The route that runs from Celtic to the Premier League is a well-established one. Fraser Forster, Virgil Van Dijk and Victor Wanyama, just to name a few, have used the Glasgow club as a stepping stone.
Celtic actively sell themselves to prospective signings on that basis. There was a time when Emilio Izaguirre was considered next to pound the well-trodden path.
How times change. Those days have faded considerably in the memory, with Izaguirre expected to bring to a close a seven-year spell at Celtic this week. Brendan Rodgers’ side won’t miss the Honduran much, taking into account that he only made 18 appearances last season, but it’s worth recalling just how brightly the left back once shone.
“I have signed for Al-Fayha and it's the best for everyone I think,” Izaguirre said this week. “I made the move for the sake of my international career and my family.
“I received a very good offer from Saudi Arabia and I was interested in leaving Celtic to get first team football. I realised if I wanted to keep playing for Honduras I would have to move. This was the best move for me and also my family.”
Indeed, there is little reason for Izaguirre to stay in Scotland. In recent years, he has been reduced to cheerleader by the emergence of Kieran Tierney, arguably the brightest Scottish talent in a generation.
With his place at left back taken, the Honduran was expected to leave Glasgow at the end of the 2015/16 season but stayed to at least bear witness to the club’s historic treble-winning campaign.
Izaguirre’s career at Celtic is tinted with the question of ‘what if?’ Signed in the summer of 2010 for just £650,000, Izaguirre was just about the purest embodiment of Celtic’s transfer strategy during the John Park years. Plucked from obscurity, he was a success story of the Hoops’ scouting network which also dug up Liverpool transfer target Van Dijk and Wanyama.
He quickly became a key figure in Neil Lennon’s team, completing a clean sweep of Scotland’s individual awards at the end of the 2010/11 season. A one time Manchester United transfer target, the Red Devils were reported to be extremely interested in the Honduran, with talk of a £6.5million move for the left back rife.
“Emilio has probably been the signing of the season and it's brilliant for him to win,” assistant Johan Mjallby said after the Honduran picked up the Players’ Player of the Year award in the summer of 2011.
“He has been absolutely marvellous. He is maybe not the best left-back in the world, but he is up there. I think this boy has every chance to be one of the best in the world.”
There was nothing particularly hyperbolic about Mjallby’s comments. For a spell, Izaguirre was viewed as the best player at Celtic and the best player in Scotland. Then injury struck and everything changed.
Izaguirre suffered a broken ankle in just the second match of the new season, ruling him out for five months. When he returned, the confidence, swagger and sparkle that had made him the player he was was gone. There was a hesitancy to his play. Most presumed that it would return as he grew more comfortable with more game time. It never did.
Manchester United never reiterated their interest when the transfer window opened again and Izaguirre lost his chance to use Celtic as a stepping stone as so many down the years have. He watched as the likes of Forster, Van Dijk and Wanyama did what he was set to do before a tackle from Aberdeen’s Peter Pawlett changed his course.
The fact that even as a peripheral figure Izaguirre became a fans’ favourite offered some comfort. But for the sake of his professional career, he must move on and find a new challenge. At 31, Izaguirre is now entering the twilight of his career. He can’t afford to sit another season on the bench.
So while Izaguirre’s impending exit will likely spark those who wish to deride the Honduran’s contribution to the cause over the past two seasons, mocking him in the same way Manchester United fans mock the appearance of David May in pictures of their 1999 Champions League triumph, it’s worth remembering just how good he was for a time.