Celtic abuzz with news that Strachan will stay

CELTIC Park may have been enveloped in a predictable feverishness yesterday morning as a result of the team's third successive league championship the night before, but the place was positively on fire with the news that Gordon Strachan is to continue as manager.

Players who had gathered in preparation for their own, day-long celebration would head for the party with a renewed jauntiness on receiving confirmation of the little redhead's decision to remain at his post, ending the speculation over his future that had accompanied their march to the title.

Even on the night of their triumph at Tannadice – indeed, within a few minutes of the 1-0 defeat of Dundee United – it had been rumoured that Strachan would indicate his intention to leave Celtic.

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When he began his post-match media conference with the opening line, "I have just a short statement to make", print and broadcasting journalists braced themselves for a momentous announcement.

As it transpired, the preface was more engaging than the brief remarks which encapsulated Strachan's delight at such a rewarding climax to "the most incredible season of my career", and his quick escape to join "people who have believed in us and supported us throughout the season".

If his comments were a disappointment to headline-hungry hacks, however, talk of his probable departure persisted, as it has seemingly for most of the three years he has been at Celtic since he succeeded Martin O'Neill. The speculation, inevitably, had reached the ears of his players, who had varying opinions of their own on his immediate future.

Unsurprisingly, nothing had been said officially to the squad within the club. That would have been seen as commenting on speculation, a practice

that is anathema to Celtic executives. The tightening of confidentiality procedures and an almost pathological fear of 'leaks' has made Parkhead in recent years a hard place for news-hounds.

The conjecture over Strachan's position, however, was not only inevitable, but largely justified by legitimate questions over his tolerance of the widespread criticism of his stewardship. This had come primarily from the club's own followers and had dogged the manager almost from the start of his term of office.

Given the regular, sometimes unsolicited, praise for his work by the Celtic directors – including chairman John Reid, his predecessor Brian Quinn, chief executive Peter Lawwell and the string-pulling major shareholder, Dermot Desmond – it had appeared likely that his departure would have to be of his own volition. And he would have a difficult decision to make.

If conflict makes drama, the one being staged inside Strachan's head would be utterly riveting. Torn between the effects on his private life of managing Celtic and the lure of what the club has to offer professionally, Strachan's outward insouciance whenever the issue was raised in public would surely be his way of camouflaging an ordeal of uncertainty over the past year or so.

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His and his wife Lesley's social extravagance extends no further than a visit to the pictures – usually in the daytime – wearing his trademark duffle coat, the hood pulled up over his head in an attempt to protect his identity. Contemplating a change of job, though, would jolt him into the realisation that he would be unlikely to secure an appointment that would offer him regular honours and, above all, Champions League football.

It is tempting to suggest that Strachan's decision to stay may have been strongly influenced by the simultaneously poignant and exhilarating events of the past week. The death of Tommy Burns and the subsequent flood of goodwill may have deepened Strachan's sense of attachment to Celtic.

He could not have been more touching or more endearing to the club's fans when he said that managing Celtic has been "a fantastic journey" but that the single most fulfilling aspect of it was "to have been able to call Tommy Burns my friend".

Nor could he have missed the significance of the reception he was accorded by the fans in attendance at Tannadice, where they chanted his name in what should be seen as a meaningful reversal of the trend towards vilification that has applied over the past few months.

The acclaim was repeated at Celtic Park in the small hours of yesterday morning, when the team coach on its return from Dundee was met by a large crowd, all ready to acknowledge the manager as a hero.

A decision as important as the one Strachan would have to make, of course, would have been pondered for much longer than a few days, but the obvious change in attitude among the supporters could have had a telling impact. Strachan would have been entitled to a deep resentment over the scandalous crabbing of his achievements and criticism of his capabilities by a substantial number of fans.

Like many of us, he would probably have been mystified that three league titles, a Scottish Cup, a CIS Insurance Cup and two entries into the last 16 of the Champions League – all accomplished in three seasons – could invoke such relentless carping.

The manner in which the third championship was won, his players exploiting Rangers' fatal faltering in the closing stages of the campaign by winning their last seven matches while their rivals dropped 15 points in the same period, would surely effect a reformation among many of the previously hostile supporters.

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For Strachan himself, automatic qualification for the group phase of next season's Champions League would be the most satisfying reward of all.

Even while acknowledging the salutes of the crowd on Thursday night, there was a noticeable diffidence about him, as though slightly embarrassed to be in the spotlight.

He has always insisted that his sole focus is on the football and that all of the other aspects of the job, whether adulation or defamation, are irrelevances. Perhaps now, after three trying years, he will be allowed to concentrate on his priorities without having to run the gauntlet every time he goes to work.


CELTIC have bagged themselves a 12 million Champions League windfall thanks to their final-day SPL triumph.

The Parkhead club's 1-0 victory at Tannadice on Thursday night was enough to secure a third successive title, while also guaranteeing a hefty bonus for direct qualification for the group stage of Europe's most prestigious tournament.

The fact English champions Manchester United won the Champions League ensured automatic progress for Scotland's top club.

And, aside from almost 6m in gate receipts from taking part in the group phase, Celtic will pocket around another 3.9m in prize money and a slice of TV revenue, the size of which will depend upon whether Rangers reach the group stage.

Their total revenue just for partaking in the competition will amount to approximately 12m.

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Rangers, meanwhile, must navigate two qualification rounds to reach the Holy Grail of European football.

The good news for the Ibrox club is that they will be seeded in the draw and so will avoid the likes of Liverpool, Juventus, Arsenal and Barcelona.

However, in a worst-case scenario, they could face the likes of Dinamo Kiev or Galatasaray.