Gordon Strachan has done his best recently to put some distance between himself and Glasgow's East End. He was spotted last week on an Algarve beach, while this weekend he has a view of the sea from one of the most luxurious hotels in the Netherlands. The Celtic manager, however, is not planning his retirement just yet.
Strachan and his players have been working out in the sun as they bid to deliver another Scottish Premier League title. The memory of that dramatic night in May when Celtic snatched the prize from Rangers in the last match of the season will be used as a source of motivation. Strachan savoured the third successive title of his tenure but has no intention of drawing a line in the sand – his Celtic are looking to four, and beyond.
No Celtic manager, not even Martin O'Neill, has had three championships in a row to his name since Jock Stein.
Celtic have done all their pre-season work away from home, preferring friendlies in England, Portugal and the Netherlands before the real business begins next Sunday, when they open their SPL campaign at home to St Mirren in front of a sell-out 60,000 crowd.
A week on the Algarve contained double training sessions before Strachan led his players on a mad dash into the sea. "That shows the players are more relaxed and are enjoying what they achieved last season," said Strachan. "The players and myself had to disappear right after we won the title because of international commitments. Last season was unbelievable and will not be forgotten by those involved. I know from my experience, when I won titles with Aberdeen and Leeds, that it is physically and mentallydraining [but] facilities in Portugal were excellent and allowed the players time together."
The bond between Strachan and his team was evident as Celtic clawed their way back into last term's title race. After a home defeat by Motherwell on 5 April, the media clamoured for his sacking. Instead, Strachan's side went and won the last seven games – including two Old Firm derbies – to overhaul Rangers. The Parkhead unity was elevated to another level after Tommy Burns, the first-team coach, died of cancer, aged 51. Two days after 30,000 people turned out for Burns' funeral,Celtic defeated Dundee United on an emotional night at Tanna-dice to win the title, and the players dedicated it to Burns.
Strachan has rewarded that work by ensuring his key influences remain out of the hands of predators. Aiden McGeady and Scott McDonald both signed five-year contract extensions during the summer. McDonald's 31 goals were a crucial element in Celtic's success last season but even he was eclipsed by McGeady. The 22-year-old walked off with every player of the season award and Kevin Keegan wants him at Newcastle.
The skill of the Glaswegian has never been in doubt. He showcases Ronaldinho's tricks and received praise from Brazil players after he matched them while playing for Ireland, being dubbed "Aidinho".
McGeady said: "When I was a kid, I always had a football, and if I had a spare five minutes I would practise turns. I felt that's what I had to do to become a footballer. I had a Maradona video and would try to do the same tricks he did."
McGeady has been with Celtic since he was 12, resisting offers from Arsenal and Manchester United, and is no mood to leave home yet. It was Burns who polished McGeady's talent. As someone who had spent 16 years in a Celtic shirt, as well as managing the club and taking charge of the youth academy, Burns protected Parkhead's prize asset.
"When I was 16, I went to Tommy because I was unhappy about not being in the first team," said McGeady. "I'd been pushed up to the reserves. I saw 16-year-olds at other clubs getting a chance and wanted the same. Tommy said I wasn't ready. He was right, I was just impatient."
McGeady scored on his debut against Hearts at the age of 17 but his maturity, in terms of physique, pace and positional awareness, is a fusion of his own hard work and the teachings of Burns and Strachan.
"Tommy spent a lot of time with Aiden," said Strachan. "Aiden has a lot to do and a lot to learn. If he thinks he's better off signing a long-term contract at this club, that's common sense. Paul Scholes used to say there were people who left Manchester United, then realised there was no one better. Plenty of people have left Celtic and then realised what a wonderful club it is."Reuse content