Tuesday 24 April 2018

O'Neill: I have not forgiven Mourinho for Uefa Cup final

Then Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill with Jose Mourinho in 2006 Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Then Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill with Jose Mourinho in 2006 Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Roddy Forsyth

Jose Mourinho has still to be forgiven by Martin O'Neill for the time-wasting ploys which took his Porto side to victory over Celtic in the 2003 Uefa Cup final - but 12 years on O'Neill believes that his old adversary will prosper despite being sacked by Chelsea because he is a "splendid manager".

Speaking to website plzsoccer.com, O'Neill also said that Celtic were in a "little bit of a crisis" because of the absence of Rangers from the top flight of Scottish football. Celtic finished bottom of their Europa League group, a far cry from their exploits en route to the Uefa Cup final, when they beat Blackburn Rovers, Celta Vigo, Stuttgart, Liverpool and Boavista.


An estimated 80,000 Celtic fans travelled to the final in Seville, but although Henrik Larsson scored twice, Celtic lost in extra-time.

O'Neill has always nourished a grievance about Mourinho's antics - which included ordering the ball boys to take their time - but confessed that he had seen the match only once on TV since, when he picked up a broadcast in an Italian hotel last summer.

"I watched it when goalkeeper Vitor Baia goes down and he spent about 12 minutes down there for a sore shin," said O'Neill.

"I thought there was going to be a helicopter coming to take him to hospital for that 'severe' injury he had. He had at least four doctors looking at him when there was absolutely nothing wrong with him, and that time-wasting just galled me more than anything else.

"We got beat and Larsson was fantastic, but we should've won."

However, O'Neill added, in respect of Mourinho: "He's been an exceptional manager, although I've never forgiven him for Porto and 2003, but he will come through because he's a splendid manager."

O'Neill pinpointed the absence of Rangers as a factor in Celtic's struggles in Europe under Ronny Deila.

"I think the lack of money has created a little bit of a crisis there for a start," he said.

"The SPL needs a very strong Celtic and a strong Rangers, and with Hearts, Hibs, a strong Aberdeen side and Dundee United and Dundee. I'm not saying they are easy now, but at the moment Celtic are the strongest side in the league.

"When Rangers come back, I think it'll make Celtic stronger again. The concern always is, if you weaken it badly enough then you'll probably find it difficult competing against the sides in the qualifying stages in Europe for the Champions League and things like that."

Asked if he felt for Deila in such circumstances, O'Neill said: "Yes, of course, you have sympathy for him in Europe. You want to compete with the likes of Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League and you want the fans to get excited for those European nights.

"Those times were extraordinarily brilliant, as were the Rangers games, so it would be nice to get that feel-good factor and hopefully in time that will develop."


O'Neill steered Celtic to the domestic treble in 2001 and retained the title the next year. It was during this period that Rangers began their use of Employment Benefit Trusts to enhance players' contracts.

O'Neill saw the title go across Glasgow twice in his time there, but said that he would take no satisfaction from retrospective sanctions.

"We lost the title against Motherwell on the last day of the (2004-05) season and it doesn't matter what happened elsewhere," he said. "To me, on the field is where it counts."

Celtic, meanwhile, announced that their top scorer, Leigh Griffiths, had agreed an extended contract until the summer of 2021.

"I've been at a couple of Champions League nights here - I don't think there's a better atmosphere in European football and I want to sample that for myself," he said.


Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport