I HATE it when footballers feel they must apologise for making mistakes on the field of play and in the course of their work. And I especially hated it when Nir Bitton apologised to Celtic fans for being sent off against Midtjylland in our first Champions League qualifier this season.

This was a crucial red card, occurring at a point in the match when Celtic seemed in control and likely to defeat our Danish opponents. The 1-1 draw at Parkhead that night eventually undermined our chances of defeating Midtjylland and we duly lost 2-1 in the return leg.

The big Israeli utility man felt moved to say sorry for what was, admittedly, an entirely avoidable dismissal and I cringed inside for him. This has become a wretched custom in recent years among professional footballers. Sometimes I detect the hand of an agent or a club communications chief in these statements. “We’ve prepared an apology for you to tweet. We’ll see what sort of reaction it gets before deciding whether to include you in the line-up for the next game.”

I’m sure Bitton constructed his own tweet as he doesn’t strike me as being the sort of chap who easily bends to contrivances and artificiality. And of course, there was no apology required.

Certainly, in the moments when these errors happen you shout blue murder at these players as you see your side’s chances of victory suddenly taking a dive at a point when you’re embracing glory and already composing a text to your Rangers chums. Instead, you must steel yourself for their mockery and spend the remainder of the game trying to come up with smart-ass replies to their scorn.

During the Gordon Strachan era I recall moments when Gary Caldwell turned me into a 90-minute fascist whenever he tried to play those languid, self-indulgent passes out of defence that flop down nicely in front of the opposition attacker. Like the one he tried against Barcelona in 2008 that went straight to Thierry Henry who did what Thierry Henry always does: take a couple of steps and stick it in the net. I’m not saying we would have beaten Barcelona that night, but our display in a 3-2 defeat was as good as any by a Celtic team against them in recent years.

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And so I said some terrible, terrible things about Gary Caldwell that night: he should never have been signed; he was a sand-dancer; he had ideas above his station. Strachan got it too. Had he never tried to disabuse Caldwell of the notion that he was Franz Beckenbauer? This couldn’t go on. We needed to ship him out the club immediately.

Soon others began to enter the orbit of my fury: Steven McManus; Lee Naylor. They were all rubbish and if we were going to compete at this level we needed to bin them. And then the rage subsides and the hurt passes. You prepare to be rational once more and feel moved to defend Caldwell in the pub that night to your unreasonable friends who simply can’t let go of their anger.

In the previous two seasons I had developed an intense disdain for a full-back called Paul Telfer who was one of Strachan’s first signings. Looking back, he wasn’t the worst and he gave everything for the cause. But I often spent entire games just eyeballing him for misplaced passes or failing to track runs. Just so that I could justify my argument to be shot of him. I began to hate myself for the person I had become. And all of it down to this honest defender.

Gary Caldwell actually had an excellent game against Barcelona until his mistake. McManus and Naylor too. Of course, you were never likely to have got an apology from Caldwell anyway. He always had the air of a footballer who thinks he is doing the entire team a favour simply by agreeing to be part of their team. And I’m glad that Strachan didn’t heed my suggestion and drop him. A couple of months later Cadwell played a crucial role in one of Celtic’s most thrilling title wins in recent memory. His gorgeously floated pass into the Rangers penalty area in April that year set up Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink for that memorable, injury-time winner which paved the way for an unlikely comeback in the title race. Earlier in the game it was his swept pass to Shunsuke Nakamura which set up our Japanese magician for a wonderful 30-yard finish.

I think it must take real strength of character for a footballer to recover from a high-profile mistake that could have an adverse effect on his team’s chances of a trophy or victory against your biggest rivals or bring the spectre of relegation to your door. I can’t begin to imagine what a professional player feels as he sees his error on television later that night being dissected and magnified by the pundits. To see them overcome this and return to the fray and to contribute to crucial victories later in the season makes you happier on a whole level of happiness that compels you to question why you even feel like this.

And so with Nir Bitton, who goes about his business quietly and effectively and never complaining when he gets played out of position, as he invariably does. Our Israeli international has been magnificent this season at a time when injuries and illness threatened to sabotage our title challenge. He is an excellent footballer and I should probably apologise for my description of him as a ‘utility’ player. He is much, much more than that.

Do you remember our last victory at Ibrox; that 2-0 win against all the odds in September, 2019? Bitton was simply magnificent alongside Christopher Julien that day.

I have a good feeling about what will unfold after the season resumes next weekend. Certainly, our three new Japanese signings look like the business and have strengthened us as we enter the most important segment of the season. But I also have a feeling that Nir Bitton still has a massive part to play in whatever lies ahead for Celtic.