BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Celtic have been warned that they must shackle Molde’s answer to Ryan Giggs when the sides meet in the Europa League tonight.
Expat coach Kevin Nicol is thriving in his first managerial position with Norwegian side Asker and has enjoyed a front-row seat for Molde’s inconsistent campaign so far.
He believes the major difference between their disappointing league displays and their fine European showings – winning against Fenerbahce and holding Ajax to a draw – has been the presence of club legend Daniel Berg Hestad.
The 40-year-old has made more appearances than any player in Molde’s history, turning out 466 times in two separate spells either side of a stint in Holland with Heerenveen.
And former Hibs and Raith Rovers midfielder Nicol see similarities with how Sir Alex Ferguson used to utilise Giggs as the United winger approached the end of his career.
Nicol, 33, told Capital City Press: “You have seen the importance of their most experienced player, Daniel Berg Hestad. He is 40 years old and he doesn’t have the legs to play every week, but when he is there in Europe they are far more organised.
“He’s a tremendous footballer. He almost has a Ryan Giggs effect on the Molde side. Alex Ferguson used to rest Giggs for the big games because of his impact, and that is similar with Hestad.
“He has real composure and balances the team well in central midfielder. He’s not a fancy player and plays simple, but Celtic need to be conscious of his importance in the team.”
Nicol has also emphasised the threat posed by Molde’s silky stoppers Vegard Forren and Martin Linnes.
He continued: “Forren, who is a regular for Norway, has a wonderful left foot and sets up most of their attacks from central defence. Whoever starts in attack for Celtic needs to close him down and not let him play.
“I also like the right back, Linnes. He is very quick, gets forward as much as possible and delivers real quality from the wide areas. Molde are very dangerous from the full-back positions.”
Nicol has guided Asker, based in a picturesque suburb of Oslo, to the Third Division title this season, racking up a record-breaking unbeaten campaign of 24 wins from 25 games, scoring 149 goals in the process.
However, he lives in Drammen – where Ronny Deila’s former club Stromsgodset are based – and he is desperate to see the town “icon” succeed in Scotland.
He added: “That football club had not one the title for such a long time and for him to do it in the manner he did – with a lot of young players who didn’t quite make the grade elsewhere – was terrific.
“He focused on development and improvement and took the club to new heights. He left a great legacy at Stromgodset and is an icon there, definitely.
“It’s a difficult job at Celtic because, with no Rangers in the league, he is in a no-win situation. If he wins the league people say ‘so what?’. Hopefully he gets the success in the Europa League that really gets everyone behind him.”