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No introduction needed as saviour readies for return

IT is a month until Fergus McCann unfurls the league title flag.

Fergus McCann addresses supporters at the unfurling of the championship flag in 1998 as Tom Boyd looks on. He returns to Celtic Park next month to perform the task again. Picture: SNS
Fergus McCann addresses supporters at the unfurling of the championship flag in 1998 as Tom Boyd looks on. He returns to Celtic Park next month to perform the task again. Picture: SNS

It is an appropriate moment to hear his thoughts on the future of the club he saved from financial ruin 20 years ago.

McCann, 73, is uncomfortable with any narrative that paints him as an individual hero but his reflections on other personalities are revealing and generous.

Speaking from his office in Massachusetts, the businessman talks of his gratitude to Dermot Desmond, businessman, his respect for Neil Lennon, former manager and captain, and his hopes for Ronny Deila, the latest coach at the helm of Celtic.

Desmond, who bought McCann's shares when he sold his interests in 1999, has come in for criticism from some Celtic supporters for his perceived non-investment in the club but McCann answers this accusation briskly: "He has put substantial sums into the club and people should not forget that."

He pointed out that Desmond proved a strong ally. "He put in £4m," he says of the Irish entrepreneur's contribution to Celtic during the days of the pivotal share issue that changed the club forever.

He adds: "And that was extraordinary because he knew little about me. He had only met me a couple of times before. It was a lot of money to put up and he perhaps did not have the resources that he has now."

This leap of faith was extraordinary but McCann neglects to mention he committed £9.4m of his personal fortune before launching what was to be a hugely successful share issue, raising more than £14m with more than £10m coming from fans.

McCann, too, attracted criticisms when he was at the helm of Celtic but he has become a revered figure as the club's financial stability is traced back to his tenure.

"Dermot shares my belief in financial responsibility. Everyone now knows how things can work out if a club is not managed responsibly. It cannot be forgotten how much Desmond has invested and it really is substantial."

He adds: "My personal thanks to him extends beyond his faith in the plan for Celtic. He was not an active supporter of Celtic before he came in and a lot of people do not know that. But I give him full credit for his support. His risk was substantial yet he did not sit on my shoulder.

"He did not bug me. He was a very supportive partner." Of Desmond's decision to invest further when McCann left the club, he adds: "He bought the maximum number of shares and his investment has raised in value. Good luck to him."

McCann also has the best of wishes for Neil Lennon who left the club at the end of the season. Lennon famously introduced his players to the businessman at a friendly match at Fenway Park in Boston with the assertion that McCann was the man who assured there was a club to play for and a business that could give them their handsome contracts.

McCann says of the former manager: "He did an excellent job in difficult circumstances."

He points out that Lennon overcame extraordinary outside pressure to bring trophies to Celtic Park. The Northern Irishman was subject to threats, intimidation and assaults and McCann has great admiration for how the former manager not only endured but overcame these problems.

"These impacted on his personal life yet he was professional throughout," says the businessman, adding: "He understood the supporters, he understood the club and he understood the financial budget that he had to work within. Celtic are in a disadvantageous position as regards to other clubs in European competition but Neil overcame that."

McCann, who watches matches on Celtic TV, now looks forward to the Deila era. He applauds the club's innovation in taking the 38-year-old manager from Stromsgodset in Norway. "I am sure it is the right choice," McCann says.

He brushes off concerns about the perceived inexperience of the coach. Deila won the Norwegian Premier League in 2013 and McCann believes that new thinking and a manager new to the top level can be a winning combination.

He is acerbic on the carousel of managers that seems to be in the frame for very job. "The more a manager gets fired, the more he gets hired," he says. The Celtic fan who left Scotland to make his fortune in Canada had an international outlook that disdained the "closed shop" of managerial candidates. He points out that when he recruited Josef Venglos the cry of "who is he?" was raised. This of a coach who had already managed Czechoslovakia, Sporting Club of Portugal, Slovakia, Aston Villa and Fenerbahce. Venglos, in turn, brought in Lubo Moravcik who became a hero at Celtic Park.

McCann's visits to Celtic Park have been restricted by personal and professional commitments but he has sold his limousine business and is now concentrating on his charitable foundation.

He is looking forward to unveiling the flag against Dundee United on August 16. "I have come back a couple of times, most notably to unveil the Brother Walfrid statue and it is always good to be at the stadium. I look forward to meeting up with old friends and introducing myself to the Celtic directors I do not know."

McCann himself will need no introduction to anyone inside the packed stadium.

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