The shutdown was a frustrating experience for all footballers – but few more so than Celtic full-back, Hatem Elhamed.
Injured in the Hoops’ thrilling Europa League victory over Lazio in Rome last November, the Israeli international saw his return to action restricted to just nine minutes in mid-March due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
And with the Premiership ending up being called on the final standings at lockdown, he has only just now managed to get a full game under his belt.
“Before Reykjavik last Tuesday night, I went almost 10 months without a start!” said Elhamed.
“When I came to Celtic, I got off to a very good start, and for three months I was happy.
“But then came a bit of bad luck because I got a groin injury against Lazio.
“Then when I came back for a few minutes (in the 5-0 home win over St Mirren), it turned out to be the last game before the shutdown.
“So it was very strange for me because I’d never had such a long time out without being able to play football.
“I just tried to focus on training to get myself fit, and then waiting for my chance to come.
“That came with 30 minutes against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park and that was enough to get me ready for the start in the Champions League against Reykjavik.
“It was a good feeling for me, and gave me confidence to go again and show my best.”
While Elhamed faces considerable competition for the right-back jersey in the shape of teenage Dutchman Jeremie Frimpong, he knows that when it comes to European tests Neil Lennon has previously shown a preference in his favour.
“Jeremie is a fantastic player. He’s very young and talented,” said Elhamed.
“I look at the competition as a very positive thing for the players to be at their best.
“I want to play, Jeremie wants to play. We both do our best for the club, to help the team to win and we need to be positive and always do our best.
“The manager has told me that I am an experienced player, and I have many qualities that he likes.
“I know he trusts me in the big games and on the big nights, and I am happy that I show him again and again that I deserve his trust.
“I am looking forward to keeping myself fit and to playing well.”
What Elhamed really wants, he says, is to play for Celtic in the Champions League group stages.
“To play on that stage would achieve my biggest dream because it is something I have never done,” he said.
“It would mean testing yourself against the world’s best players, and would be so exciting. Before I came here, I came so close with my old team, Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
“We reached the play-offs and it was a very close one. We won 2-1 at home to Maribor but lost the away game 1-0, so we went out on away goals.
“Now, I want it so much. It would be fantastic to be in the group stages.”
Yet as much as Elhamed believes the Scottish champions will do enough to see off Ferencvaros at Celtic Park on Tuesday night, last season’s loss to Cluj in the round before the play-offs has taught him not to be over-confident.
“We were better than Cluj and we got beaten,” the Israeli recalled.
“It was a big disappointment for all of us, but also a learning experience.”
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