.

He is confident that Celtic, who finished last season trophyless and are going through a major rebuilding process on and off the park, will only improve in the weeks and months ahead.
“I think Ange has been brilliant, I really do,” he said. “He’s handled the club so well in the way he’s done things. He’s been a breath of fresh air with the way he’s gone about things.

“Before last season this club had had nine years of winning pretty much everything. There’s been that transitional period when last year things didn’t go their way. But they’ll come back again and if they start winning trophies he’ll love it here. 

“It’s just about having time. The good thing is they’re up there and they’re only two or three points behind Rangers which is nothing. It’s still so early in the season. One of their best players (Christopher Jullien) isn’t fit, some guys are making their debuts and you could see them taking cramp against Ross County which is normal.

“When the lad Kyogo (Furuhashi) comes back I think he’ll make a hell of a difference again, just as he was showing before he got his injury. Now it’s just about time for the manager and the squad. The club has been through a lot of transition, but there’s a lot of good stuff out there for Celtic right now.”

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