CELTIC fans will be eternally grateful to Stephane Mahe for the contribution he made to the Scottish title victory that ended nearly a decade of Rangers domestic dominance and prevented the Ibrox club from completing 10-In-A-Row back in 1998.

Yet, the French left back will forever be indebted to the Glasgow club and their supporters himself for helping to end a troubled period in his life and resurrect his ailing career. He will have no divided loyalties when Rennes, who he also played for, take to the field for their penultimate Europa League group match at Parkhead this evening.

“I have followed Celtic in Europe this season and I hope to see them win against Rennes and then go far in the competition,” said Mahe from his home in Pontarlier near the French-Swiss border yesterday.

“For me, in my head, in my heart, I don’t forget, I can’t forget, my time with Celtic and in particular what the Celtic fans gave me. I am so very proud to have played for Celtic.”

Mahe, a product of the fabled Auxerre youth academy, showed tremendous promise and enjoyed great success after breaking into Guy Roux’s first team in the late 1980s. The defender was involved in the Burgundy club’s run to the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 1993 and their first ever Coup de France triumph the following year.

But he struggled to establish himself at Paris Saint-Germain after winning a move to the Parc des Princes in 1995 – playing home and away in a 4-0 aggregate triumph over Celtic in the second round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup were rare highlights from his only season in the capital – and a switch to Rennes the next season also failed to work out due to a devastating bereavement.

“It wasn’t a good time for me,” he said. “Shortly after I joined Rennes in July I lost my mother. It was a very bad start. But that whole season was very, very difficult for me. I was lucky that Celtic contacted me and asked me to join them.

“To leave France and move to Scotland was the best thing for me. After only two or three months I knew Celtic was the club for me. I started to enjoy life again and take pleasure from my football.”

Mahe, who was bought for £500,000, was far from the best bit of transfer business that Celtic carried out in the summer of 1997. Henrik Larsson, who cost just £150,000 more and arrived a few weeks later, did rather well in the subsequent seven years.

Nevertheless, the full-back quickly endeared himself to fans with his combative style of play and total commitment to their cause and more than justified his fee in the next 10 months. He was a regular in the Wim Jansen team that won the League Cup and Premier League double in his debut season.

“It was very important for Celtic to win the league,” he said. “I was very happy to get the title and stop Rangers winning 10-In-A-Row. It was a successful season for us. It is a great memory, a big memory, for me.

“I don’t know if the Celtic fans liked me, but I loved them. I hope they were happy that I played for their team. When you play for this kind of club with those kind of fans you want to play well every game. They gave me so much.”

The departure of Jansen, whose relations with the Celtic hierarchy had been strained, and the arrival of Dick Advocaat and a raft of multi-million pound players at Rangers meant that Mahe and his team mates were deposed as champions the next season.

The left back’s fiery temperament surfaced in the infamous Old Firm shame game at Parkhead in May. He confronted referee Hugh Dallas after being sent off for a second bookable offence and refused to leave the field. His conduct in a match his team ended up losing 3-0 still makes him shudder over 20 years on.

“I am so remorseful about what I did when I think back to this particular moment,” said Mahe. “If I could go back in time I would change what I did. When I speak to my son and daughter now I try to give them good values and bring them up to behave like good boys and good girls, not like me. I am over 50 now and am able to control my emotions better.”

Celtic are keen to win their Group E match with Rennes tonight despite securing their place in the knockout rounds with their win over Lazio in Italy earlier this month because they are determined to top the section and receive a more favourable draw for the last 32.

Mahe, who is now 51 and works as a youth coach in his homeland, doesn’t believe it will be straightforward for Neil Lennon’s side even though their opponents, who have picked up just a point from their four games, can no longer progress

“Rennes had a good season last season with a very good young coach, Julien Stephan,” he said. “But this season is more difficult for them. Some important players have left as a result of the success they had. Football is like that. They lost to Dijon at the weekend and their coach was furious. I think we will see a reaction to that at Parkhead.”

Mahe, who picked up a total of six winners’ medals before departing for Hearts in 2001, was the first French footballer to play for Celtic. He has been pleased to see many of his countrymen follow him to Parkhead and do well since and has enjoyed seeing Odsonne Edouard and Christopher Jullien in action this term. But he is honoured to have paved the way for his compatriots.

“My brother-in-law is a tennis coach in Glasgow and I visit him from time to time and see Celtic,” he said. “But I know Jullien from his time with Toulouse. He is a great player, I love this player. Edouard has also done very well considering he is so young.

“Moussa Dembele has been brilliant with Lyon and I am sure he has taken a lot of confidence from his time at Celtic. It is nice to see some French players involved at Celtic and helping them make history. I am so happy to be the first one.”