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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May, 2005, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
End of an era as O'Neill resigns
By Alasdair Lamont

Martin O'Neill at his valedictory new conference
Confirmation that Martin O'Neill is to resign as Celtic manager brought to an end the longest-running thread of football speculation in recent memory.

As O'Neill would often remark to questioning reporters, rumours of his departure from the club have been rife almost since the day he arrived.

The circumstances in which he finally is to leave are tragic - a fact that has even been reflected on Rangers supporters' messageboards.

There, well-wishers have put aside the customary hatred to offer their regret at the nature of O'Neill's wife's illness.

Despite seeing their side pip O'Neill's to the SPL title last weekend, many Rangers fans will be otherwise pleased to see the back of the man who won three SPL trophies in his five-year stay.

Indeed, he has presided over the club's most successful era since Jock Stein led them to nine consecutive league triumphs and a European Cup win.

His success was all the more notable given what preceded it - the sacking of John Barnes after the club's most ignominious defeat by Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

O'NEILL'S CELTIC RECORD
O'Neill shows off the trophies he won in his first season
00/01: SPL winners, CIS Cup winners, Scottish Cup winners
01/02: SPL winners
02/03: Uefa Cup runners-up
03/04: SPL winners, Scottish Cup winners
04/05: Scottish Cup finalists
So it was that O'Neill arrived in the summer of 2000 after cutting his managerial teeth at Wycombe Wanderers, Norwich and Leicester City - where he won two League Cups.

The charismatic Northern Irishman was a welcome addition to the rich tapestry that is Scottish football - as long as you didn't expect a straight answer, or one that lasted under two-and-a-half minutes.

He was portrayed as something of a football intellectual - he had studied law before packing that in to get a 'proper' job as a football player.

The Scottish media, who had to put up with a couple of months of drawing teeth at Kenny Dalglish's news conferences, were delighted at the arrival of this genial but rambling exponent of Clough-style management.

The Celtic board handed O'Neill a handsome war chest with which to create a winning team, and he immediately set about bringing in players who would form the basis of his side for the next five years.

Chris Sutton was rescued from his Chelsea nightmare for 6m, Joos Valgaeren arrived from Dutch side Roda for 3.8m and Alan Thompson, Rab Douglas, Didier Agathe and Neil Lennon all followed before the end of the year.

As Celtic swept all before them domestically in that first season, O'Neill was allowed to shell out a further 6m on John Hartson - a decision that was vindicated by the capture of a second SPL title the following season.

O'Neill shows his disappointment after the defeat by Porto
O'Neill shows his disappointment after the defeat by Porto

But the highlight for many of the club's followers came the following year in a barren domestic season, as O'Neill's men overcame the odds on a series of occasions to reach the Uefa Cup final, where they eventually lost out to Porto after extra time.

Though they recaptured the SPL title and the Scottish Cup the following season, O'Neill appeared to be frustrated by the board's refusal to continue to open the cheque book as freely as they once had.

His frustration was most keenly felt in Europe as progress in the Champions League continued to elude him, despite some fantastic results in the competition.

It was when O'Neill was forced to wheel and deal in the transfer market that questions began to be asked about his judgement.

Steve Guppy, Momo Sylla, David Fernandez, Henri Camara and Juninho must all go down as failures, though Stan Varga and Craig Bellamy have done their bit for O'Neill and Celtic.

One of O'Neill's greatest gripes - aside from the constraints on his attempts to freshen up an ageing squad - was the criticism from fans and the media that his side played unattractive football with an over-reliance on long balls to burly strikers.

That is now a moot point. Celtic are now, once again, at a transitional stage in their history.

Gordon Strachan is favourite to take over from O'Neill, and a more pertinent point to consider might be whether he will take charge at a club in a better position than the one O'Neill walked into five years ago.


WATCH AND LISTEN
Inteview: Ex-Celtic boss Martin O'Neill


Report: BBC Sport's Andrew Cassell on Martin O'Neill's resignation



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