Saidy Janko: Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher made me the player I am today
The date of birth on Saidy Janko’s Swiss passport reads October 22, 1995. In terms of his football development, however, Celtic’s new defender has very much been shaped by the Class of ’92.
Signed for Manchester United by David Moyes two summers ago, Janko was quickly taken under the wing of Old Trafford legends Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs.
The idea of a raw teenager playing left-wing for the reserves under the watchful eye of the world-class Giggs — who, along with Butt, David Beckham, the Neville brothers and Paul Scholes were part of the lauded crop of young players who went on to lift the 1999 Champions League together — is certainly a daunting one.
But Janko could not speak higher of the influence Giggs and Butt — plus Scotland’s own Darren Fletcher — had on his game development during his two seasons as a United player.
Their combined input, he feels, means Celtic are taking receipt of a more rounded player, far readier for the first team than the one signed by Moyes for £700,000 from FC Zurich in 2013.
‘I’m a right-back, but I’ve played more as a winger than a full-back the last two seasons — on the left as well as the right — so it was special to get advice from Ryan Giggs,’ said the versatile Janko.
‘We are different kinds of players, of course, but he knew I was not the same type as him, so he told me what I should do. He was always very good with me, but he spoke with all the young players when we first got involved at Manchester United.
‘It was the same with Nicky Butt. He and Giggs were two great guys and you could see that when they trained with us, they still have it. They were still top-class players.
‘It was like one big family at Manchester United, with Butty, Giggsy and Warren Joyce — the Under-21 coach — all helping my development.
‘Darren Fletcher was very good with young players as well. I didn’t speak to Fletch about this move to Celtic, but I always had a good laugh with him. And if he saw that I didn’t do something right on the pitch, he would always try to coach me. He always tried to help me out and I appreciated that.
‘Fletch was also one of those guys who, when anyone had a problem, they would go to him. He was always there for you.
He is an inspiration, even more now when you think about what he has been through (with ulcerative colitis). You have to respect the man.’
One of only two signings made by Moyes during the summer of two years ago, the then 17-year-old’s signing on deadline day was overshadowed by the multi-million pound arrival of Marouane Fellaini from Everton.
After the Scot was sacked, Janko was given his big chance in the first team by Louis van Gaal. But a 4-0 defeat to MK Dons in the Capital One Cup was both the beginning and the end of his United career.
A spell under former Celtic boss, Neil Lennon, at Bolton Wanderers followed before he made a decision he feels many players are too scared to take in departing Old Trafford in the search for regular football.
‘At first I couldn’t believe it when Manchester United came in for me when I was still 17,’ smiled Janko, who will cross paths with Moyes again next Friday night in Paisley when Celtic take on Real Sociedad in a friendly at New St Mirren Park.
‘FC Zurich had played against United in the Blue Stars (FIFA Youth Cup) tournament and I did well. Two weeks later, they sent me an invitation letter and I just couldn’t say no.
‘I had a really good first two years. In the first year I got Reserve Player of the Year. Then the second year I went to Bolton and it was great to work under a great coach like Neil Lennon.
‘I was a bit sad when David Moyes left, but I wanted to impress the new manager. But Louis van Gaal didn’t really speak to me — it was more Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt.
‘In the end, I didn’t think I would get a chance at Manchester United and I wanted a new challenge.
‘Manchester United is a great club, but a lot of players are afraid to leave simply because it’s Manchester United.
‘I just want to play football and to make the fans happy. I think Celtic is the perfect club for me.
‘Hopefully I can have many good years here.’
Surprisingly, Janko and Lennon did not speak about Celtic during their time together at Bolton, but the teenager says he already knew all about the Parkhead club.
The Swiss Under-19 player faces tough competition for his favoured right-back berth, with Swedish international Mikael Lustig standing in his way.
But Janko is not in Glasgow to sit on the bench and he hopes that winning titles and cups with Celtic, as well as starring in the Champions League, can see him fulfil a dream of representing Switzerland at Euro 2016.
‘It was very good to work with Neil Lennon, but we didn’t really speak about Celtic,’ said Janko. ‘It was more about Bolton’s performance because the English Championship is very hard.
‘But Neil is a great guy and a very good person. And I knew about Celtic anyway because it’s a huge club across Europe. The supporters are great fans and it is a club with a great history.
‘Of course there is competition for places, but I can rise to the challenge. I want to improve, impress the manager and get my spot.
‘If I could play in the Champions League with Celtic, that would be great. That is the main reason (I chose Celtic).
‘I also have international ambitions, but I want to win as many titles as possible, too. And I think, with Celtic, I can do that.’