Martin O’Neill: what went right?


If there is a hierarchy of Celtic royalty – those most of us would feel nervous in front of, Martin O’Neill is sitting on the throne.  For those of us who are old enough, his impact on our lives is significant.

When he arrived in 2000, Celtic were marooned in the wilderness.  An against-the-odds title win in 1998 was a fading memory as the Rangers motor picked up pace: 11 titles in 12 seasons, most of them won with plenty to spare.

On 26 August 2000, the world changed.  Nothing has been the same since.  We put six goals past Rangers, announcing not only that we were likely to win the league, but that this time, the foundations were built on granite.  We lost five leagues in the 19 years since then, but even those seasons were tight, five won and lost on the final day.  Martin was the enzyme for all of this.

His tactics were beautifully simple: be hard in the middle of the park, get the ball down the wing, have players there who can cross the ball, and have the best headers of the ball in the business there to attack those crosses.

It worked and then it stopped working.  Alex McLeish won a treble with lesser players, because he figured out that playing three up against our back three was practically kryptonite to Celtic.  Tactically, Martin had been rumbled, but his magical quality was never tactics.

Listen now to any of the players he had at Celtic and the respect they hold him in remains absolute.  His sheer presence blew them away when he first met them in 2000, and for the next five years.  They would run through walls for him.  If he said “You’re one of the best players in this league” they played like one of the best players in the league, such was their faith in Martin.

Training sessions were left to others, tactical changes were anathema, key recruitment resources were largely SPL opponents and Match of the Day.  The model had many weaknesses and would inevitably crash.  Just as when Dalglish left Stein a generation earlier, when Larsson left O’Neill, the magic disappeared.

You and I know Martin’s tactical weaknesses at Celtic, so does he.  He knows more about the management game than any of us, so he evolved; eventually, but this was not his natural territory.  He was always playing catch up.  The game has moved on and Martin’s principle strength, that significant force of personality, was never going to be enough.

He arrived in a militant Nottingham Forest dressing room that had seen off other managers.  Roy Keane was his enforcer.  If that’s all there was to the game, Forest would have flourished, but this is not the 60s.  You can’t bully your way to authority.

I’ve seen enough managers and players to know they all ‘move on’ sooner than we do, and I’ve no illusions that Martin is an exception to this.  He is an intelligent man and entitled to find things other than Celtic to fill his life.  But still, Celtic Park is his, that is where his throne waits.  He won the European Cup for Forest, not Celtic, but he changed our lives forever.  For that, I will be eternally grateful, and always nervous in his company.

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  1. jinkyredstar on 29th June 2019 2:35 pm



    Martin as D of F ?




    That was my reading of it as well.

  2. If you’re saying D of F is Martin O’Neil’s for the asking, Paul67, just remember what you said in the article: that the game has moved on. The magic has gone.

  3. i'vehadtochangemymind on

    Gorgeous day in Brompton on Swale! Enjoy the sun bhoys, the earth doesn’t have long left.



    Velcome Big mhan Julli.



    We’re gonna win the lrague

  4. Not having this that the Board are trying to sell KT.If KT has asked to be kept informed,then they must.Maybe Calmac has told them he is going nowhere at the moment.Hence,not for sale.If KT decides he wants to go,which no one on here has any clue about,then he will go.We cant deny him.What would be the use in that?We dont know if Celtic have offered him more money.Could still be 30 grand short of what Arsenal are offering.Just facts.Lenny stated,”We dont want to sell,but if a huge offer comes in,then its all to play for”


    If he does go,then it has to be minimum,£ 25 million.Minimum.We all love KT,but if he does go,the boy M,Bomba,has identical attributes,alongside,lightening quick.We have come through worse before.

  5. I Loved Martin. I know nowt about fitba’……………but knew he did and would make us winners.



    I met him twice and could say nowt to him .



    I just wanted to say ” thanks”.



    I hope he has a long healthy and happy retirement.




  6. CELTIC: Bain; Ralston, Simunovic, Hendry, Gutman;McGregor, Bitton; Forrest, Johnston, Shved; Edouard

  7. O’Neill is Celtic Royalty. His impact was generationally transformative on Celtic FC. I’d build a statue of him tbh.

  8. Subs: Hazard, Doohan, Coffey, Ajer, Welsh, Hayes, Brown, Henderson, Sinclair, Morgan, Bayo, Griffiths, Morrison, Dembele, Oko-Flex

  9. Fool Time Whistle on

    EMBRAMIKE on 29TH JUNE 2019 3:32 PM



    Intreresting team Mike.



    I assume Bitton is sitting MF in front of back four, with Forrest & Shved on the wings.


    Keen to see how Eddie & Mikey play together.



    Hope you are well.



  10. Forrest, Johnston, Shved, Edouard.



    Expect goals, and plenty of them.



    HH. ?

  11. He won the European cup twice with Forest and we should all be grateful for his contribution to our club.




  12. Apologies for bringing negativity




    If Stephen O’Donnell is a target


    Oh dear



    Did not see anything in his performances last season that would get him near our team

  13. Nye Bevans' rebel soldier on




    Loved Martin always will,if only if he had been lucky.

  14. Canamalar it looks like OCD obsession on



    Still waiting on that receipt for the donation to Mary’s meals, you owe them a score.

  15. Norriem


    I know you were concerned about being negative so maybe try this


    Welcome Christopher and Luca – make yourselves heroes


    Bit concerned about the O’Donnell rumours



  16. For a while MON had Bobby Petta playing like a worldbeater. He actually was called up for the Netherlands but got injured and reverted back to type afterwards.



    He and Agathe (another injury victim later) were giving that all star Juve defence nightmares towards the end of that 3 2 defeat in Turin.



    One of the worst decisions ever awarded against us, of course was the penalty. Dallas and co. would have been proud of it.

  17. I don’t buy that football has past O’Neill by – getting sacked by Forrest is a reflection on the state of them, not O’Neill. With Ireland O’Neill did a great job. A euro finals and play offs for a WC is up there with any record for Ireland. And he done that with a poor team.

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