Part Two of our Hoops History will take a look at a Celtic hero of the early 2000s, manager Martin O’Neill.
We continue our Celtic history series with Martin O’Neill, who had a lengthy career as a player, playing midfield over a 15-year career across England including a 10-year run at Nottingham Forest, where he netted 48 times in 285 appearances. While there, he was part of a team under manager Brian Clough that won two League Cups and a League title.
When his playing career ended, he ventured into football management. Managing English-side Wycombe Wanderers from 1990-1995, he led the side to relative success taking home two FA Trophies as well as two league promotions.
He then made the jump to another English squad, Norwich City, but this only lasted about six months as he departed for Leicester City in December 1995 after alleged differences with the club’s chairman.
O’Neill took charge of the Foxes for four and a half seasons before moving to Parkhead. While at Leicester City, he led them to a league promotion to the top flight in 1996 as well as two Football League Cups in 1997 and 2000. While in the top flight, he was the recipient of the Premier League’s Manager of the Month award three times over three seasons.
When the Northern Irishman took charge in Parkhead from caretaker manager Kenny Dalglish on June 1, 2000, he found the club in quite a rut. In the eleven prior campaigns, the Hoops had only won four trophies while rivals Rangers took home the League Championship nine times over the decade.
In the two seasons prior, Celtic had come runners-up in the league to Rangers, by as much as 21 points in the 1999-2000 season. He was quick to make a turn-around, leading the squad to a 6-2 thrashing of Rangers in August 2000, their largest margin in the Old Firm since 1957.
In just his first season at the club, O’Neill completed the turnaround the Hoops needed, overcoming Rangers’ recent dominance to win a domestic treble for the first time since 1969, securing the League Championship by 15 points. He became a hot target for other clubs, even being touted as Sir Alex Ferguson’s potential successor in Manchester.
Fortunately, he remained in Glasgow, taking home another League title the following season by 18 points, repeating as champions for the first time since 1982. This squad was remarkable, dropping only one game over the entire season, with a whopping +76 goal differential.
While the next season was a bit less successful in League play, as the side finished runners-up to Rangers solely on a 1 goal differential with 97 points each, they did achieve extensive success in Europe.
This 2003 squad went on a tear through European play, beating clubs that included Blackburn Rovers, Celta Vigo, VfB Stuttgart, Liverpool, and Boavista while outscoring opponents 20-9 during that stretch. Playing in the UEFA Cup Final in Seville, Spain, the Hoops lost 3-2 to a Jose Mourinho-led Porto with a massive fanbase traveling to support the club.
The next year’s campaign saw Celtic regain the league title from Rangers after the incredible finish the year prior, as well as a quarter-final finish in UEFA Cup play that included a stunning win over FC Barcelona. The Hoops also set a Scottish record run of 25 consecutive victories during the campaign.
In his final season at Parkhead, O’Neill led the side to a second-place league finish, ending only 1 point behind Rangers while also winning the Scottish Cup.
In May, he announced he would be leaving the club after five seasons and seven trophies, with his only times not winning the league title being by a 1-goal differential and then 1 point. While his time running Celtic may have been short-lived in comparison with the likes of Jock Stein and others, he returned the club to glory after a long drought of dominance by their cross-town rivals.
He would not quite match his success at Parkhead again, going on to manage Aston Villa and Sunderland in England, winning no trophies, with a 39% victory rate (compared to 76% at Celtic), and only a Football League Cup runners-up with Aston Villa in 2010. He did, however, take home five more Premier League Manager of the Month awards at those clubs.
He then managed Ireland’s national team for five seasons, leading them to qualification for Euro 2016, followed by a short stint at his previous club Nottingham Forest in 2019.
Always a legend at Parkhead, O’Neill recently spoke on the club’s quest for 10-in-a-row as well, advising Rangers on how best to compete against the side next season.