Celtic is one of the most followed clubs in Britain. They have a very successful history in which many legendary managers served the club. In this article, we will have a look at some of the greatest Celtic FC managers ever.
Here are the 10 greatest Celtic FC managers ever –
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10. Jimmy McGrory (1945–1965)
One of Celtic’s greatest players ever, McGrory spent 15 playing years at the club. He scored 472 goals for Celtic – a club record in 445 games. He later became Celtic’s manager and spent another 20 years with the club he loved.
Jimmy McGrory was appointed as the manager of Celtic in 1945. The high points for McGrory included the Coronation Cup victory in 1953, the Scottish League & Cup double in 1953-54 and the classic League Cup win in 1957, so one great League title, two Cups and 2 League Cup wins have rightly allowed McGrory to retain a certain affection historically as a manager. McGrory was a manager for nearly 20 years before Jock Stein succeeded him in March 1965.
9. David Hay (1983-1987)
As a player David Hay spent 6 years at Celtic. Davie Hay after his playing days were cut short was destined to find some niche in football coaching or management. After Billy McNeil’s departure from Celtic, Davie Hay became a surprise appointment taking in his inexperience aged only 35.
Under him, Celtic won the Scottish Cup in 1985 and the Premier Division in dramatic fashion in 1986. Celtic won their final game 5–0 against St Mirren at Love Street but needed Hearts, who were league leaders and favourites to lift the trophy, to lose to Dundee at Dens Park. Albert Kidd secured the victory for Dundee with two goals and Celtic were crowned champions. After Celtic failed to win a trophy in 1986–87, Hay left Celtic and was replaced by McNeill (2nd spell).
8. Win Jansen [1997-98]
The historical significance of Jansen’s title triumph during the 1997-98 season will never be forgotten. For nine years in a row, Rangers had possessed the Old Firm bragging rights as Celtic failed to dislodge them from the top of the table. However, after replacing Tommy Burns, Jansen would guide Celtic to the league title and prevent Rangers from taking their sustained success into double figures – which would have broken the all-time record in Scotland.
The triumph would be particularly sweet given that the league crown was secured on the final day of the season with a 2-0 win over St Johnstone. As well as lifting the League Cup trophy, Jansen will always be held in high esteem for signing Henrik Larsson for just £650,000. The rest, as they say, is history. He is fondly remembered as one of the greatest Celtic FC managers ever.
7. Brendan Rodgers (2016-2019)
Brendan Rodgers became manager of Celtic in May 2016 and lead Celtic to an undefeated domestic season in his first year at the club, delivering Celtic’s fourth treble in the process. He achieved trebles in both of his first two seasons.
Rodgers did a remarkable job at Celtic, where he was unbeaten for a British record 69 domestic games. He also has the best win % among all the managers who have managed Celtic. He left Celtic for Leicester City in February 2019.
Checkout: Greatest Celtic FC Players Ever
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6. Gordon Strachan (2005-2009)
Gordon Strachan succeeded Martin O’Neill as manager of Celtic in 2005. He had an embarrassing start to his campaign as Celtic manager, losing 5–0 to Slovakian champions Artmedia Bratislava on 27 July 2005 and three days later, drawing 4–4 with Motherwell in his first SPL match in charge of the Glasgow club. The loss against Artmedia meant Celtic suffered an early exit from European competition, despite winning the return match 4–0. After this disastrous start, Celtic started to improve under Strachan. A low-point was the shock defeat in the third round of the Scottish Cup to First Division Clyde on 8 January 2006. However, the following month his team made history when they defeated Dunfermline Athletic 8–1, a record victory margin for the SPL at the time.
Strachan’s first season was ultimately successful as he coached Celtic to victory in the League Cup and, on 5 April 2006, his side clinched the SPL title in record time and with six matches remaining. Reflecting this achievement, Strachan was voted Manager of the Year by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association eight days later.
He resigned on 25 May 2009, after 4 years in charge having won the League three times in a row, League Cup twice and Cup once.
5. Billy McNeill (1978-83 & 1987-1991)
Best known for captaining Celtic to the European Cup triumph in May 1967, Billy later went on to manage the club on two occasions.
He first became Celtic’s manager in 1978, taking over from the legendary Jock Stein. In his first season Celtic won the double of the League Championship and Scottish Cup in the club’s centenary year. His first year was eventful, a closely fought season saw the whole championship boil down to the last game of the season, where ‘Ten men won the league’. An incredible game saw Celtic playing Rangers with a man down, yet we came from behind to win the game and seal the league at the death.
Overall, he led the club to four league titles, three Cups and a League Cup in his two spells with the club. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest Celtic FC managers ever.
4. Neil Lennon (2010-2014 & 2019-present)
Lennon was appointed manager of Celtic in March 2010, initially in a caretaker capacity after the departure of Tony Mowbray. Lennon was appointed manager of Celtic on a full-time basis on 9 June 2010. He retained Mjällby as his assistant, as well as former Celtic teammate Alan Thompson and former Leicester City teammate Garry Parker as first-team coaches.
However, in his first full season in charge Lennon would galvanise the support by producing an entertaining and winning team. The campaign took a while to get going and after early disappointments in Europe the team took a little while to gel. But his signings – particularly Izaguirre, Hooper, Ledley and Kayal – were on the whole superb acquisitions and by the start of the new year the Bhoys were in impressive form.
Lennon enjoyed significant success as Celtic manager, winning three Scottish league championships, two Scottish Cups and qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League twice, before leaving the club in May 2014.
He once again returned to the Celtic Park as a manager in February replacing Brendan Rodgers. He led Celtic to further two successive league titles in 2018-19 and 2019-20 season.
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3. Martin O’Neill (2000-2005)
When Martin O’Neill arrived at Celtic in 2000, there wasn’t a huge crowd to greet him because no one was expecting much. Celtic had finished runners-up to rivals Rangers in both of their previous seasons; in the season just gone, they had finished 21 points behind the champions.
Extraordinary salvage job transformed Celtic from isolated runners-up to instant treble winners. In that first season, O’Neill won a domestic treble with Celtic, the first time this had been achieved since 1968/69. Celtic then retained the league title in 2001–02, the first time since 1982 that Celtic had managed that feat. Celtic also qualified for the Champions League group stage, winning all of their home games but losing all of their away games.
Continued success, including a Uefa Cup final in 2003, made him Celtic’s most influential figure since Jock Stein. On 25 May 2005, Celtic announced that O’Neill would resign as the manager to care for his wife Geraldine, who had lymphoma. By that time, he had won the League thrice, Cup twice and League Cup once. Undoubtedly, he is one of the greatest Celtic FC managers ever.
2. Willie Maley (1897-1940)
The board of Celtic directors appointed Willie Maley as Secretary-Manager – the first manager of Celtic in 1897.
Celtic had been a buying club in their opening decade, spending heavily to bring professionals to the club. Maley decided to scrap that and rely almost entirely on recruiting youngsters fresh from junior football. Maley created a young team who won six consecutive league titles in a row between 1905 and 1910 and won the first Scottish League and Scottish Cup doubles. They were the best team in Glasgow, and the six-in-a-row record remained unbroken until the 1960s. As his six-in-a-row team began to age, Maley set about the task of building a younger team. This younger side, which included Patsy Gallacher and the apparently ‘ageless’ McMenemy, would win four league titles in succession between 1914 and 1917. They also set a UK record for an unbeaten run in professional football, 62 games (49 won, 13 drawn) from 13 November 1915 until 21 April 1917, which stood until it was broken by Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic in November 2017.
The Maley years ended in a less than happy fashion. With Celtic at the bottom of the table, after a meeting with the board of directors in February 1940, Mr Maley finally retired. Maley was the longest-serving manager in Celtic’s history. In his 43 years as manager, he won 16 Scottish League championships, 14 Scottish Cups, 14 Glasgow Cups and 19 Glasgow Charity Cups.
1. Jock Stein (1965-1978)
Jock Stein was appointed as Celtic’s manager in March 1965, becoming the club’s first Protestant manager. Stein’s first challenge was to force the hand of the board to ensure he was to be the sole man in charge and not the chairman Bob Kelly. The previous manager Jimmy McGrory had acquiesced too easily to the board and let control slip through his fingers, as a result, the team was a shambles and a poor reflection of its glorious past.
For the 1965–66 season, Stein made one major signing, Joe McBride from Motherwell. McBride rewarded Stein with 43 goals that season. Celtic lost the first Old Firm derby that season but gained revenge by winning the League Cup final against Rangers.
From there Celtic would begin their reign of domestic dominance, they were to monopolise the league cup for the next 5 years and the league was to be theirs for an incredible nine seasons in a row.
His biggest achievement was winning the 1967 European Cup. The opponent in the final was Italian giant Inter Milan, a previous winner of the competition. Despite initially falling behind to an Italian penalty, the Celtic team triumphed 2–1, winning much admiration for the positive attacking quality of their football. In winning club football’s most prestigious trophy, Stein became the first man not only to guide a Scottish club to champions of Europe but also the first to achieve this honour with a British club. He also became the first manager in history to win all competitions entered. The feat was done with a team all born within 30 miles of Glasgow. In a conversation with Bill Shankly shortly afterwards, Shankly famously told him “John, you’re immortal now”.