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 Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic broke it 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”.