Why the Martin O'Neill rumours make little sense for Celtic in 2020

By Euan Davidson

November 24, 2020

Martin O’Neill is a bona fide Celtic legend. Securing our first domestic treble since the 1968/69 season on his first full year in charge, the diminutive European Cup winner led us on a glorious Seville run that won the hearts of neutrals across the continent and further afield.

You’d struggle to find anyone associated with Celtic that has a bad word to say about Martin O’Neill. That’s exactly why, in the event Lennon departs Celtic Park, the club shouldn’t bring him back.

Prominent blogger Phil Mac Giolla Bhain reported this week that the Scottish champions have already held talks with the iconic manager after a terrible start to the 20/21 season.

O’Neill’s Celtic side could be swashbuckling, a tactically fascinating and entertaining side, unafraid of taking on much-hyped European sides and securing some of the most famous results in our club’s modern history.

With Alan Thompson and Didier Agathe patrolling the wings, Celtic boasted defensive talent like Tom Boyd, Johan Mjällby, Joos Valgaeren and Bobo Balde, while utilising the immense talents of King of Kings Henrik Larsson, Stan Petrov, Jackie McNamara, Paul Lambert, Neil Lennon… the names go on and on.

The side he built was formidable, and hoovered up trophies. After the doldrums of the Barnes/Dalglish era, O’Neill was an ambitious coach with pedigree at the top level, and a reputation beyond reproach.

There are even Rangers supporters I know who wouldn’t argue that he’s sound. Only Robbie Williams might have a genuine grievance.

Don’t look back

That was then, and this is now. Since a fantastic spell at Aston Villa, Martin O’Neill’s management has offered diminishing returns, as the football world moves at a rapid pace. His tactics quickly began to look dated and agricultural, with a reliance on tall players and physicality.

A spell at his boyhood club, Sunderland, ended with the Black Cats a single point above the relegation zone with 7 games left.

While he took Ireland to Euro 2016, he left them bottom of their group in the UEFA Nations League two years later. More recently, a spell at Nottingham Forest, where he enjoyed incredible success as a player, ended quickly and without much fuss.

As we dwell on our current predicament, there’s perhaps no better argument for reaching into the past to take the club forward. If rumours persist that Lennon’s aggressive approach has alienated dressing room at Celtic, it doesn’t inspire much confidence that Roy Keane, Martin O’Neill’s consistent assistant manager over the last decade, wouldn’t do the same.

Former Celtic manager Martin O’Neill / (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

By no means a knock

Martin O’Neill is part of the fabric of the Celtic story. He is in no uncertain terms a legend of our club, a messiah at the perfect time, who left us in much better health than he found us.

However, there’s nothing about his recent managerial career that suggests that we should make the nostalgic move here.

This isn’t a knock on Martin O’Neill the man, nor his time at Celtic, far from it – what he gave to our club and fanbase is incalculable, and we’re forever in his debt.

There are, sadly, few examples of managers coming back to top teams for a second spell and it going particularly well. For Martin O’Neill to come back and for us not to reach the Holy Grail of 10 in a Row would be a heartbreak compounded.