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Former Scotland star Matt Elliot says high-flying Leicester made him glad he said no to Celtic

Elliot won the League Cup with Martin O'Neill (Getty Images)
Elliot won the League Cup with Martin O'Neill (Getty Images)

The former Scotland internationalist was targeted by Martin O’Neill, his old Leicester City boss, in 2001 for a move that would have also seen him reunited with ex-team-mate Neil Lennon at Celtic Park.

However, while he admits he swithered, Elliott opted to stay put in the East Midlands, cementing a relationship which continues to this day in his role as a matchday commentator for Radio Leicester.

It is a job not without perks, especially in this, the Foxes’miracle season.

When Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Co run out at the Emirates to face Arsenal in a top-of-the-table Premier League showdown this afternoon, Elliott will be as excited as any of the 60,000 spectators.

“It promises to be a whole lot of fun, just as it has been all year,” said the 47-year-old, in the grateful manner of someone who knows he is a lucky man.

“And, to be fair, that has always been the case with me and Leicester, which was why Celtic didn’t happen in 2001.

“Listen, it was very tempting. Martin O’Neill had been my boss at Filbert Street and I had huge respect for him and his abilities as a manager. He is someone who always gets the very best out of his players.

“He was about a year into his time up the road, with Neil Lennon, an ex-Leicester team-mate who I really respected, having joined him quite early on.

“More than that, though, I knew what a massive club they were.

“I think everyone in the game has seen footage of Celtic Park when it is really jumping, like at a Rangers match or a big European night, and wondered what it would be like to be in the middle of it.

“And there I was, getting handed the chance to do just that, to play in front of these 50-60,000 crowds on a regular basis.

“Ultimately, though, it came down to Leicester City, who were extremely keen to keep me. So I stayed.

“I am not sure it was a regret because I had a great time where I was. But it certainly wasn’t nice to have to disappoint Martin, who I know really wanted to sign me.

“Likewise, it was a bit of a Sliding Doors scenario where I did sometimes wonder: ‘What if?’. Especially at times when Neil and Steve Guppy would bang on about the fantastic atmosphere up there whenever I caught up with them.

“I did have other decisions like that to make during my playing career. I could have gone to Tottenham for £5m a couple of years earlier. But, as with Celtic, I decided to stay at Leicester.”

Matt Elliot celebrates the cup win
Matt Elliot celebrates the cup win

As long-serving members of the Tartan Army will testify, the Wandsworth-born stopper was happy to look further afield when it came to international football.

“I was fortunate enough to win 18 caps for Scotland (qualifying via the grandparent rule) and loved every minute of it,” said Elliott.

“I should have got more, but probably didn’t do myself any favours by getting myself sent off for violent conduct against the Faroe Islands.”

In that European Championship qualifier in June, 1999, Craig Brown’s side, who had been ahead, conceded for a 1-1 draw, a result which contributed to another failure to reach a major Finals.

But Elliott insisted: “There were plenty of highlights, though, as I got to the 1998 World Cup in France, and even managed to score a goal for Scotland.

“Now, people might point out it came against the might of San Marino – but it was needed because we were struggling to beat them!”

If footballing wisdom has it that all teams will suffer such struggles at some time, this season’s Leicester City are close to becoming an exception to the rule.

“Excitement has been growing all season, as have the expectations,” said Elliott.

Matt Elliot at Oxford United in 1996 (Phil Cole/Allsport UK)
Matt Elliot at Oxford United in 1996 (Phil Cole/Allsport UK)

“However, I think with the victory over Manchester City last Saturday, there was a realisation they are genuine contenders for this Premier League title.

“The bookmakers, who for so long were giving generous prices about their chances, have them right up at the top of their lists now. Yet City are still playing with a real freedom and exuberance, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

“Who knows, maybe in the very final stage of the run-in, their approach might change a little. But until, then I don’t see it. Boldness has delivered rewards, so why change something which is serving them well?

“They have such a nice balance to the side. They are strong throughout, have a couple of exceptional attacking talents and a very solid backline. On top of that, everyone is chipping in with goals.

“Robert Huth’s effort in scoring three goals across the two games with Spurs and Manchester City was exceptional.

“I was lucky enough to score a couple in a Wembley cup final (the 2000 League Cup showpiece between Elliott’s Leicester City and Tranmere Rovers), and that got a lot of attention.

“But I’d say for a centre-half to get two in a head-to-head between first and second in the Premier League is just as good.

“This game against Arsenal is a really interesting test because everyone knows about their capacity to roll over the top of teams when they are firing on all cylinders.

“They were one of the only teams to do that to Leicester all season when they won 5-2 at the King Power. Yet even in that game, City were good. At 1-1 they were playing well and hit the woodwork on a couple of occasions.

“Can they beat Arsenal today? With the team they have got, and the counter-attacking system they play, I don’t see why not.

“And if they do, well, then anything will be possible . . .”


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