Incredible as it may seem, Celtic have only won the vaunted domestic treble three times in their history. Achieved twice under Jock Stein and once under Martin O’Neill, a treble is considered the hardest objective for a football club to succeed in competing.
To win the Premiership, the Scottish Cup and the League Cup in the one season requires determination, grit, strength of character and massive amounts of ability. Mistakes cannot be allowed. Refereeing errors must be overcome. And a hell of a lot of luck must go your way.
This year Brendan Rodgers and his Celtic team will attempt to become the first Celtic squad since 2001 to have lifted all three domestic trophies at the end of a season. Ahead of their Scottish Cup final clash with Aberdeen let us look back at the last Celtic team to have completed the treble, specifically the team who defeated Hibs 3-0 in the 2001 Scottish Cup final.
Rab Douglas: An unusual complaint about Martin O’Neill by fans was that he didn’t have a keen eye for goalkeepers, supposedly evidenced when he signed Rab Douglas from Dundee. The fact that Celtic have had three cracking first choice keepers since then hasn’t helped matters. While Douglas could make some errors, he was a reliable shot stopper and became O’Neill’s trusted man between the sticks.
The Scotland international’s time at Celtic peaked when he was the goalkeeper for Celtic’s run to the UEFA Cup final in 2003 where he was unfortunate to parry a shot towards Porto’s Derlei to allow the Portuguese side to win the game in extra time.
After a string of high profile mistakes Douglas was told by O’Neill he would no longer be first choice goalkeeper and left for Leicester City in 2005. Douglas still plays to this day and recently won the League Two title with Arbroath at the ripe old age of 44.
Johan Mjallby: Mjallby signed for Celtic from boyhood club AIK in 1998 under the reign of Dr. Jozef Venglos and his physical presence allowed him to boss the opposing team’s attackers at will. The phrase ‘hard but fair’ could be used to describe Mjallby’s ability.
The Swedish international was a huge threat at set pieces and was called into action late in the game when he put in a crunching tackle on Hibs’ Marc Libbra. As well as appearing in the 2003 UEFA Cup final, Mjallby had the honour of captaining Sweden at the 2002 World Cup.
After struggling with a knee injury, Mjallby left Celtic in 2004 before retiring a couple of years later having returned to AIK. Mjallby would return to Glasgow alongside former teammate Neil Lennon as assistant coach between 2010 and 2014, and is currently head coach of Swedish side Vasteras. He also makes occasional appearances as a pundit for Celtic games on BT Sport.
Ramon Vega: No, it is not the Street Fighter character although some fans may have wished it was. Vega was a divisive figure during his loan spell at Parkhead from Tottenham but played his part in the treble winning season of 2000/01. Reflecting on his time at Celtic it’s clear that Vega had a lot of love for the Celtic faithful despite their uneasiness about his performances.
After his loan spell ended Vega decided to move to Watford, a move that he admits was a mistake in hindsight. The Swiss defender wished for a return to Celtic that never came. He retired after one season with French lower league side Creteil in 2004.
Joos Valgaeren: The Belgian blue chip had been linked with big money moves to Ajax and Bayern Munich after a successful time at Roda JC in the Eridivisie but made the move to Celtic as one of Martin O’Neill’s first signings. Valgaeren became an instant success and racked up medal after medal for the club.
As one third of O’Neill’s back three that included Mjallby and later Bobo Balde, Valgaeren was rock solid and could be relied upon to clean up any loose balls. He represented Belgium at Euro 2000 but missed the 2002 World Cup due to injury.
Valgaeren left for Belgian side Club Brugge on a free transfer in 2005 and continued to play in his home country until his retirement in 2010. He made an appearance at Stiliyan Petrov’s charity match in 2013 and is due to appear at the Henrik’s Heroes v Lubo’s Legends charity match later this Sunday.
Didier Agathe: Lightning quick and leaving the midfield in his wake, Agathe was signed from Hibs in 2000 and the Frenchman made his mark upon the opposition whenever he played. Utilised in a wingback role Agathe used his strength and pace to get the team further up the park to great success.
Agathe’s speed came in handy during the play-off round of the 2001-02 Champions League when he ripped Ajax apart, helping Celtic reach the group stages for the first time. He was also a vital member of the squad during the road to Seville.
Injuries eventually caught up with Agathe and he was released from his contract in 2006. He signed for Aston Villa but only ever came off the bench in his six appearances for the club. Agathe finished his career at hometown club Saint-Pierroise in 2010 and will make an appearance at the Henrik’s Heroes v Lubo’s Legends match alongside most of his team.
Neil Lennon: One of Celtic’s most expensive signings ever, Lennon joined from Leicester City in December 2000 and immediately added to an already impressive side. Despite all the baggage that Lennon had to deal with during his time at Celtic, he powered through and became one of the club’s most loved players.
Lennon became captain of the team under Gordon Strachan before leaving in the summer of 2007. He became part of the back-room staff after finishing his playing career and rose to the post of Celtic manager in 2010. Three league titles, two Scottish Cups, a last 16 place in the Champions League and a 2-1 victory over Barcelona before his departure in 2014 ensured Lennon’s place in Celtic history.
He is currently managing Hibs having guided them to promotion from the Championship and has been open about his battle with depression over the years, helping to raise more awareness for the mental health of athletes. Lennon also appears as a pundit for both Sky Sports and BT Sport and was Northern Ireland’s representative for the BBC at the Euros last year.
Paul Lambert: Acting as captain for the day with official skipper Tom Boyd on the bench, Lambert was the anchor in midfield throughout his stay with Celtic particularly during the treble winning season. He limped off the field to be replaced by Boyd at the 78th minute.
Lambert signed with Celtic in November 1997 a few months after winning the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund. The Scotland international proved pivotal in ‘stopping the ten’ that season with his thunder strike against Rangers in the New Year’s derby being heralded as the shot that turned the tide that year. A leader who led by example, Lambert was made the official captain after Boyd retired in 2002 and held that role until 2004.
Lambert finished his career at Livingston before turning to management and while he struggled at first, he began to make a name for himself particularly after guiding Norwich City to back-to-back promotions up through the Championship and Premier League. Lambert is currently at Wolves where he helped them avoid the relegation play-offs in the Championship and picked up a massive upset win over Liverpool at Anfield in this year’s FA Cup.
“I don’t know what I find more laughable; the fact that Celtic cannot find £500,000 from their biscuit tin to sign a proven talent like John Spencer, or the fact that they then spent £300,000 on one of Dr. Jo’s old pals, the unknown Lubomir Moravcik!” – Hugh Keevins
Lubomir Moravcik – ‘A Gift from God’: Lubo Moravcik should be used as an example of why you should never write off a footballer that you don’t know about.
Blessed with the ability to do anything to a ball with both feet, Moravcik took Scottish football by storm when he arrived towards the end of 1998 and made his impact when he scored two goals in a 5-1 demolition of Rangers at Parkhead (the best part of Lubo’s first goal is when he looks around confused at everyone going mental because he scored).
The Slovakian playmaker’s time in the 2001 Scottish Cup final came to an early end when stitches from a leg wound re-opened 18 minutes in and had to be replaced by Jackie McNamara. Lubo would rebound and at 36 years old gave a spellbinding performance against Juventus in a 4-3 win over the Italian giants, after begging Martin O’Neill to allow him to realise his dream of starting in a Champions League game.
Lubo left for Japanese team JEF United Ichihara in 2002 and retired from the game in 2004. His contributions to Celtic are still fondly remembered to this day. Left foot, right foot or buttocks, it didn’t matter which body part Lubo needed to weave his magic. He is now assistant coach at SKF Sered and is also the vice-president of the Slovakian FA. Lubo will return to Celtic Park on Sunday with his squad of Legends to take on Henrik’s Heroes.
Alan Thompson: The English midfielder was another one of O’Neill’s first signings and became a stalwart of the Celtic side between 2000 and 2005. Thompson was subbed off towards the end of the game to allow Tommy Johnson some time on the field.
Thompson played a strong role throughout O’Neill’s time at the club and helped form some key moments during his time at Celtic. The ‘00s version of Kris Commons, Thompson loved a long range shot and it was two of those that helped Celtic to respective wins over Rangers during this timeframe. A free kick against Liverpool in the UEFA Cup run of 2003 and a solitary goal against Barcelona the following year were Thompson’s finest moments at Celtic.
After a lack of first-team opportunities under new boss Gordon Strachan, Thompson left for a trip down south to Leeds United where he ended his playing career. Thompson returned to Celtic in 2010 as part of Neil Lennon’s back-room staff but it ended in acrimonious circumstances two years later. He is currently the assistant coach to former Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark at Bury.
Chris Sutton – ‘The Evil Genius’: Chris Sutton’s striking prowess had already been well known in Britain long before he signed with Celtic in 2000. As part of the ‘SAS’ tandem with Alan Shearer, Sutton helped Blackburn Rovers win the Premier League in the 1994-95 season.
After a nightmare stint at Chelsea, Sutton’s career was revived when he signed for Celtic in June 2000 as the club’s highest ever transfer for a player (£6 million) that still stands to this day. Forming another golden partnership with Swedish forward Henrik Larsson, Sutton’s best years were spent at Celtic where he helped the club to so many trophies and the 2003 UEFA Cup final.
When O’Neill’s tenure came to an end in 2005, Sutton’s acerbic nature clashed with Gordon Strachan and it was clear that the time had come for the big man to move on. He left for Birmingham City in January 2006 and then joined local rivals Aston Villa later that year, where he retired after concerns about a head injury and blurred vision he suffered against Manchester United.
Sutton was briefly manager of Lincoln City but after that panned out, he became the chief pundit of Scottish football on BT Sport and has become box office entertainment for viewers of the SPFL. Highlights include winding up Stephen Craigan (“I don’t care that Ian Cathro has the Hearts job!”), requiring bodyguards to enter Ibrox after criticising Rangers one too many times, getting kung-fu kicked into the North Sea by Craigan and calling Derek Johnstone a ‘charlatan’ and a ‘lap dog’. Sutton also appears on BT Sport Score and Match of the Day for the BBC.
Henrik Larsson – ‘The King of Kings’: Do I even have to do a summary of this man? If you don’t know who Henrik Larsson then turn in your Celtic fan card right now.
For my money, he is the greatest player in Celtic’s history. Signed from Feyenoord for £650,000, Larsson crafted his legend through his skill on the ball and always finding a way of getting it in the back of the net no matter how ugly or beautiful it was. A broken leg against Lyon threatened to derail his career but he somehow came back even better. His comeback was sealed when Larsson scored THAT goal against Rangers in the iconic 6-2 game of August 2000 in a win that signalled a power shift in Scottish football.
On the international scene, Larsson became captain of the Swedish national team and represented his country at three World Cups and three European Championships. Larsson was so popular he had to be coaxed out of international retirement twice to play for his country.
Larsson continued to etch his name in the annals of Celtic’s history by becoming Martin O’Neill’s talisman on the run towards the UEFA Cup final in 2003, before breaking the hearts of millions by announcing his departure from Celtic a year later.
Barcelona came calling and Larsson sealed his standing as one of the all-time greats by providing two assists against Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League final that granted the Catalan giants their first European trophy in fourteen years.
Larsson fulfilled a vow to return home to boyhood Swedish club Helsingborg afterwards but found time to fit in a loan spell at Manchester United during that time before his retirement in 2009.
Management soon beckoned for the King although it has been rocky with Larsson unable to save Helsingborg from relegation. Fans continue to fantasise that one day Larsson will be manager of Celtic and while there are some who wish for this not to happen in case Larsson’s demigod status at Parkhead is tarnished, it would be fun to see him in the dugout for the Celts. Larsson can next be seen later this Sunday participating in a charity match for the Celtic FC Foundation against Lubo’s Legends.
Kieran Polland is a self-proclaimed ‘Brendan Rodgers enthusiast’ and a journalism student at Stirling University. You can find him on Twitter @Kieran_Polland