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LUBOMIR Moravcik today paid a heartfelt tribute to Dr Jozef Venglos after the former Celtic, Aston Villa and Slovakia manager passed away.
Slovakian coach Venglos, who was in charge at Parkhead during the 1998/99 season, died in his homeland at the age of 84 yesterday.
He didn’t lift a trophy during his time in Glasgow – but he brought in Moravcik for just £300,000 in what is now considered to be one of the best signings in Scottish football history.
The skilful playmaker, who was 33 at the time, went on to become a huge fans’ favourite over the next four years and won every major honour in this country.
Moravcik, who had played under “Dr Jo” when Czechoslovakia reached the quarter-finals of Italia ’90, admitted he was devastated to learn of his mentor’s passing.
He credited his countryman, who held a doctorate in physical education and also specialised in psychology, with helping to launch his career.
Moravcik said: “My condolences go out to Dr Jo’s family and their loved ones. I am deeply saddened by the news as I have known him for almost 35 years.
“I was told of his sad passing yesterday. It has left me heartbroken. Last night I sat and watched footage of us together during our days in football and the many happy moments we shared.
“But I hardly slept last night. I was still awake at 4am thinking about him and his family.
“I also got to know his wife, Eva, and she is a lovely woman. She has made me feel warm and welcome, part of the family. They are all such lovely people.
“It has been my privilege to have Dr Jo in my life, both as a footballer and as a person. He enriched my life in many, many ways.”
He added: “I was first introduced to him in 1988 at the start of the World Cup qualification campaign for Italia ’90. He was the manager of the Czechoslovakia national team. We spent two years together and qualified for the tournament.
“It was in the build up to that tournament that I had one of the most important conversations of my life, something that changed me as a footballer and as a person.
“We had lost to Egypt at home in a preparation game for the World Cup. I drove home in the car with Dr Jo that day. It was a one hour journey. At that point I was still playing for Nitra in my home country.
“He explained to me what I needed to do to become a better footballer, what I needed to do to bring more maturity and consistency into my game. He reminded me of the sacrifices I was going to have to make to get to the very top.
“He knew I was capable of so much more and didn’t want to see my talent go to waste.
“It was a turning point in my life. I was only 24 and that open and honest guidance from Dr Jo was exactly what I needed at that time.
“I got my move to St Etienne and enjoyed some fantastic times there. I then moved to Bastia and from there to MSV Duisburg in Germany and things didn’t go very well.”
Moravcik revealed that he was considering retiring from football when Venglos approached him about joining Celtic in 1998.
“To be honest, I was thinking about giving up football at that stage,” he said. “I was not happy in Germany. I was 33 and didn’t think I had much of a future in the game.
“But Dr Jo met me in a hotel in Bratislava after I played for Slovakia against Portugal. He was the manager of Celtic and asked me if I wanted to join him and play for a massive football club.
“Dr Jo trusted my ability and told me it would be perfect for my career and make me fall in love with football again. He assured me it would be a successful move. Well, he was right.
“Celtic was exactly what I needed. I enjoyed many happy times at the football club and even now, 23 years on, I still have a fantastic relationship with the club and the supporters.
“So, again, he saved my career and I went on to enjoy many successes in Scotland, including the Treble in 2001 under Martin O’Neill and a few goals against Rangers.
Moravcik continued: “I have been extremely fortunate to have Dr Jo in my life. He was a great person, a great teacher and a great mentor. He was well mannered and humble.
“An extremely intelligent and educated man, he had a positive influence on many footballers and coaches. He had the ability to deliver messages in a precise and professional manner. That;s why he was highly regarded by UEFA and FIFA.
“I will miss him very much as will the game of football.”