CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Linfied players have worked hard and deserve big game with Celtic says David Healy

Manager: David Healy and Chairman Roy McGivern
Linfield Manager: David Healy and Chairman Roy McGivern

Linfield manager David Healy has said his players deserve their galmour Champions League second round qualifying tie with Celtic.

The Irish League champions will face the Scottish champions on Friday night at Windsor Park (5pm) in the first leg of what many at the Blues club see as their biggest game ever.

The second leg is at Parkhead on Wednesday, July 19.

Linfield enjoyed a good season last year and Healy said facing Celtic - they defeated San Marino outfit La Forita in the first round qualifying 1-0 over the two legs - was reward for his players.

“They have been brilliant,” he said.

“I have been tough on them, and I constantly demand improvements from them. But they take it on board.

“I was delighted for them the other night with we got through the first qualifying round.

“People over here maybe didn’t give La Fiorita the respect they deserved.

“They earned the right to play in the Champions League, as we did.

“So I was chuffed to bits for the players. And who knows, someone could step up on Friday night, or next Wednesday, and write themselves into this club’s folklore.”

Obviously, Celtic who were undefeated in their domestic programme as they made a clean sweep of trophies, are odds-on favourites to progress to the next stage in Europe.

“I beleve my players could certainly rise to the occasion. We have no pressure on us.

“I hope there is a realism within our fans that we are playing a very good side.

“Celtic can dominate most teams in British football at the minute, so we know we are up against it.

“But we are under no pressure. If we lose the game, we lose the game. Nobody is expecting us to win.

“As long as enjoy it and play to our maximum. If we do that, which we will need to, then we will see where it takes us.”

Having achieved so much as a player, this is Healy’s biggest challenge as a young manager.

“This is a big step up as a manager,” he said.

“You have to get things right on the pitch. As a player you can play poorly and someone else can dig you out of a hole.

“As a manager I try and pick the right team and formation, and it is a steep learning curve.

“I am young and experienced as far as European competition goes.

“Going up against top quality sides like Celtic is a massive step up, but I will come out of this experience a better manager.”

Meanwhile, Olivier Ntcham has revealed the prospect of Champions League football made his decision to leave Manchester City for Celtic an easy one.

The France Under-21 international has signed a four-year contract with Celtic after they agreed a fee with Pep Guardiola’s side.

Ntcham has spent the past two seasons on loan at Serie A side Genoa and the 21-year-old felt he would get the chance to develop as a player under Brendan Rodgers and in Europe’s elite competition, although he is not ready for their opening qualifier against Linfield.

When asked about leaving City, Ntcham said: “It wasn’t a tough decision for me, it was a normal decision, because I moved there when I was 16 and played there for three years.

“When you stay there, you understand a lot of things. Sometimes it is better to leave. Football is like this sometimes. I spoke with Brendan before and the talks were good.”