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farewell then ...



There are a lot of negative things that have been said about Stephen McManus in the last couple of years, most have concentrated on the fact that many people felt he wasn’t good enough to play for Celtic never mind be the captain of the club.

There may be some merit in those opinions; certainly we were all familiar with his limitations (his main action as captain after losing a goal seemed to be pulling up his socks and clapping his hands) but it seems to me that his decent qualities have somehow been entirely overlooked: he’s strong in the air, has decent pace, wins most of his tackles and was generally worth 5 or 6 goals a season.

He joined Celtic on the same day as John Kennedy (somewhere there is a horrendous photo of both of them signing - their contacts looking as though they’ve been taking fashion advice from a gay blind man), but whereas Kennedy was in the first team as early as 2000 as a 16 year old McManus had to wait until 2004 before he was given a first team start, at Easter Road as a left back.

Raw was definitely the word to describe him then. Neil Lennon spent a fair portion of that game making sure the young player was alright, but after 5 appearances he vanished again into the reserves.

During the following season Martin O’Neill was even more reluctant to play him much, managing only 2 outings the whole season.

The arrival of Gordon Strachan changed everything for McManus. After the Artmedia and Motherwell debacles Strachan decided that one of the problem was Stan Varga. The big Slovak was quickly ushered aside and in stepped McManus to partner Bobo Balde.

They formed a solid enough partnership as we charged towards the quickest ever conclusion to an SPL season, but the real bonus was McManus’s impact at the other end of the pitch; by the end of the season he had grabbed an impressive 8 goals, 7 of them in the league.

Of those goals the two that really stand out are clearly the ones which grabbed an improbable victory at Tynecastle on New Year’s Day, both from set pieces delivered by Naka; the first a neat glancing header towards the near post, the second a well placed swipe with his right foot after the ball had bounced well for him after coming clear from a ruck of players (and the scenes after that goal were something to savour).

The following season he found himself partnered with Caldwell as WGS rang the changes and Bobo was moved out. I realise I might be in a minority here (possibly a minority of one) but I thought they were a fairly decent partnership. McManus would play as centre half, Caldwell would sweep up behind. They both had clearly defined roles and that helped. Sometimes with Bobo and McManus they would both go for the one ball leaving the rest of the defence exposed.

That said, it was alongside Bobo that McManus shut out Rooney and Ronaldo as we won through to the last 16 in November 2007. It was also during this season that he became a regular in the national side. He even took his goal scoring touch with him.

When Lennon left in 2007 it was McManus who was handed the captain’s armband but it certainly seemed to weigh on him more than others.

He was by no means a disaster in season 2007-8. He was solid enough and he could still grab a vital goal, such as the opener in our win over Milan or the first against Hibs in the last home game, but he seemed to have hit a ceiling as far as development as a player was concerned.

Not that too many people were concerned about that when he lifted the league trophy at Tannadice, his first win as a captain.

He also managed to go where no Celtic captain for the previous 20 years had gone and lifted a trophy after a final against Rangers. But after that we not so much collapsed in the league we just slowly, painfully deflated to allow a poor hun team (in every sense) to overtake us.

Mowbray didn’t seem to fancy him from the word go, just like he didn’t fancy McDonald or Barry Robson and so it came to pass that in January 2010 we let our club captain, most reliable midfielder and top scorer leave for Boro. Insane.

Lennon didn’t seem that bothered about having him back, but Strachan was extremely keen to have him at Riverside and after 10 years, 150 appearances, 7 goals and a tidy medal haul (3 league, 2 league cup, 1 Scottish cup) he left, saying it was the most difficult decision of his life (contrast and compare with Kris Boyd’s remarks about making the same journey).

We wish him all the best with the Boro alongside his very familiar team mates.