Steve Clarke in the frame as Keane snubs Celtic

Clarke served as assistant to Jose Mourinho in his first spell at Chelsea. Picture: Getty
Clarke served as assistant to Jose Mourinho in his first spell at Chelsea. Picture: Getty
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CELTIC have been forced to refocus their search for a new manager after Roy Keane dramatically rejected the opportunity to take charge of the Scottish champions.

Keane had been widely expected to be confirmed in the post this week, having become the clear front runner after talks with Celtic’s biggest shareholder Dermot Desmond. But the 42-year-old informed Desmond yesterday morning he no longer wished to be considered for the vacancy.

Keane will remain as assistant manager of Republic of Ireland, though Irish media were reporting last night that he could be poised to become Paul Lambert’s No 2 at Aston Villa in a role which would allow him to continue his commitments to his national team.

Within minutes of Keane’s decision to knockback Celtic becoming public, a clutch of bookmakers moved to make former West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke the new odds-on favourite to land the Celtic job.

While Celtic sources were quick to insist Keane had never been formally offered the post, his withdrawal from the process is unquestionably a setback. The former Manchester United captain, who ended his playing career at Celtic in 2006, was regarded as a suitably high-profile candidate by the club. Martin O’Neill, the Republic of Ireland manager who recruited Keane as his assistant last November, said at the weekend he expected the situation to be clarified before his squad fly out to the USA tomorrow for challenge matches against Costa Rica and Portugal.

Keane duly informed O’Neill and John Delaney, the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, yesterday morning that he had chosen to remain in his current part-time role which he combines with television punditry duties for ITV.

“The Football Association of Ireland today [June 2] confirmed that Roy Keane will travel with the Republic of Ireland squad to the US after he decided not to pursue the informal talks that took place with Celtic any further,” read a brief statement from the FAI. So instead of leading the Glasgow giants into their Champions League qualifiers next month, Keane’s next formal visit to Celtic Park will now be in November when the Republic of Ireland face Scotland in a Euro 2016 qualifying match.

“Roy was not offered the job – no-one has been offered it yet,” said a Celtic source. “But he has ruled himself out and asked not to be considered.”

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell stated last week that Keane was one of “five to ten candidates” being considered for the manager’s position following Neil Lennon’s decision to step down on 22 May.

Clarke, who started the day as a 20-1 outsider, was suddenly installed as the latest hot favourite to succeed Lennon. Some bookmakers even suspended betting on the 50-year-old former St Mirren, Chelsea and Scotland defender.

Clarke has been out of work since being sacked as West Brom manager in December.

It was a sour end to an initially promising tenure at the Hawthorns. Appointed in June 2012, Clarke led the club to an impressive eighth place finish in his first season – their best top-flight performance since 1981. But he ultimately won just 19 of his 59 games in charge, losing 26, before his dismissal.

It was the first time Clarke had managed in his own right, following a successful and highly-regarded coaching career in England. It began as assistant manager to Ruud Gullit at Newcastle in 1998, before he returned to Chelsea as No 2 to Jose Mourinho and was credited with a key role in the Portuguese coach’s trophy-laden first spell at Stamford Bridge.

Clarke then moved to West Ham United, working under his former Chelsea team-mate Gianfranco Zola, before a spell as assistant to Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool. He has not worked in Scottish football since 1987 when he was transferred from St Mirren to Chelsea for a fee of more than £400,000.

Other candidates who remain in the frame for the Celtic job include Owen Coyle and Malky Mackay, who have both been out of work since being sacked by Wigan Athletic and Cardiff City respectively at the end of last year.

Henrik Larsson, still idolised by the Celtic support for his stellar playing spell at the club, cannot be ruled out of contention. Manager of Swedish top-flight outfit Falkenbergs, Larsson spoke again at the weekend of his enthusiasm at the prospect of becoming Celtic manager one day.

Celtic’s first-team squad are due to report for pre-season training on 23 June in preparation for the start of the club’s Champions League qualifying campaign on 15 or 16 July.

Celtic will face German third division outfit Dynamo Dresden in a pre-season friendly at the Glucksgas Stadium next month.

The 19 July game is part of Celtic’s preparations for the new season, and comes just four days after their first Champions League qualifier. Dresden will play in Bundesliga 3 next season.

Celtic also take on another German side, St Pauli, in Hamburg on Saturday, 26 July, as they gear up for their European assault.