A clutch of former Celtic players have quickly emerged as the most fancied contenders to replace Ronny Deila as manager of the Scottish champions after his departure at the end of the season was confirmed by the club.
Within minutes of Celtic’s announcement yesterday that Deila’s tenure will end following the conclusion of their Scottish Premiership title defence next month, the Norwegian’s predecessor Neil Lennon publicly confirmed his interest in returning for a second spell in charge.
David Moyes, Roy Keane and Henrik Larsson all joined Lennon at the head of the bookmakers’ market for what is a crucial appointment for Celtic ahead of a likely Champions League qualifying campaign in July and the return of Rangers to potentially challenge their top-flight domestic dominance next season.
With last Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by their Old Firm rivals having proved the tipping point in determining Deila’s fate after two seasons at the helm, the club’s official statement presented it as his own decision to move on.
But it was a parting of the ways which has appeared inevitable for some time and would almost certainly have happened with or without any unilateral action from Deila.
While the 40-year-old will now seek to guide Celtic over the finishing line in the title race, in which they lead Aberdeen by eight points at the top of the table with five games left to play, the club’s board are focused on who will replace him.
Lennon, who led Celtic to three league titles, two Scottish Cup wins and a place in the last 16 of the Champions League during his four years in charge, is out of work after his ill-starred spell as Bolton manager was terminated last month.
The former Celtic captain, speaking as he attended a charity golf event at Mar Hall yesterday, expressed his willingness to be considered for the job.
“I’ve never hidden my affinity for the club,” said Lennon. “Would I like to go back? If the opportunity arose to speak to the board, then absolutely. I had 15 years with the club, on and off. I would know what I’m walking into.”
Former Manchester United captain Keane, who ended his playing career with a six-month stint at Celtic in 2006, turned down the chance to manage the club two years ago when he was approached by their major shareholder Dermot Desmond.
Now assistant manager to Martin O’Neill with Republic of Ireland, Keane yesterday confirmed his interest in returning to full-time club management. But the former Sunderland and Ipswich Town boss, speaking at an event in his home city of Cork, insisted any move must wait until after his country’s involvement in the Euro 2016 finals this June.
“I have a contract with the FAI until the end of the summer and that’s what I’m focusing on at the moment and won’t be taking my eye off the ball,” said Keane.
“Of course I’m really enjoying learning from Martin [O’Neill] but the best place for me to learn is back in the [managerial] hot seat, not so much in the long term but in the shorter term. I don’t want to be the assistant manager for the next 20 years but I am enjoying the current role.”
Like Keane, former Celtic striker Larsson was also in the frame to replace Lennon in the summer of 2014. Now in charge of Helsingborgs, where he has experienced a difficult start to the current Swedish season, Larsson batted away questions on being linked again with Celtic yesterday.
“There is no point in me speculating on anything like that,” he said. “If I say this or if I say that, it could be wrong. I’m only focusing on the Helsingborgs job and my contract here is until the end of 2017.”
Former Everton, Manchester United and Real Sociedad manager Moyes, who was a fringe first-team player with Celtic in the early 1980s, has been installed by several bookmakers as favourite to replace Deila. But the 52-year-old is understood to be interested in the vacancy at Aston Villa which he may regard as more in tune with his ambitions to ultimately manage at the top end of English football again.
Former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is another potential contender along with Owen Coyle, now in charge of MLS side Houston Dynamo, and Malky Mackay.
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has previously been linked with the Celtic job but has recently signed a new long-term contract.
Deila, quoted in Celtic’s official statement, indicated that the timing of the announcement was intended to try to ensure unity in the remaining weeks of the season.
“It is vital that the club comes first and instead of me being the focus, hopefully now the team and the club can be the focus as we enter this final important period of the season,”
Deila said. “I was delighted in my first year to bring our fans a league and League Cup double and enjoy some European nights at Celtic Park, and I am pleased this season to be well in contention to win another Premiership title.
“There have been some disappointments and times when we have not achieved what we had hoped for and I’m realistic and honest enough to admit that, but I know that the players, myself and my backroom team have always given everything we had to bring success to our supporters.”
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell expressed gratitude for Deila’s efforts.
“Ronny has given everything to Celtic during the past two years and we thank him for his contribution to the club,” Lawwell said. “He is a man of real humility, someone of tremendous character, and I personally wish him nothing but success for the future.”