THE managerial quest has been told in almost Tolkien style, certainly in terms of length and plot twists.

The search for the lord of the Hoops has included the waning of dark star Keane and the trumpeting of names loudly but with a distinct fuzziness when it comes to striking an accurate note.

The departure of Roy Keane from the fray yesterday clears matters considerably. The Keane narrative had a plot line that would have questioned much of Celtic's recent strategy.

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The club has been run soberly and sensibly, though these attributes have not been universally praised. Keane, with his enhanced salary and his background as a manager with substantial budgets, may have demanded a significant entrance fee.

His candidacy was promoted by Dermot Desmond, the major single shareholder at Celtic, who previously found another Celtic manager - Martin O'Neill - from his native land.

Keane's withdrawal means Celtic can peruse a strategy more consistent with the practices that have restored the club to financial stability in recent years. Celtic, frankly, never needed Keane. His managerial record is as spotty as a teenager and his ability to galvanise and build a team is untested.

The football world makes specific demands on Celtic. There is a policy of recruitment that bows to the reality that the best will be sold on. There is the necessity of being dominant domestically and to compete in the group stages of the Champions League.

Celtic, then, need a skilled coach rather than an untried hopeful, whatever the size of his name.

This is why Steve Clarke has become the favourite for the post. The 50-year-old has only held one permanent managerial post at West Bromwich Albion but he has been an influential coach at Newcastle, Chelsea and Liverpool.

The candidacy of Dan Petrescu has also been whispered and so has that of Malky Mackay, formerly of Cardiff City, Owen Coyle, late of Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic.

These gentlemen all share the burden of unemployment. It is likely to be lifted from all of them in due course but what are the chances of them being unveiled at Celtic Park?

Petrescu is fielding offers from England and Russia, at least according to his agent. Clarke has hopes of the job at Brighton and Hove Albion. Oscar Garcia, who vacated that job, had been strongly linked with Southampton and last night joined Maccabi Tel Aviv. Mackay has been on gardening leave after his departure from Cardiff City.

Celtic are understood to have talked to both Garcia and Clarke with others on the shortlist. The club is understandably reluctant to give out names. The process has already been too public for many at Celtic with the Keane affair verging on the melodramatic.

The indications last night are that Celtic will now move cautiously, using the maxim of Peter Lawwell, the chief executive, of getting the appointment right, rather than getting it done quickly.

There are three steps to a successful conclusion to the saga. First, the preferred candidate has to be identified and, post Keane, there are still options rather than a definitive choice, though Clarke must be a favourite.

Second, the candidate must be successfully recruited. It is believed Clarke is very interested in the post.

Third, the manager must bed in quickly before the Champions League qualifiers next month. Celtic are some way from making an appointment and a manager from an outside league may need help to become accustomed to the peculiarities of the Scottish game.

Murdo MacLeod, the former Celtic player who helped Wim Jansen acclimatise at Parkhead when the Dutchman arrived at Celtic in 1997, believes local knowledge is essential for a smooth transition.

"Wim was top manager with a playing career that included a European Cup final and World Cup final but he was surprised by the passion that surrounded the club.

"Whoever gets the Celtic job will have to be prepared to be asked questions wherever he goes in the country. Everyone wants a piece of you and it is hard for a new manager to come to terms with that."

MacLeod, who played in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, said that only managerial experience with top clubs could prepare a coach for the job at Celtic.

"Wim had a policy. All he spoke about was the game coming up and the game just passed. That was his remit. He just wanted to be involved with the football side and that helped him in his stay. He did not want to become involved in intrigue or rumours. But he had been with big clubs in Holland and the passion still surprised him."

The football landscape in Scotland has changed dramatically even since Clarke, who played for St Mirren from 1982-87, plied his trade in his homeland.

"This is a good time to come in from outside," said MacLeod. "It would be a smart move to appoint a No.2 or a coach who had a good knowledge of the present Scottish game, down to the details of what to expect in terms of press and travel or the set-up of the opponents."

MacLeod added: "There is also a wee bit of leeway for a manager. Wim simply had to win the title in his first season to stop Rangers winning 10-in-a-row. Simple, eh?"

The challenges for a new manager at Celtic Park lie beyond domestic superiority. The pressing concern is to have the right man appointed before the Champions League qualifiers and for him to navigate the side through them. Simple, eh?