A Celtic State of Mind’s Cult Hero Manager

Well, after many trials and tribulations, we have now selected A Celtic State of Mind’s Cult Hero XI – a team that would strike fear into the hearts of many a Scottish Premiership defence, even at the age of some of them now!
 
Here is the final line-up:

1. Artur Boruc
2. Enrico Annoni
3. Stéphane Mahé
4. Bobo Balde
5. Ramon Vega
6. Lubo Moravcik
7. Shunsuke Nakamura
8. John Collins
9. Frank McAvennie
10. Paddy McCourt
11. Geogios Samaras
 
But what is a cult hero team without a manager?

Celtic have a history of incredible bosses from the late Mr Stein to Martin O’Neill, even the recent incumbent would have been considered a great if it weren’t for his sour departure.

This selection of managers have either created history or had a fleeting tenure that could have and should have offered so much more.

Colin Watt brings you the ASCOM team’s picks for Celtic’s Cult Hero Manager. Which gaffer have we missed out? Let us know!

Ronny Deila
 
Joined From: Strømsgodset (Norway), July 2014.
Celtic Record: Played – 118, Won – 75, Win Percentage – 63.56%.
Trophies: 2 Scottish Premiership titles, 1 Scottish League Cup.
 
Manager Ronny Deila joined the club in 2014 from Norwegian side Strømsgodset, replacing the outgoing Neil Lennon and immediately set about putting his own stamp on the side. With the club celebrating 3 league titles in-a-row whilst the side from Govan languished in the lower reaches of Scottish football, the relatively unknown and inexperienced Deila was an experimental choice by the board.

Pre-season started well with victories in Austria (ignoring the defeat to Spurs in Finland). In the transfer market, Deila wasn’t overly backed by the board: Craig Gordon was signed on a free along with the loan deals for Jason Denayer, Alexander Tonev, Jo Inge Berget, John Guidetti and Mubarak Wakaso before Celtic’s biggest signing of the summer on deadline day – Stefan Scepovic from Sporting Gijon.

The first season under Deila was appealing to fans with promising attacking football, high pressing and the emergence of players like Callum McGregor and Kieran Tierney. Deila’s side wrapped up the League Cup in impressive fashion, not conceding in the whole tournament as well as winning the league by 17 points. Deila was cruely denied the opportunity of the treble by incompetent officiating during the Scottish Cup semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle in which Anthony Stokes goalbound shot was blatantly blocked on the line by the Caley defender’s hand. All-in-all, season one was fairly successful for Deila and fans were excited for the second chapter.

Season two marked the departure of Virgil Van Dijk to Southampton for £13m and, in truth, once again Deila was never given the money to replace the Dutchman. Deila, however, did sign some players who would go on to make a name within the side who were part of the recent treble treble success – Dedryck Boyata, Ryan Christie and Jozo Simunovic. 2015/16 was Ronny’s difficult second album, with discontent emerging from the club on account of his training regimes. This also spilled out into the public domain, virtue of Kris Commons’ regrettable touchline outburst in Molde.

Unfortunately for Deila, securing the fifth title in-a-row for the club wasn’t going to be enough to keep him in Scotland, with the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat on penalties to Championship side Rangers sounding the death-knell on the Norwegian’s Parkhead tenure. Celtic once again wrapped up the league title with weeks to spare but the board had decided to let the Ronny go at the end of the campaign.

Deila continues to appear at Celtic Park and fans are left in no doubt that he is a Celtic man. If the side does go on to win 10 league titles in-a-row, it would only be fitting to have our ex-gaffer back at the club for one more famous Ronny Roar!

Frank Connor
 
Joined From: Already at the club in coaching capacity in 1993.
Celtic Record: Played – 4, Won – 3, Win Percentage – 75%.
Trophies: Nil.
 
It was during the days of the early-nineties ‘Sack the Board’ turmoil that Frank Connor was given a difficult lifeline.

Following Liam Brady’s departure as manager, his assistant, Joe Jordan, made his exit shortly thereafter. Frank was then given the seemingly impossible task of taking over a demoralised Celtic side as caretaker manager. This was an opportunity that many Celtic men could only dream of, but Frank was expected to galvanise the team amidst a backdrop of chaos.

Davie Hay’s former assistant was already very well known to the Celtic support as he was in his third coaching spell at the club, having previously played in goals for Celtic in the early 1960s.

Frank was unceremoniously thrown into the manager’s chair while the hapless Celtic board made their mind up on a new appointment. Frank proceeded to lead Celtic unbeaten through two league matches (one victory and one draw) and a European victory (1-0 against Sporting Lisbon). When Lou Macari took over on 27 October 1993, he allowed Frank to take the team for one last match – an Old Firm Derby at Ibrox, which Celtic went on to win 2-1 in dramatic fashion.

Frank Connor can claim to have an unbeaten record in charge of Celtic. Unbeaten at home, in Europe and against Rangers. It was a dream start as manager (albeit on an interim basis), and the players were said to have wanted him to stay on in a permanent capacity (many of the squad knew him very well, having worked under him with the junior and reserve sides). Peter Grant wonderfully expressed his faith in Frank at the time when he said, “We would say ‘Give him the job now’. We all regard him as the boss and treat him as such. He would make you play during the night for him. Frank has kicked a few backsides around here and we will give our blood, sweat and tears for him.”

Sadly, in time, things went back to normal and actually got worse under the next incumbent (Lou Macari), but Frank Connor’s brief spell helped to put a smile back on our faces for a wee while at least. The support will always respect him for that.
 
Wim Jansen
 
Joined From: Sanfrecce Hiroshima (Japan) in 1997.
Celtic Record: Played – 51, Won – 33, Win Percentage – 64.71%.
Trophies – 1 Scottish Premier Division title, 1 Scottish League Cup.
 
Jansen’s reign could easily be summed up in nine words: He signed Larsson and stopped 10-in-a-row.

The Feyenoord legend joined Celtic from Sanfreece Hiroshima in Japan in the summer of 1997, replacing the outgoing Tommy Burns. His goal was clear – stop Rangers from winning 10 league titles in-a-row. Whilst this seemed like a simple plan, what unfolded has gone down in the chronicles of Celtic history.

The summer began with players like Craig Burley and some guy called Henrik Larsson joining the side, as Jansen went about building a squad that could stop Rangers from creating history. The season didn’t start overly well with that man Larsson giving the ball away at Easter Road on the opening day of the season and Chic Charnley winning the game for Hibs with a strike from 30 yards. A home defeat to Dunfermline followed and fans were rightly worried that Celtic would once again be second best, perhaps even third best to a Hearts side who led the campaign for vast spells.

The turning point of the season came on 2 January 1998, as Celtic claimed a 2-0 victory over Rangers to reduce the gap to a single point after Mr Gascoigne played an imaginary flute during his warm-up. Celtic would then go on a 12-game unbeaten run, which was ended at Ibrox, putting the teams on level points with four games to go. Rangers went on to lose two of those four games to Aberdeen and Kilmarnock, as their hopes of 10-in-a-row started to fade. The latter of those losses opened up the opportunity for Celtic to clinch the title away to Dunfermline the following day…

Celtic looked to have done enough after Simon Donnelly opened the scoring before a late goal by Dunfermline’s Craig Faulconbridge set up a nervy final day. The stage was set, Celtic knew they had to win on the final day of the season to clinch the league title. It was in our hands. A capacity crowd packed Celtic Park and the build up in the press was incredible. Tom Boyd actually recently said that it was like being a kid at Christmas all over again – he slept about 2 hours the night before. Anyone who was nervous had their nerves settled after only 3 minutes when Larsson picked up the ball 30 yards from goal, beat his man, and placed his shot into the right-hand corner of the net to send the Celts one up.

News began to filter through later in the half that Rangers had taken the lead away at Dundee United and the nerves continued to build. St Johnstone missed a massive chance to level the game and Celtic knew one slip was enough to send their 10th consecutive title to Ibrox. With 20 minutes remaining, Norwegian Harald Brattbakk got himself on the end of a cross to make it 2-0 and wrap up the title for Celtic, beginning celebrations that would go on for days to come. Jansen had done it, he had built a squad to stop 10-in-a-row.

Sadly, however, that was the end of the road for the Dutchman, contract talks with Fergus McCann broke down and Jansen left the club the following day, as the club were in Lisbon to play Sporting in a friendly (part of the Jorge Cadete deal). Jansen will never be forgotten as Celtic manager, the legacy he left behind will be remembered forever, but as with most of our Cult XI, the question would be, what If he stayed?

Dr Jozef Venglos
 
Joined From: Oman National Side in 1998.
Celtic Record: Played – 49, Won – 29, Win Percentage – 59.2%.
Trophies – Nil.
 
Replacing the man who stopped 10-in-a-row was always going to be a difficult challenge, however, the reception that Dr Jo got from the Scottish press made his job almost impossible. The tabloids were quick to ask in predictably mocking tones, ‘Dr Who?’ with the infamous and derogatory ‘Celtic sign a blank Czech’ headline by the Daily Record.

Despite being the head of the European Coaches Union, a member of FIFA’s technical committee at France ’98, and despite having coached Czechoslovakia to European Championship success in 1976 and the quarter-finals of the World Cup at Italia ’90, very few Celtic fans knew a great deal about Jo Venglos.

On the signings front, it would be safe to say that Dr Jo didn’t make a bad signing. Mark Viduka arrived from Dinamo Zagreb, and he was joined by Vidar Riseth, Johan Mjallby and a little-known Slovakian by the name of Lubomir Moravcik. The latter’s signing we have already touched upon in this series with “highly rated” members of the Scottish press adamant that Celtic should have signed John Spencer from Motherwell for £500k instead of Moravick… oh how wrong could they have been?

Dr Jo’s season in charge itself was a mixed bag. Poor performances until January left the team with a mountain to climb but a 10-game unbeaten run in the league post-new year gave the team a boost. Back-to-back defeats, however, to St Johnstone and then the infamous shame game against Rangers almost handed the title to the side from Govan. That performance ended up being the Ibrox side’s only league victory over the Hoops that season, as Celtic won in emphatic form in the first home game by 5 goals to 1, with doubles from Henrik Larsson and that unknown quantity, Lubo Moravcik.

Celtic finished six points behind Rangers that season as well as losing the Scottish Cup final to them, however, the players and attitude that Dr Jo brought to Celtic was exactly what was needed following Wim Jansen’s departure. It says much for the genuine esteem in which Venglos was held that he was able to retain much of his dignity even after the new management team of Kenny Dalglish and John Barnes was installed a short while later.

Venglos retained employment at Celtic, moving to the newly-created post of European Technical Advisor, however, nobody seemed to know what he actually did in this role for the club in later years. The position was likely nominal and given out of respect. Venglos will go down in the annals as a manager who never got the chance to utilise his potential, he laid the foundations for what would become Martin O’Neill’s treble winning side and is rightly regarded as a true Cult Hero.
 
Colin Watt

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