By Joe Behan
In typical Martin O’Neill fashion, the Glasgow Celtic boss was already looking into the Parkhead future of Champions League just after the Hoops beat Hibernian 3-0 in the Tennent’s Scottish Cup Final.
Stopping arch-rivals Rangers in their tracks and winning the treble again after a 32-year wait are not the thoughts of the Irish mastermind. It is Champions League for O’Neill, that’s his agenda, and it’s now, not later.
Hinting that some players may leave Parkhead, O’Neill rocked the boat even more by suggesting that at least four new players would arrive. The domestic domination of winning all three trophies played second fiddle to O’Neill’s remarks that he was more concerned with the next Celtic board meeting. The Irish manager expects to hear what kind of money he will get for meeting those Champions League aspirations. The mentioned figure is $20 million and that kind of capital for recruiting is indeed a far cry from the $100 million that some clubs have spent and didn’t even get to the playoffs.
The Irishman knows that it is Europe and CL where every club wants to go. He insists that while it may take a few years to get there, he hints the second phase of Champions League is the steppingstone for Celtic success on the Continent. O’Neill knows that Celtic’s tremendous treble, while important to enjoy, is only the foundation of where Celtic can go, or rather, must go. It has got to be Europe for Parkhead, taking into account the size and history of the club. As much as O’Neill knows this, he is now instilling the necessity to carrying it out. But once again the ever sensible O’Neill reminds us that Rangers will not lie down and will come back to make next year an exciting season.
The insights O’Neill gave to his plans seemed to put away the rumors that United is coming after him to replace Alex Ferguson. More important, the insights put away the thought that O’Neill himself is interested in Old Trafford. The temptation of running the Red Devils for sure will not go away and finally we hear from the big guns at Parkhead regarding O’Neill’s future. Celtic chairman Brian Quinn insisted O’Neill would see his contract out after beating Hibs. Quinn should have said that before the game too.
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The task at hand for O’Neill is the essence of time needed. The Hoops have a Champions League qualifier in August and O’Neill will very likely make a new signing or two for that fixture. Talk of Bobo Balde of Toulouse and young Bhoys like Maloney were connected to the new look Celtic. The player market with Champions League in O’Neill’s mind is Celtic’s future. The current players for O’Neill to keep will determine those future goals. But O’Neill is his usual down-to-earth self when it comes to setting the club’s newest goals and that looks like CL phase two.
For all the Celtic fans across the world who now dream of Champions League status — the last Hoops team to win the treble played the following year in the 1970 European Cup Final. Not many fans if any at all believed that Celtic would do the treble when O’Neill arrived. It’s likely the same belief with Champions League. But Martin O’Neill’s desire regarding his short time to achieve CL status is chilling. The Irishman knows he may not be on this earth long enough to win the Champions League, but now is the time to try. O’Neill knows it is a David and Goliath story. The fans know O’Neill will give it his best shot.
Larsson is gold
While there has been some great additions to the Celtic side, such as Lennon and Sutton, Henrik Larsson is now worth his weight in gold to the club. His brace against Hibs in the Cup Final brought his total to an astounding 53 goals. Now the silky Swede is the player to beat for the Golden Boot, with Andrei Shevchenko of AC Milan chasing.
With only two years left in Larsson’s contract, O’Neill makes it clear that his lethal striker is top of his list. The Celtic boss admitted that he would redouble the efforts to get Larsson’s contract sorted out. O’Neill thinks the world of Henrik and suggested whatever the player asked for he would likely get. O’Neill claimed that the Parkhead Prince was a great person, never mind a great footballer.
In the final against Hibs, the game turned Celtic’s way when the injured Lubomir Moravcik was replaced by Jackie McNamara in the 17th minute. After Larsson served a warning into the side netting, McNamara opened up for Celtic with a nice goal just before the break. Within two minutes into the second half Larsson was on the end of a now typical counter by Celtic for the Hoops second goal. The Swede’s third, a spot kick, finished Hibs off to seal victory and the tasty Treble.
Chris Sutton combined well for the all-important second goal. The now settled forward reminded O’Neill and Co. about Larsson at Celtic. Sutton reckons there will be a public disorder to the point of rioting should Henrik Larsson ever be allowed to leave Celtic. The powerbrokers, Sutton suggested, should offer the Super Swede a lifetime deal. It is no secret that Larsson likes the Manchester United players and he loves to watch Spanish football, Barcelona and Real Madrid in particular. Sutton believes Larsson’s contract is top priority for the club and that his contributions this year have been massive. Larsson, Sutton claimed, should be signed up for life.
Larsson’s incredible feats are even more impressive when we think back to just a year ago when he broke his leg. All the signs were there that this is going to be his year, especially after his extravagant hole in one at Tom Boyd’s testimonial. It is surprising that Parkhead have not closed Larsson’s new contract. Does he have to win the Golden Boot for them to do so? We all know how brilliant he is; it’s time for the Parkhead Prince to sign the dotted line. That signature is more important that any signing O’Neill will take on. While no one player is bigger than the club, new players know Henrik Larsson plays for Glasgow Celtic. Hail, hail, the Celts are here.