Date: 4th July 2019 at 6:52pm
Written by:

I was glad, today, when Neil Lennon dismissed the suggestion that we might see a return to the club for Martin O’Neill.

The two men know each other as well as any two can.

Our former manager was the greatest career influence on the life of the current boss, and I can well understand why this led some people to see them as a potential “dream team.”

O’Neill has a lot of qualities which make him a good shout as a Director of Football, most notably the fact that he has a law degree which he has often used to good effect as a manager. He knows the game inside out. He understands the politics of it, the intricacies.

His experience at the sharp end is almost second to none.

And he knows Celtic.

But Martin was not built for sitting in an office pushing a pen around.

He was meant to be prowling the touchline, growling like his own former mentor Brian Clough. Yes, Martin is from the old school, the kind of manager the game has moved past, but when he was at his peak – and he was definitely at his peak here at Celtic – he was almost unsurpassed.

It is Martin who has the highest win ratio in the history of the club. Lennon has the second highest. That’s why Neil knows the man wouldn’t be content to sit in the stands watching the action; he would want to be involved, he would want to be hands on.

And although he would provisionally be Lennon’s boss, it is not the Director of Football who runs the team.

The manager is the captain of the ship, and there can only be one hand on the wheel at any one time. Lennon made a joke of it, but the idea of having his old boss once again looking over his shoulder can’t have much appeal, for obvious reasons.

Think of the fun the media would have with that. Jesus, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Martin will forever be a hero to me and an entire generation of fans.

This is not a Brendan Rodgers appreciation; Rodgers’ achievements in domestic football are greater, and I will forever be glad that he was manager. But O’Neill remains at the centre of our love, something that goes beyond a respect for his achievements.

Brendan belongs with Gordon Strachan in the other club, although Strachan will never be as distrusted as the Leicester boss now is.

But like Lennon, Martin O’Neill is adored by the Celtic support.

He can lay claim to being a Celtic icon, and had John Hartson played in Seville I genuinely believe that Martin would have become our second manager to win a European trophy.

The year we won the treble against all the football betting odds – the blazing football, the 6-2 game, the 3-0 win at Ibrox, was the perfect antidote to the dark years after we stopped the ten, when the Ibrox club seemed bigger and stronger than ever.

We now know, of course, that it was all built on shifting sands, but at the time they were monstrous and I could not see how we were ever going to overhaul them. And then along came Martin O’Neill, with that steady charm and Irish wit and a burning intelligence which cut through like a laser. I don’t know whether he arrived with the loathing of Murray and his club which was to become notorious or if it coalesced around him later, but it was real and clear.

And he channelled it into the team, and the team rose to it.

We smashed Advocaat’s team aside and the glory years were suddenly underway. The titles the Ibrox club won in the time he was here were, like the ones later under Smith, the aberration … this generation has belonged to Celtic and it was Martin who started the ball rolling.

You could argue that it never stopped. When Strachan failed to make it four in a row and handed Smith his first of three – and the Ibrox club’s last three – titles we looked badly led, but we never again looked weak. Weakness and fear went the day O’Neill came through the doors.

I never wanted him back as manager.

Although I have no doubt that he would have been warmly received and that he would have had enough about him to crush Gerrard’s pitiful side I think the club has moved on, and I would not want anything spoiling my respect and love for the man and his achievements.

He came, he saw, he conquered.

He gave us our pride back. He gave us our club back.

I like my warm memories of him just fine exactly as they are.