Strachan follows in footsteps of Stein
CELTIC'S third successive Scottish Premier League championship, secured by a 1-0 victory over Dundee United at Tannadice last night, would have a deeper emotional impact than either of the previous two under the managership of Gordon Strachan.
Just two days after the funeral of Tommy Burns, Strachan and his players would be released from the strain of a painful week by the goal from Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink which brought the title-clinching three points.
With their closest rivals, Rangers, faltering once again with a 2-0 defeat by Aberdeen at Pittodrie, the widely anticipated goal difference was not required to separate two teams who have been engaged in a neck-and-neck race for the line over the past two months.
The ecstatic Celtic supporters chanted Burns's name before, during and after the 38th and final match of a nine-month campaign, clearly aware that the late player, manager and coach had scored the winning goal that brought the championship at the same venue 27 years ago.
For Strachan, however, it would be a personal triumph over those 'fans' who had called for his sacking as recently as seven weeks ago, on the day the team lost 1-0 to Motherwell at Celtic Park, sliding six points behind Rangers, who had two matches in hand.
The manager had also endured some criticism in the media, although he has always claimed to have been unaffected, on the grounds that he does not read papers or tune into sports programmes.
Nonetheless, his future at Celtic has been the subject of speculation for two of the three seasons he has been in the job since he succeeded the widely revered Martin O'Neill in the summer of 2005.
In the immediate aftermath of last night's momentous events, he remained characteristically reluctant to dwell on the personal significance of an achievement – three successive championships – that had last been recorded under the legendary Jock Stein more than 40 years ago.
Instead, he preferred to deliver a brief resume of "an incredible season" and leave the media with a barely disguised put-down, the inference from which was that, despite his claim not to be a reader, he was aware of some of the criticism directed towards him.
"It's been an incredible night," said Strachan, "and it has been an incredible season. I want to thank our players for their character, their belief and their ability. It has been the most incredible season of my career.
"We've achieved what we set out to achieve, and now it's only right that I should go and be with people who have believed in us and supported us throughout the season." That pay-off line was a clear suggestion that, at that moment, he felt he was not in the presence of the people he had described.
It was the first indication Strachan had given in public that all the speculation over his future, the sometimes relentless questioning of his managerial abilities, had affected him. It seemed unarguable that this latest championship, and especially the manner in which it was won, presented him with an unmissable opportunity to declare his dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the campaign.
Strachan was still on the field with his players, waiting to receive the trophy that had been delivered by a helicopter that had hovered in the Dundee area, when his counterpart last night, Craig Levein, gave his own admiring appraisal of the Celtic manager.
"When you look at the league table at the end of the season, it doesn't lie," said the Dundee United manager. "Celtic deserve to win the title because they have had the resilience throughout the season.
"I'm especially pleased for Gordon. He has taken a lot of stick at various time throughout the season, but he kept faith in his players and in himself."
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