FORMER Celtic boss Martin O’Neill is backing Ange Postecoglou to bring European glory to his old club.
The Northern Irishman came so close to emulating the legendary Jock Stein whose team of all stars conquered Europe by defeating Inter Milan 2-1 in an unforgettable evening in Lisbon on May 25 1967.
O’Neill led the Hoops to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville in 2003, but an extra-time goal saw the trophy go to Jose Mourinho’s Porto outfit in an enthralling five-goal thriller in which Henrik Larsson claimed a memorable double.
It was a case of so close and yet so far for the iconic Parkhead gaffer and his players, with Neil Lennon, Chris Sutton, Paul Lambert and Jackie McNamara among them, and now he believes the Greek-Australian gaffer could go one better and claim a prestigious trophy outwith the three up for grabs on the homefront.
HEROIC FAILURE…Martin O’Neill and his dejected players acknowledge the Celtic support in Seville in 2003.
O’Neill said: “Could Celtic win the Europa League under Ange? Absolutely, definitely.
“Obviously, Rangers led the way on that last season by reaching the Final. Some of their results were absolutely terrific along the way.
“They showed that it’s possible again.
“And if Celtic think domestically they are stronger than Rangers, then there is no reason to suggest they can’t do it.
“If we’re talking specifically about the Europa League – the UEFA Cup – then Celtic could absolutely win it. No doubt.”
Postecoglou’s team were knocked out of Europe – without even the consolation of the Europa League – when they finished rock bottom of Champions League Group F after home-and-away losses to Real Madrid and RB Leipzig and two 1-1 draws with Shakhtar Donetsk who took third place.
TWO OF A KIND…Martin O’Neill and Ange Postecoglou meet at a Celtic function.
The Hoops manager was criticised in some quarters for his somewhat gung-ho attacking outlook among the elite of Europe.
And O’Neill reckons Postecoglou will change his methods next season when the team, hopefully, will have earned the right for another crack at the big prize.
He continued: “From Celtic’s viewpoint, I don’t think anybody wants Ange to change his philosophy on the game. Absolutely not, because it’s been really exciting and his team plays great stuff.
“But that doesn’t mean he can’t make tactical adjustments when playing in European football.
“I’m sure that consciously or subconsciously, that’s what he’ll do. Honestly, I think he will do that.
“This was his first year in the competition and it’s all been pretty new to the team. But they had opportunities in every match, big important moments which did not go their way.
“Had they scored the opening goal against Real Madrid at home, who knows what could have happened? And there were other different moments in other games.
“So I’m sure they can learn from that and use that experience next season if they are there again.
“If it’s roughly the same side, with maybe a couple of additions, then those experiences will only stand them in good stead.
“They might just need that phenomenal element of just a wee bit of luck along the way.”
CONQUERORS OF EUROPE…Jock Stein and Bobby Murdoch with the European Cup in Lisbon on May 25 1967.
O’Neill believes his 2003 team is the SECOND best in Parkhead history.
The charismatic 70-year-old Hoops great, speaking to the Scottish Sun, added: “Obviously, the best Celtic side ever is Jock Stein’s.
“They won the European Cup and until someone else at Celtic wins the European Cup that will remain.
“But my own view – and it’s only my own view – is that the side that I had was the second best Celtic team there’s been.
“That would have been cemented, without doubt, had we clinched the UEFA Cup in 2003.
“Those players’ response to me coming to Celtic, added to the signings we made, was extraordinary.”
* Martin O’Neill’s autobiography, ‘On Days Like These’, is out now on hardback, ebook and audio.