Football: The Celtic winner with no respect

The Bhoys have the title, but no manager. Phil Gordon looks for the reasons
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The Independent Online
FOUR years ago Fergus McCann cut an incongruous figure as he stood on the steps of Celtic Park's main entrance and, through the pouring Glasgow rain, heard his name echo up to the skies. With his cloth cap and mackintosh, it was hard to believe that he was indeed a millionaire white knight.

Yet, the man who studiously avoids publicity has proved that actions speak louder than words, rescuing Celtic from the brink of bankruptcy and turning them into possibly the commercial success story in British football. In the interim, however, the fanfare for the common man has changed its tune.

On Monday night, on that same spot where supporters had hailed him, the Celtic chairman found himself condemned. The exit of a third manager under his reign, not to mention several top players, meant that criticism could no longer be stilled: even, just 48 hours after Celtic had embraced its first Scottish title in 10 years.

McCann will probably be unconcerned by that. "I am not ashamed of my performance," he declared after Wim Jansen followed Tommy Burns and Lou Macari into the history books, as Celtic manager.

For a club which took 90 years to work its way through the first four managers, to be searching for the fourth in just over four years seems to hint at a flaw in McCann's empire. Celtic may be worth pounds 80m on the stock market, but coaches are apparently worth 10-a-penny. It is unlikely that Jock Stein, who took Celtic to the European Cup in 1967, would have lasted 13 months under McCann, never mind the 13 years he gave to the club.

While the outside world was astounded to learn of the unfolding events in Glasgow's east end on Monday, it was no surprise to those closer to home. News of Jansen's get-out clause had leaked six weeks ago, and it seemed only a matter of "when" rather than "if". McCann used the press conference to belittle Jansen by saying it was the Dutchman who was not a team player. "Wim Jansen continually refused to accept responsibility: it was always someone else's fault?" The same accusation could be made quite clearly of McCann.

Jansen the outsider was too detached, Burns the boyhood fan was too impassioned. Macari? He was simply expendable, as McCann sought to bring in his own man. Macari was appointed by the hated family-run board which McCann swept from Parkhead when he took over, lasted just three months under McCann. He fell foul of the man who rules by memo, an instrument which is anathema to men like Macari, Burns or Jansen. The former Manchester United and Scotland player took McCann to court.

Macari lost his fight three months ago, despite a judge agreeing that McCann was not an easy man to work for and faces a legal bill of pounds 400,000. The former Celtic manager is not surprised at his successor's fate. "I would suggest that McCann look no further than himself in choosing the next manager. He can't stop interfering," Macari said.

Interference is something that Tommy Burns cited not too long before he got the bullet last May. It was commonly known that McCann sought to close all transfer deals, disputing with Burns what players' true valuations were. In one case, a deal taking Mike Galloway to Leicester City was scrapped when McCann insisted that the pounds 225,000 fee agreed with his counterpart, Mark McGhee, was too low. Galloway instead remained at Filbert Street on loan and a near-fatal car crash two months later ended his career and left Celtic without a penny.

"It is my decision to appoint managers," McCann admitted on Monday. "Maybe I get it wrong, but we all make mistakes." No question of McCann falling on his sword though. No need to, either. McCann is due to depart in June 1999 to return to Canada, or possibly his home in the Bahamas, from where he emerged in 1994 to rescue the club he supported as a young man in Croy, near Glasgow. McCann gave himself five years to put into his Parkhead project after investing pounds 9m four years ago to stop the bank from shutting Celtic and has seen that investment soar to pounds 41m.

But McCann is seemingly immersed in figures, showing very little empathy for the football side. In a club which believes itself to be the people's club, to the extent that it will have 50,000 season ticket holders next August making it the eighth biggest club in Europe, that has been a costly mistake - not financially, but it in the respect of the people who championed him four years ago.

Players such as Pierre van Hooijdonk, Jorge Cadete and Paolo Di Canio all left very quickly. All three cited problems with McCann over contracts. Jock Brown, a former lawyer, TV commentator and brother of the Scotland coach Craig Brown, was brought in last summer to end all of that, by becoming the buffer between Celtic's football men and its money man.

Yet Brown's position led to conflict, with Jansen claiming that their relationship had been "very bad from the beginning to the end". He wanted to resign "after two or three weeks, but they didn't allow me to do it."

Speaking in Portugal where Celtic played Sporting Lisbon in a friendly last night, Jansen added: "My ambitions for the club were different from those in control." He backed his assistant, Murdo McLeod, to take the poisoned chalice. "He would carry on the job the way I would have liked to have done so."

McCann, no doubt, has his own ideas.