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10 Greatest Celtic FC Managers Ever

3. Martin O’Neill (2000-2005)

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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)

Willie Maley was appointed as the first manager of Celtic in 1897. Initially, Celtic was known for spending heavily to acquire professional players, but Maley shifted the strategy to focus on recruiting young talents from junior football. This approach proved successful as Maley’s young team won six consecutive league titles from 1905 to 1910, securing Celtic’s dominance in Glasgow. They also achieved the first Scottish League and Scottish Cup doubles, setting a record that remained unbroken until the 1960s.

Maley began building another young team as the original team aged, featuring stars like Patsy Gallacher and the seemingly ‘ageless’ McMenemy. This new team won four consecutive league titles between 1914 and 1917. During this period, they also set a UK record with an unbeaten run of 62 games from November 1915 to April 1917, a record that stood until 2017 when Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic team surpassed it.

Maley’s tenure ended on a less positive note, with Celtic at the bottom of the table. After a board meeting in February 1940, Maley retired, marking the end of an era. As the longest-serving manager in Celtic’s history, he led the team for 43 years, winning 16 Scottish League championships, 14 Scottish Cups, 14 Glasgow Cups, and 19 Glasgow Charity Cups.

1. Jock Stein (1965-1978)

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Jock Stein became Celtic’s first Protestant manager in March 1965, taking over from Jimmy McGrory. Stein’s primary challenge was to establish his authority and ensure he was the sole decision-maker, unlike his predecessor who had ceded control to the board. At the time of his appointment, Celtic was struggling and in need of strong leadership to revive its former glory.

In the 1965–66 season, Stein’s notable signing was Joe McBride from Motherwell, who scored 43 goals that season. Although Celtic lost their first Old Firm derby under Stein, they avenged this defeat by winning the League Cup final against Rangers. This victory marked the beginning of Celtic’s domestic dominance, as they went on to win the League Cup for five consecutive years and secured the league title for nine seasons in a row.

Stein’s crowning achievement came in 1967 when Celtic won the European Cup, defeating Inter Milan 2–1 despite an early setback. This victory made Stein the first manager to lead a Scottish club and a British club to European Cup success. Remarkably, his team comprised players all born within 30 miles of Glasgow. This triumph solidified Stein’s legacy, with Bill Shankly famously telling him, “John, you’re immortal now.”

Checkout: Greatest Celtic Players Ever

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