European Cup winners in 1967, Celtic enjoyed a continental renaissance under Martin O’Neill at the start of the millennium. Unfortunate to lose an epic UEFA Cup final to Porto in 2003, their hopes of a second straight showpiece hung in the balance when they eked out a 1-0 first-leg advantage against Barcelona. In the return, witnessed by more than 10,000 travelling fans, Celtic provided a defensive masterclass to earn a quarter-final spot. UEFA.com recalls a memorable night.
1. Neil Lennon
An industrious midfielder, Lennon’s career took off when he joined Leicester from Crewe in 1996. The Northern Ireland international became an integral part of O’Neill’s side, who won promotion to the top flight that season and claimed two League Cups in the following four. O’Neill took up the reins at Celtic in 2000 and Lennon soon followed; the Bhoys sealed a domestic treble to kick-start a successful seven-season stint. Lennon started his coaching career at Celtic, winning three titles and two Scottish Cups in his four years at the helm. He is now in charge at Hibernian.
Larsson celebrates the 2001/02 Scottish title
2. Henrik Larsson
The Helsingborg-born striker shot to prominence with 50 goals in 56 league games for his home-town club, earning a move to Feyenoord in 1993. But it was at Celtic from 1997-2004 that he really flourished, scoring 242 goals in 315 matches and winning four titles, two Scottish Cups and two League Cups. Injuries interrupted a two-year stint at Barcelona – though two assists turned defeat to victory in the 2006 UEFA Champions League final – and he returned to Helsingborgs for three years punctuated by an unexpected loan spell with Manchester United in 2007. Larsson, who scored 37 goals in 106 internationals, has been coach of Helsingborgs since 2015.
3. Mohammed Sylla
‘Momo’ rarely held down a first-team place during his four seasons at Celtic but his tenacity and versatility made him a reliable squad member. The Guinean international played for Créteil, Le Havre, Noisy-le-Sec and Le Mans before joining St Johnstone in 2000 and his first season in Scotland was so impressive that Celtic snapped him up for €770,000. Sylla scooped a domestic double in 2004, the Scottish Cup in 2005 and was an unused substitute in the 2003 UEFA Cup final. He finished his career in 2007 after spells at Leicester and Kilmarnock.
4. Stanislav Varga
The Slovakian was a bit-part player at Sunderland but O’Neill transformed the centre-back into a commanding, powerful ever-present at the heart of his Celtic defence in the 2003/04 campaign. By the time ‘Stan’ returned to Sunderland in 2006, he had two league titles, two Scottish Cups and a Scottish League Cup to his name and had chipped in with an impressive ten goals in 80 league games. He has been coach at Tatran Prešov, his first senior club in 1992, since 2014 and led them back into the Slovak First League last season.
5. Stephen Pearson
Pearson, 21, only arrived from Motherwell in January 2004 but produced two of the finest displays in his entire three-year stint in the UEFA Cup fourth round meetings with Barcelona two months later. Already a Scotland international, Pearson finished the season with a domestic double and was named the young player of the year. Injuries hampered his development, though he still forged a successful career with Derby, Stoke and Bristol City in England before a second spell at Motherwell. Pearson is still playing in the Indian Super League for Atlético de Kolkata.
Stiliyan Petrov pictured last May
6. Stiliyan Petrov
Petrov joined Celtic from CSKA Sofia in 1999 and won ten trophies with the club including four league titles. The 2003 Bulgarian footballer of the year racked up 65 goals in all competitions from midfield before O’Neill made him his first signing for Aston Villa in 2006. Revered in his seven years at Villa Park, during which time he took his international appearance tally to 105, Petrov was forced to retire in May 2013 due to leukaemia. He returned to the club in a coaching capacity in 2015 and trained with the first team this summer though was not offered a playing contract.
After announcing himself at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the outrageously talented Brazilian – regarded as one of the most gifted players of his generation – signed for Barcelona in 2003 for a five-year stint. Twice FIFA World Player of the Year and recipient of the 2005 Ballon d’Or, he claimed two Liga crowns and won the UEFA Champions League in 2006. The forward even got Real Madrid’s fans to their feet in applause during one stellar 2005 showing at the Bernabéu. He then had three years at AC Milan before crossing the Atlantic for spells with Flamengo, Atlético Mineiro, Fluminense and Mexico’s Querétaro. He has not played since September.
8. Liam Miller
The midfielder was part of the Republic of Ireland squad that won the UEFA European Under-16 Championship in 1998 and appeared destined for a distinguished career when he signed for Manchester United in 2004 following his breakthrough season at Celtic. Miller could not make the grade in his two years at Old Trafford, however, and after three seasons with Sunderland he led a nomadic existence. Spells at QPR and Hibernian followed and he played for three clubs in Australia before joining home-town Cork in 2015. Now 35, Miller has been with third-tier US side Wilmington Hammerheads since February.
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