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Celtic recovered from a disappointing 7-1 defeat away to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last week by securing their first trophy of the season, beating Motherwell in the Scottish League Cup final on Sunday afternoon.
After a tight and tense first half in which their opposition provided a stiff defensive test, Brendan Rodgers’ side gradually asserted themselves and goals from James Forrest and Moussa Dembélé sealed a morale-boosting win.
Celtic’s victory ensured that Rodgers, who has already made history during his short time in Glasgow so far, became the Scottish champions’ first manager to win four domestic trophies in a row. As a result, it’s increasingly relevant to ask where exactly he fits in alongside the club’s greatest ever managers.
Here, Football Whispers takes a look at Celtic’s top eight managers of all-time based on their win percentages, silverware won, and other notable achievements, and assesses where among them Rodgers ranks.
Jansen only spent one season with Celtic, but it was an extremely important season. Rangers had dominated the Scottish football landscape for the best part of a decade and had equalled Celtic’s historic feat of nine straight league titles when the Dutchman arrived.
He put an end to that dominant spell, sealing Celtic’s first title in ten years and pairing that with a Scottish League Cup win. Those achievements, alongside his £650,000 signing of future icon Henrik Larsson, were enough to earn a place in club folklore.
Rodgers arrived on the back of a unique period in Scottish football history that had seen Rangers compete outside of the Scottish Premiership for four consecutive years. Thus, Celtic were already the established force when the former Liverpool boss took charge.
Succeeding Ronny Deila in the hot-seat, the aim for Rodgers was to progress the club from Scottish champions to European force. That particular ambition has not yet been fulfilled, but things are unquestionably moving in the right direction.
Rodgers’ debut campaign saw Celtic hit a points total of 106 that bested anything previously seen since the Scottish top flight was restructured to comprise 38 fixtures. Both domestic cups were added as the club picked up a treble.
The 44-year-old has also broken the previous British record of 62 straight games without defeat set by Willie Maley’s Celtic. A win or a draw over Motherwell this Wednesday will ensure the run goes to an incredible 66 matches.
Unsurprisingly, Rodgers has one of the best win percentages in the club’s managerial history. And, if he can maintain the club’s domestic status while also producing more European performances like the narrow 2-1 defeat to Bayern Munich this season, he will move closer to the top of this list.
Lennon’s time in charge coincided with Rangers’ demotion to the Scottish fourth tier. For that reason, two of the league titles he won in four years in charge will always have an asterisk next to them. However, it’s worth noting that in his first full campaign his Celtic finished just one point off top spot, and in his second they finished well ahead of their financially troubled rivals.
Some vital signings were made under his management – some, such as Fraser Forster, Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Beram Kayal, went on to play in the English Premier League; others, such as Emilio Izaguirre, Kris Commons and Leigh Griffiths, stayed and became crucial to the club.
If some question his domestic achievements due to the lack of a truly strong competitor, they cannot detract from his achievements on the continent. He oversaw a win over Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and led Celtic into the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time in half a decade.
Just like Lennon, McNeill was an established club legend as a player who also did well in the dugout. Having captained Celtic to their one and only European Cup win in 1967, he took the reigns as manager just over ten years later, succeeding Jock Stein.
After positive yet brief spells in charge of both Clyde and Aberdeen, he led the Bhoys back to the top of Scottish football, winning three league titles in five years. And, after time in England with Manchester City and Aston Villa, he returned to steer Celtic to a league and cup double in their centenary year.
Strachan’s time as Scotland national team manager may not have gone to plan, but his spell as Celtic boss was almost impossible to fault. Expectations were high after Martin O’Neill’s exceptional reign and a 5-0 defeat to Artmedia Bratislava in Champions League qualification was the worst possible start, but he went on to win an impressive array of trophies.
He won three consecutive league titles, as well as one Scottish Cup and two Scottish League Cups. On top of that, he led the club to the Champions League knockout stages in two straight seasons, something that had not been done before and has not been done since, beating the likes of AC Milan and Manchester United along the way. Those memorable nights will never be forgotten, and for that Strachan deserves his lofty position among Celtic’s greatest managers.
Maley was Celtic’s first manager, taking over from a committee in 1897. He also remains the club’s longest-serving manager, having remained in charge for almost 43 years before retiring in early 1940. In addition, he held the record for longest unbeaten streak in British football (62 games) for 100 years until Rodgers broke the record earlier in 2017.
In terms of longevity, he is unmatched. And, when it comes to results, it’s worth noting that his 16 league titles and 14 Scottish Cups came at a time when competition was fiercer for the Old Firm than it has been more recently.
After a disastrous 1999/00 season, O’Neill took charge and instantly guided Celtic back to the top of Scottish football. He won the league in both of his first two seasons in charge, boosted by the big-money signings of Chris Sutton, John Hartson, Neil Lennon and Alan Thompson, the bargain additions of Bobo Balde and Didier Agathe, and the return from injury of Henrik Larsson.
With a strong squad at his disposal, he won three of a possible five league titles while also leading the club beyond Liverpool, Stuttgart and Celta Vigo to the 2003 UEFA Cup final, where they lost to José Mourinho-led Porto in extra time.
At a time when both of the Old Firm spent hefty sums on players, O’Neill’s Celtic were the more pragmatic and successful of the two domestically and in Europe. He was the club’s first manager to win a treble since Stein and still has the best win percentage of any of the club’s managers. Consequently, fans got to see plenty of his celebratory jump in the air.
With a remarkable win percentage of 70.1 per cent, Stein picked up ten league titles – including nine in a row – eight Scottish Cups, six Scottish League Cups and one European Cup during his time in charge of Celtic. However, those numbers don’t emphasis his influence.
Before his arrival, the club had won just one league title in 19 years following the Second World War. In the season prior, they had finished eighth in an 18-team top flight. But, after winning the title in his debut campaign, Celtic didn’t look back.
Stein’s side were regulars in the final stages of the European Cup and became the first British team to win the prestigious competition, beating Helenio Herrera’s Inter Milan in the 1967 final. Amazingly, they achieved this with a squad made up primarily of players who were born within ten miles of Celtic Park.