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Martin O’ Neill for Liverpool

Celtic’s loss will be Anfield’s gain, says Tony Cascarino.

Tony Cascarino, 16 Jan 2004

I don’t want to upset Celtic fans but I think it’s a done deal that as soon as the right job comes along Martin O’Neill will quit Celtic.

Any reservations he had about heading back to the Premiership would have gone out the window when Liam Miller signed his pre-contract deal with Manchester United.

The 3-1 beating of Anderlecht aside, Celtic were poor in the Champions League this season and they’re going to be even poorer next year minus their best young player. Add in Henrik Larssson leaving and the possibility of John Hartson and Chris Sutton going with him, and Martin will be thinking, “Hang on, we’re going backwards here!”

It’s not just Manchester United that they can’t compete with – given a choice between the SPL and even a struggling Premiership side, quality players are going to go for the English option. If it was 60,000 fans every week like in the Old Firm games, fine, but it’s hard to get excited about away trips to Dunfermline and Motherwell. It’s like playing non-league matches – in fact, you probably get bigger crowds at Hereford and Exeter than you do at Partick Thistle. Players love the buzz and the atmosphere, which is distinctly lacking in all but a couple of Scottish grounds. When I was at Celtic, I found motivating myself week in, week out very hard. John Hartson and Chris Sutton might be different, but I pined for the old Division One the entire time I was up there.

Celtic’s loss will very likely be Liverpool’s gain. They’ve had a couple of okay results recently, but I’m not convinced that the players are 100% behind Gerard Houlier. Even if they qualify for the Champions League – and it’s a big if – I don’t think there’s any chance of Michael Owen hanging around while Houlier’s still in charge. I was at Fratton Park when they got spanked by Portsmouth and I’m telling you, not in a million years will that squad of players win or even challenge for the title.

The biggest load of rubbish I’ve heard recently is somebody saying, “The way Martin O’Neill plays isn’t the Liverpool way.” Do Liverpool have a way at the moment? Against Rangers the other day, Celtic were getting the ball out wide and crossing into the box which is precisely what Liverpool need at this moment in time. Yes, it’s nice to play lovely football but you’ve got to be able to mix it and Celtic have a robustness about them which is lacking at Anfield.

If Martin O’Neill’s able to turn mediocre players into good ones, what’s he going to be like with Stephen Gerrard and Michael Owen? If I was a Liverpool supporter, I’d almost be hoping that they don’t fourth place because then they’ll be stuck with Houlier for another season.

As for Liam Miller, I think he’s a good attacking midfield player who’ll benefit enormously from the company he’ll be keeping at Old Trafford. Man U have him on a free, so really they can’t lose.

Down south, the crisis at Chelsea appears to be over! I don’t think it’s any coincidence that their dip in form coincided with Damien Duff dislocating his shoulder. Duff’s their most expensive player but also their best value.

People say they’ve dropped too many points to win the title, but they’re home to Arsenal and away to Manchester United – win those two and they’re right back in it.

As I’ve said before, if Roman Abramovich has another £20 or £30 million spare he could do with bringing in a world-class centre-half. As it is, they don’t really have anyone who can head the ball which means they struggle when teams whip it in from out wide.

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