Hinkel: Celtic was the right choice
© AFP

January transfer dealings are often risk-laden affairs, with players struggling to adapt to their new surroundings midway through a hectic campaign. German full-back Andreas Hinkel would appear to be an exception, with the former Sevilla man having thrived since his switch to Scottish champions Celtic.

"I'm really happy here. The people at the club are all really friendly and helpful. I'm feeling great," said the versatile 25-year-old, who has already earned a regular starting berth with the Bhoys since bidding farewell to the double UEFA Cup winners.

In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Hinkel outlined the main reasons for his move: "I came to take a look around the club at the end of December and it was clear that the right structures were in place."

"Celtic is the best place for me to develop as a player. Besides, I had already played in Scotland four times with different teams and seen first-hand how emotional and loyal the Celtic fans are. The green-and-white hoops are known across Europe and beyond," underlined the man capped 17 times by Germany.

Starting afresh in Scotland
Hinkel's debut came in mid-January in a Scottish Cup clash with Stirling Albion, starting the game at right-back and helping his new team to a comfortable 3-0 success. Yet he was to suffer a setback in only his second match, leaving the pitch injured during a 1-0 home win over Kilmarnock. "My body hadn't adapted to the different playing surface in Scotland, which is much softer than in Spain," explained Hinkel, who hails from Backnang near Stuttgart.

Having quickly won his fitness battle, Hinkel was back in the Bhoys' starting line-up on 10 February for his team's emphatic 5-1 away win over Aberdeen. A run of four games followed in quick succession, the Swabian even grabbing his first goal for the Hoops against Edinburgh outfit Hearts. Unfortunately, coach Gordon Strachan has been forced to do without his first-choice No2 for his team's UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie with FC Barcelona, Hinkel having already played in this year's competition for Sevilla.

"It's out of my control. I didn't even consider it when making the decision to move to Celtic. They were the best club for me personally and for my career as a footballer," the former VfB Stuttgart star told FIFA.com. "This club has taken part in the Champions League and the UEFA Cup in the past and will do so again in the future. Of course I'm looking forward to playing for Celtic in international competitions, but we have a lot of important games to play at domestic level as well."

Spanish adventure
Looking back on his 18-month spell with the 2007 Copa del Rey winners, Hinkel's only regret is failing to cement a regular first-team spot. Only 15 league appearances during the course of his stay were not enough for the ambitious German, who nevertheless retains positive memories of his time in Andalusia: "I won four competitions there and it was a fantastic experience living in Spain, both personally and professionally. I was in the team for over 50 per cent of the games in the UEFA Cup and the Copa del Rey, but it was my lack of Primera División action that led me to leave."

The reliable full-back had started out in the Bundesliga with local side Stuttgart in 2000 and soon established himself on the right-hand side of the Swabians' defence. Hinkel's team went on to finish second in the Bundesliga in 2003, the year he also made his senior international debut in a 1-0 win over the former Serbia and Montenegro. The switch to Spain came about in the summer of 2006.

"I learned so much in Spain and if I had my time again I wouldn't change a thing. It was fantastic to get to know a new country, with a different culture and mentality. I love siestas and I love tapas. And I have learned a new language," enthuses Hinkel.

"When I hang up my boots, I will have more to show for my career than just cups and medals. I will be able to look back on the people I have met, the languages I can speak and the different cultures I have experienced. These things are more important for your life as a whole."

Unfinished business
Nevertheless, the gifted defender will still be determined to add a first league winners' medal to his collection, with reigning champions Celtic lying just four points behind fierce city rivals Rangers. Hinkel also has his sights on a return to the national-team fold: "If my form is consistent with Celtic, I have a good chance of making more appearances for Germany."

"EURO 2008 may have come a little too soon for me as the summer is almost here, but I'm confident I can turn in good performances week in, week out. If I can do that, my chances of winning back my place in the national team are good," says Hinkel, clearly set on proving his worth to Joachim Low. "I don't like talking about rival players, but I don't fear any of the other players in my position."