It has come to light that Sir Alex Ferguson had been offered the Celtic job and he was also interested particularly for one reason.
Celtic Quick News summarises this part of the story told in The Athletic. In the long interview Dermot Desmond covers many aspects of the club and recent events in his interview but amongst some interesting points his revelation of a job offer for Sir Alex Ferguson to manage the hoops is a real standout.
This dates back to discussions before the critical 1997/98 season. Celtic absolutely had to stop Rangers winning their tenth title in a row that season. We all appreciate today how important that was to achieve. So it makes sense that there would be significant thought about filling the managerial vacancy. In the previous season, Hoops hero Tommy Burns was sacked by club chairman Fergus McCann after losing to Falkirk in the 1997 Scottish Cup semi final.
Desmond explains the Fergie approach:
“I had asked Alex Ferguson to be manager of Celtic around 1997 and I offered to pay the money myself, twice the salary he was on at Manchester United”
Though that does raise a couple of questions such as whether it was actually allowed within football regulations for a shareholder to pay the managers salary at a club. And also why Desmond was making such offers for the club and whether Fergus McCann as chairman or the rest of the board were aware of what their main shareholder was doing.
Perhaps these were friendly personal conversations linked to their common interests in horse racing and friends such as JP McManus, who turned into a business partner with Ferguson leading to the huge fall out and dispute over Rock of Gibraltar race horse.
Ferguson was interested and took time to think the job over, he was definitely keen. He’d led Manchester United to great domestic success, though in that 1997 season, after losing the league to Arsenal and Eric Cantona retiring he may well have harboured thoughts.
Desmond went on to explain Ferguson’s views:
“He said he would like to consider it, even though he had a Rangers background.
“He said: ‘I’d like to do it, to follow in the footsteps of Jock Stein,’ but he said his overriding ambition was to win the Champions League with Manchester United.
“In fact, my good friend JP McManus and I were his guests at the 1999 Final in Barcelona, where he fulfilled his dream.”
Ferguson is clearly a huge and strong character. Managing Celtic despite his Rangers background wouldn’t have deterred him. He was an enormous fan himself of Jock Stein and proud to have worked for him with Scotland.
If he had accepted and come to lead Celtic who knows what the history might look like. Ferguson certainly proved his winning ways with Manchester Untied. But it wasn’t to be and we can’t argue with the decision he took.
Equally we needn’t have regrets. Wim Jansen filled the manager position, he signed Henrik Larsson, the league was won, ten in a row was stopped. And Ferguson played a part in recruiting a Celtic manager a little later, facilitating the arrangement of discussions between Martin O’Neill and Desmond which led to a very successful period of Celtic history.