PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
our favourite martin keeps rolling along
So that's that then. Our Favourite Martin has signed a contract to remain manager of Celtic. His deal mirrors - in style at least - the same one that appears to be keeping Bobby Robson and Arsene Wenger safe and secure in their respective jobs.
To echo the sentiments expressed in the official statement announcing the manager's contract, that should be all the speculation over and done with. Except, of course, the Scottish press are now spitting mad that O'Neill is still at Celtic Park. That just wasn't in the script that they had in mind. And therefore with depressing regularity we hear of O'Neill going here, there and everywhere.
If we are to believe everything we read, there is barely a club in the English Premiership that hasn't toyed with the idea of installing OFM as their manager and the skies above Parkhead are full of chairmen hovering like vultures awaiting the opportune moment to swoop him away (copyright M.Guidi, Sunday Mail). The current favourite is the story that during the summer O'Neill made a verbal agreement with Peter Risdale to manage Leeds United, only to change his mind at the last minute and remain at Celtic Park.
There are fairly strong indications that this story is complete cobblers, but let's for the moment assume that it's true from start to finish. For the sake of discussion, Martin O'Neill agreed in summer 2002 to leave Celtic. Well, here we are in February 2003 and he's still our manager. What do we make of that?
The logical conclusion is that O'Neill met with Leeds, discussed what kind of job he would be doing, what sort of transfer budget he would have, what kind of salary he would be on and made his decision based on that. Then he had a change of heart. For whatever reason OFM decides that life in the SPL with Celtic is preferable to life in the richer EPL with Leeds. I can live with that. It means he's still our manager, and it means he's taken stock of his position and isn't unhappy to be manager of Celtic. Excellent.
The hacks have been foaming at the mouth about this, saying that Celtic released a statement on the matter that was in some way ambiguous about O'Neill's commitment. There have even been suggestions that O'Neill has been deliberately mendacious. His frequent denials of the remorseless speculation and accusation mean nothing to the hacks either unless they are accompanied by a lawyer's writ, as if the manager has nothing better to do than pursue grubby reporters through the courts.
Quite what all this has to do with Celtic, by the way, is not fully explored. If O'Neill decided to leave, the first Celtic would officially know about it is when his notice was handed in, just as if any of us left our jobs. It's not any of Celtic's business. Of course all this assumes that the story is true.
Consider this. O'Neil is friendly with David O'Leary, the man he is alleged to have agreed to replace. Recently on Sky O'Leary was asked about the financial position of Leeds when he left the club. His reply was that the chairman had told him there was a £15 million deficit which would have to be made up, and he didn't know why Leeds were still selling players after the Ferdinand deal had made that amount twice over.
How likely is it that a) O'Neill wouldn't contact his friend to get the SP on the Leeds situation, and b) that he would agree to take a job with a 'You must sell first' clause in it?
The media agenda was spelled out for all to hear on Radio Clyde after the Livi game. Lardy Boy Johnstone was commenting that O'Neill was tired of being asked the same questions about his future at every press conference. The press were, in fact, hounding him, 'and quite rightly so,' Said the fat one.
So there you have it. The media have awarded themselves the right to hound O'Neill - and they even believe they have the moral high ground.
So just to feed our paranoia even further, imagine if, say Alec McLeish agreed to move south, but changed his mind at the last minute; Would it be portrayed as a cynical betrayal of a loyal support which has invested all its faith in the club manager? Or might turning his back on the bright lights of the English Premiership to lead the bears to even greater highs perhaps be depicted as a gesture of solidarity and commitment to the Ibrox cause unequalled in the history of the Death Star? Think over your answer and get back to us in a couple of seconds.
As if all this wasn't bad enough, O'Neill has recently come under increasing fire from certain sections of the media who seem determined to single-handedly hold him responsible for all the ills besetting Scottish football at the moment.
Let's pause for a moment's reflection at this point. Since his arrival at Celtic Park two and a half years ago O'Neill has revitalised Celtic. The treble in his first season was followed by the Championship again last season. That made him the first Celtic manager since Billy McNeill back in 1982 to win two league titles in a row.
In Europe, last season we were knocked out on penalties by Valencia, a team who had appeared in the two previous Champions' League Finals. No disgrace there.
This season we have already eliminated teams from England and Spain, historically two of the strongest football nations in Europe. As a result we are still in a European competition beyond Christmas for the first time in 23 years. Despite being fundamental to this Lazurus- like transformation in the club's fortunes certain 'journalists' writing in the Fish Wrappers still find it easier to criticise rather than praise Martin O'Neill, despite the fact that for those of us who have supported Celtic over the last 20 years it feels like we have moved out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance.
One often repeated lament is that Celtic don't play attractive enough football. In case they have forgotten, last season Celtic amassed over 100 points in winning the title and scored almost 100 goals in the process. This season we have already scored 69 goals in 27 games. Boring, no; successful, yes.
He doesn't play enough youngsters is another moan voiced by those carping from the press box. The simple answer to that could be that the youngsters we have simply aren't good enough. Unfortunately Celtic haven't produced too many talented youngsters since Nicholas and McStay - over 20 years ago - who have gone on and made the grade at a high level. Having produced no young players, of the required quality in 20 years it's stretching credibility a bit far to imply that we now have a conveyer belt of talented young players, of the required ability, queuing up to get a regular place in the starting 11.
All those who think that the current youngsters deserve a regular starting place could perhaps enlighten the rest of us as to who should be dropped to allow them a game. During the January transfer period, Rangers actually released three youngsters (as well as an experienced flop in Russell Latapy) to Celtic's one, yet talk of a Murray Park exodus was strangely subdued, and articles accusing the Eckstraterrestrial of cruelly casting these waifs from the marble halls of Ibrox into the snow to sell match books for a living were also conspicuous by their absence in the tabloids.
Martin O'Neill, having come in and made the changes necessary to make us a force in the game again, can now prepare to move us up to another higher level. Given the low base he started from it's not asking too much that he be allowed sufficient time to do that. He's a top class manager and is no doubt aware himself that certain areas of the team need improving. It takes longer than a couple of seasons to go from being domestic also rans to becoming a top European team. He has laid good foundations, let the rebuilding continue
AB MURDOCH & GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE
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