CELTIC’S former Dutch boss Wim Jansen was diagnosed with early onset dementia last week and the Hoops have already sought to pay tribute to the man who famously thwarted Rangers’ attempts to win a tenth successive SPL title.
Jansen was the man to bring Celtic great Henrik Larsson to Parkhead and the Swede went on record this week to describe Jansen as a “master brain”, having played under him with distinction at both Feyenoord and Celtic.
Many Hoops fans believe Jansen’s 1998 SPL championship was one of the most significant in the club’s modern-day history. It helped to stop the rot of Rangers domination and gave Celtic a foundation for the likes of Martin O’Neill to build upon.
Of course, many Celtic supporters will have everything crossed the Ange Postecoglu can ‘do a Wim Jansen’ and upset the form book once again to pip Steven Gerrard’s Gers in 2021/22. If Postecoglu can channel even half of Jansen’s spirit and personality, the Hoops will have half a chance. Nevertheless, Rangers remain 4/9 odds-on favourites in the eyes of bet365, who remain one of the most competitive UK bookmakers in terms of match and event-specific odds and welcome offers.
Ironically, it took a little while for Jansen’s 1997/98 Celtic side to build up a head of steam. The Dutchman lost his first two matches of the SPL campaign, including a shock 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Dunfermline Athletic. Jansen’s men responded brilliantly to those early setbacks, bouncing back to win eight league games on the spin. There were further bumps in the road ahead, however.
Old Firm clashes proved pivotal in 1997/98
In the first Old Firm derby of the season, Celtic were inched out 1-0 in a tight encounter at Ibrox. They played twice in the space of 11 days that season, with Celtic earning a 1-1 draw in the home game, with a disappointing home defeat to Motherwell sandwiched in between. That draw with Walter Smith’s men on 19 November appeared to give the Hoops self-belief, as they would go on to lose just two more league games.
In their second home Old Firm game, Jansen’s troops well and truly turned up to win 2-0 in their first game of the New Year. It was Celtic’s first SPL win in 11 games against the Gers, which was hugely symbolic.
Before a ball had been kicked in this contest, Celtic were four points behind Rangers. Defeat would have meant that gap extended to seven, but their richly deserved win cut that lead to just a solitary point. The win coincided with a return to fitness of star striker Henrik Larsson, but it was wily midfielders Craig Burley and Paul Lambert who would get on the scoresheet in this contest.
The win over Rangers was the perfect response to Celtic’s 1-0 loss at St Johnstone in their final game of 1997. After the win over Rangers, Jansen’s side went 11 games unbeaten, with seven wins and four draws moving them firmly into title contention. However, with five league games remaining, another daunting trip to Ibrox loomed large on the horizon.
Victory or even a draw would have kept Jansen’s men at the top of the SPL, but Walter Smith’s side struck twice to win a game that Celtic dominated for large periods. As a consequence, Rangers moved top on goal difference, having conceded fewer goals than their bitter rivals.
Jansen’s men held their nerve along the home straight
Crucially, Rangers lost twice in their final four league games, with narrow 1-0 defeats to Aberdeen and Kilmarnock. It meant that Celtic could crown themselves as SPL champions with a home win over St Johnstone on the final day. Sure enough, Jansen’s men held their nerve to win 2-0.
It proved an important win given that defeat would have allowed Rangers to nip in and take the title due to their 2-1 win over Dundee United on the final day.
The title win was somewhat clouded by the uncertainty surrounding the future of Wim Jansen as head coach. His relationship with the Hoops’ managing director Jock Brown was strained to say the least. Despite Brown insisting that Jansen was “calling the shots” regarding his own future at the club, Jansen proved the fall guy and resigned just days after ending Rangers’ domestic dominance with ‘Mission Impossible’.
Who knows what could have been for Celtic and Jansen had he remained at the helm after a double-winning campaign in his debut season?