A FAVOURITE saying of former Celtic coach John Robertson was that footballers get better the longer they are away from a club.

The bad games fade, the good moments stay. A player who was perhaps not universally loved during his time at, say, Celtic would be looked upon with far more favour a few years after they left.

Mikael Lustig is Celtic’s most decorated player from outwith the British Isles with 16 winners medals - the same total as Neil Lennon when you combine his achievements as player and manager.

True, the Swede was fortunate to be a Celtic player during the past eight years when the club had little domestic competition. However, the 32-year-old, now on his way to Gent in Belgium, played a hugely important part in this period of the club’s history.

He produced many outstanding performances and, something which seems to be forgotten, is he played for the best part of 18 months with a foot injury. He was in pain before and after every match, and kept going.

Lustig made the fatal mistake of getting older. He did slow down a bit last season; however, scored the opening goal at Pittodrie when eight in a row was clinched and his intelligent header into space at Hampden set up Odsonne Edouard to score the winning goal in the Scottish Cup

Not a bad way to go.

“I was delighted to bring Mika to Celtic and he has been phenomenal for me and the club,” said Neil Lennon who got the right back for nothing, less we forget, on January 1, 2011.

“Mika has chosen to move elsewhere, but that is absolutely his right, these things happen, but it will not in any way take away from what he has achieved at Celtic.

“I wish Mika nothing but success for the future, he has been a brilliant servant to the club and has made a massive contribution to everything we have achieved across so many years. It has been a privilege to work with Mika. A top international player, he always gave everything for the team, he gave his heart and soul to every performance and I loved having him on my side.

“I am sure he will go on and continue to enjoy a really successful career, and myself and everyone at the club wish Mika and his family nothing but success for the future.”

Lustig would have wanted to stay for another year but this is the right time for him to leave.

Celtic Chief Executive, Peter Lawwell was right to praise the contribution of Celtic’s third favourite ever Swede.

“Mika has been a huge part of Celtic over so many years and I am sure all our fans, as well as thanking him, will wish him well in everything he does in the future,” said Lawwell.

“His appearances and trophy count at Celtic and the number of international caps he has achieved, demonstrate exactly the level of player Mika has been consistently over a long period of time.

“For Celtic he has been a real force, a highly-talented player who always fought for our cause. He has been crucial to so much of what we have achieved as a club.

“Everyone at the club sends their best wishes to both Mika and his family and we hope they enjoy a very successful future.

“As well as making a huge impression on the club over so many years since he joined, Mika leaves Celtic as a Treble Treble Champion, something he should always be immensely proud of.

“We thank Mika for everything.”

As well he should, as should the supporters. Most appreciated Lustig but some, too many, constantly criticised a man who played 276 games, scored 21 goals, wore a policeman’s hat during a derby, had many fights with opponents and ran past Joey Barton with a beach ball on his head.

Three trebles, two doubles, eight league titles, four Scottish Cup medals and four League Cup wins, this Invincible won a trophy roughly ever 17 games for Celtic. Lustig is the best free transfer in Celtic history.