Martin O’Neill has opened up on his time as manager of Celtic which yielded unprecedented success for the Scottish club and also how losing Mark Viduka to Leeds was a blessing in disguise.
In an in-depth interview with Sky Sports, O’Neill recalls the challenge which he faced when he took over at Parkhead as bitter rivals Rangers were dominating at the time.
In fact, the Ibrox outfit had won 11 of the last 12 Scottish Premiership titles before O’Neill arrived in Glasgow.
The former Republic of Ireland manager received a big blow when he first arrived when Mark Viduka left for Leeds.
The Australian was the league’s top scorer in the season beforehand but O’Neill explains that it was a blessing in disguise as it allowed him to sign Chris Sutton, who would prove to be the perfect partner for Henrik Larsson.
“Viduka leaving allowed me to buy Chris Sutton which helped immensely,” O’Neill told Sky Sports. “He was a brilliant partner for Henrik Larsson so that worked out terrifically.”
This new partnership yielded immediate success as Larsson would score 53 goals in all competitions in the 2000/2001 season including 35 league goals.
“Henrik was in fantastic form that particular season. Sorry, he was in fantastic form every season that we had him.
“He really loved playing with Chris Sutton,” O’Neill continued.
“Sutton was a top-class player, there was no doubt about it. He had won the title in England with Blackburn Rovers. Going forward we became much more potent then.”
Although the partnership with Sutton was a huge reason for Celtic’s success, O’Neill explains that the addition of the likes of Alan Thompson and Didier Agathe was crucial as it provided more firepower for the Swedish international.
“I think Henrik would be the first one to agree with that. I signed Alan Thompson from Aston Villa. Didier Agathe came for £50,000 from Hibs. He was brilliant for us.
“I think what we did is that we gave Henrik more weaponry than he had ever had before. Thompson crossing from the one side and Didier Agathe on the other side.”
Of course, O’Neill’s time in charge of Celtic was hugely successful as he guided Celtic to back to back league titles in his first two seasons. He was then in charge when the club went on a historic journey to the UEFA Cup final in 2003, where they lost to Jose Mourinho’s Porto.