STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Celtic do not need to spend money unnecessarily on improving their squad as they prepare for a glamour Champions League last- 16 tie against Italian giants Juventus, assistant coach Johan Mjallby said on Thursday.
“Everybody at the club is very proud of the players and that they qualified from the group,” the former Sweden international told Reuters in a telephone interview after watching the Scottish champions draw Antonio Conte’s Juve.
“We’re very happy with the players we have, even if we’re always interested in strengthening. At the same time, it’s important for us to keep the players that have been prominent and have had eyes on them.”
A virtual unknown until he scored the winner in a 2-1 group stage victory over Barcelona, Celtic striker Tony Watt’s stocks rose significantly thanks to that goal with the quick forward immediately linked to a number of European clubs.
Mjallby hoped qualification for the Champions League knockout stages would encourage players like Watt to stay at the club, rather than seek a move in the January transfer window.
“That’s why it was important to qualify - it’s a great carrot, to have a last 16 place, and one would hope they’ll stay to the end of the season,” Mjallby said.
“If we can strengthen the squad then we will, but it’s not a must - it’s the players we have at the moment that got us here.”
The combative Mjallby was part of the Celtic side beaten by FC Porto in the 2003 UEFA Cup final and he believes that despite being underdogs, his team are a match for Europe’s elite.
“We said before that firstly we wanted to make the last 16, and we’ve done that,@ he said. ”We knew we’d be underdogs, no matter what team we got.
“Obviously, there were a few eyebrows raised when we qualified from the group, there weren’t many who gave us a chance. We’ll go in with very little pressure on us.”
Mjallby singled out Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo and striker Mirko Vucinic as key players for Juventus.
”Pirlo is an important cog in the machine as their playmaker, and Vucinic is a complete attacker who scores a lot of goals,“ Mjallby said. ”They have a very good mix, they have class players in all positions.
“But if I remember rightly, we’ve only lost two matches of 23 at home in the Champions League and both of those were against Barcelona. That tells us that we can give any team a game on our home pitch.”
Editing by Tom Bartlett