Jozo Simunovic wants Celtic to give Billy McNeill an “amazing goodbye” at the Ladbrokes Premiership game against Kilmarnock on Saturday.
Interim Hoops manager Neil Lennon said the Scottish champions were a club “in mourning” after the death this week of McNeill, who captained the famous ‘Lisbon Lions’ side that won the European Cup in 1967 and who also went on to manage the club.
Lennon was in tune with the idea that the Parkhead club should retire the number five jersey in tribute to McNeill, who died at the age of 79.
🎙️ Jozo Simunovic speaking to the media at the #CelticFC Training Centre today.
🗣️ JS on Billy McNeill: “Billy was a top player and massive at this club. He’s an amazing part of the history. It’s a pleasure to wear number five and I’m very thankful for that.” pic.twitter.com/PRlivWa5X6
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) April 26, 2019
Ahead of the visit of Killie, Simunovic, current owner of the number five shirt at Celtic, admitted that he would be happy enough to go along with that idea and offered his own praise for McNeill.
The 24-year-old Croatian defender said: “My first impression was I was very sad because Celtic lost a guy who was a massive part of the club’s history, an amazing player and an amazing guy.
“To wear his number is a big pleasure and I am very thankful for that.
“I always remembered the guy who won the trophy in 1967. It is always nice to see the statue of him at the stadium, to see that he wears number five.
“That makes me happy. It is a massive loss for us but we need to keep going.
“We are going to honour him before the game and give him an amazing goodbye from us as he was an amazing guy for the club.”
Former Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, who left for Leicester in February, is also in favour of Celtic retiring the number five shirt.
He said: “Neil has got a point, you see it with those clubs around the world with iconic figures.
Celtic Football Club have created an online Book of Remembrance to celebrate the life of our greatest ever captain, Billy McNeill.
Supporters are invited to share their thoughts, memories and stories of the Celtic legend.https://t.co/MCbNfVxbe2 pic.twitter.com/ZfDDFplNas
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) April 24, 2019
“It is a sad day when you are aware of Billy’s history as a player and a manager.
“He was the spirit and heartbeat of an iconic team – the Lisbon Lions, the first team in Britain to win the European Cup and he was the leader of that team.
“He was an iconic symbol for Celtic supporters growing up who played for the team and went on to manage them.
“Like Celtic do, the football club are absolutely brilliant looking after the families of the legends.
“I was fortunate to have met Billy when I was there and his legacy was pretty clear.”