Posted on Monday, 7th January 2013 by admin
….WAKE UP NOW.
Sorry for the Aqua love in there, but it’s fitting seeing as Dr Jo was always half asleep in the Celtic Park dugout. Or so Only An Excuse saw it for about 5 consecutive years.
When Jozef Venglos took over at Celtic in the summer of 1998, he was already onto plums. Wim Jansen, who famously stopped ten in a row, had left the club days after the glorious league triumph. The Celtic support demanded it’s new manager to be a household name, with a strong reputation. Gerard Houllier and Egil bloody Olsen (Better off with Mary Kate or Ashley…..) were the favourites for the job, and with Rangers strengthening their squad with your Numan’s, Van Bronckhorsts and Kanchelskis’s, it was expected whoever took the job would have a healthy transfer kitty to play about with to counter such a threat. Of course, this never happened.
However, Celtic in the 90′s didn’t operate as smoothly as they do now. There was no Peter Lawwell. Just one Jock Brown. If Lawwell is a Ferrari then Jock Brown had all the qualities of a Morris Minor. Every transfer deal took longer to complete than Final Fantasy 7. Negotiations seemed to take weeks. Chances are any player who turned up for a tour of Celtic Park would be told the history and facts of the club by a taxi driver on the way to the ground, as opposed to our own GM at the time. On the back of our success, Celtic went backwards instead of forwards, in record time. We didn’t even give it til Christmas.
Dr Jo was thrown to the sharks. The Media were ignorant and disrespectful from the off. Today’s Twitter era will have you think the ‘MSM’ (cringe) have been bottons and bawheids since Rangers went into administration in 2012 but the level of contempt this man recieved within his first few days would even make Robert Mugabe jealous. Jonathan Gould was mouthing off to the papers as well about a bonus row, with various other Celtic players uncontent with their financial situation at the club. All very professional.
It couldn’t have been easy for the guy and the frenzied nature of the situation took him by surprise. Celtic’s start to season 98/99 was truly shocking. By mid December, we had lost five matches and drawn the same number in the league, we’d crashed out of the League Cup to Airdrie and we had also been embarrassed yet again in Switzerland to bow out of the UEFA Cup. To top it off, the players took offence to the Statue Requester himself – Matt McGlone who wrote a damning article in The Celtic View about them.
Yet, in amongst all this chaos, Venglos kept his head and, remarkably, his job, despite the likes of Nick Dasovic, Mark Perry and Ged Brannan being genuine thorns in the side of a Celtic team who you would never guess were reigning champions.
Venglos wasn’t a keen spender in the transfer market. When he did spend, he spent very very well. In came Johan Mjallby, Vidar Riseth and Mark Viduka. Three players who went onto play their part in the second half of a season which saw the team play some exceptional football. Mjallby’s solid work as a defensive midfielder allowed Paul Lambert to flourish more, Mark Viduka – who never fully recovered from his spell at Carstairs - would go on to link up with Henrik Larsson and begin to show the form that made him a household name down in the Premiership. And Riseth ? That tackle on Rod Wallace will never be forgotten. There’s been many Muay Thai fighters who have yet to master that challenge as their signature move.
Let us not forget Lubomir Moravcik. £300k. Met with apathy from his own fans (anyone who denies this is at it) and even more from the Scottish media. In fact, it’s fair to say the media’s abuse of Moravcik was so vitriolic you would think we had harboured a war criminal.
Jim Traynor would be quoted as saying : “If anything the signing of Lubomir Moravcik at a cut price has merely caused them further embarrassment.“
Hugh Keevins would be quoted as saying : “I don’t know what I find more laughable; the fact that Celtic cannot find £500,000 from their biscuit tin to sign a proven talent like John Spencer, or the fact that they then spent £300,000 on one of Dr. Jo’s old pals, the unknown Lubomir Moravcik!”
At the time I would be quoted as saying : “I don’t really know who this guy is but can you leave me alone I’m at the boss in Half-Life1″.
We all know how he turned out! Easily the most technically gifted Celt I have seen in the flesh in my lifetime.
Needless to say, Dr Jo knew a player when he seen one. Arguably he also paved the way for Henrik Larsson’s skills as a centre forward to fruition. Henrik’s season under Venglos, even though he would have no winners medals to show for it, would prove to be a successful one, having scored 35 goals in all competitions.
After recovering from such a dismal start, Venglos’ Celtic would go on to play some of the best football many fans would have seen since the 95/96 season under Tommy Burns. Even though Rangers were boasting a star studded starting eleven with many internationals, Celtic still matched them in derby games, including a 5-1 gubbing at Celtic Park, which no-one would have expected. On that day I was in Yorkhill getting an operation when my Dad came to tell me the score. I assumed I was dead after not waking up from the Gas which put me to sleep before the Op. Stunning away wins at Fir Park and Pittodrie as well as a Regi Blinker inspired (I know!) victory at Tynecastle would showcase the talents of a squad looking more and more harmonious with each passing week.
You couldn’t follow Celtic in the 90′s without there being an obligatory bogey team each season. Hibs, Hearts, Motherwell, Kilmarnock and Falkirk all enjoyed this honour since 1990. In 1998/1999, Dr Jo was outsussed by Sandy Clark’s St Johnstone three times. The damaging defeat at McDairmid Park would be the ultimate downfall of Venglos. As soon as Keith O’Halloran’s header hit the back of the net, the coffin on our title charge was all but ready for the nails being hammered into it. This would take place a week later when Rangers won the ‘shame game’, and the league, at Celtic Park.
One last push to salvage our season was required at Hampden in the final game of the season – The Scottish Cup Final. National Stadium syndrome struck yet again as it seems to do all too often with the club, even to this day, as a solitary Rod Wallace goal gave Rangers a domestic treble and leave us with nothing but regret at how a campaign with many high points could be ultimately, a collective low.
The game was a bogey. There was no way Venglos was staying after that as manager. It’s all well and good to gloat at our record against money burning Rangers that season but you can’t turn around and give it ‘Awww but they had too much cash to spend!’ when they beat us. Frankly, we weren’t good enough over the course of the season and they wanted it more.
It’s fair to say that the job was perhaps too big for him but he did lay the foundations for Celtic to be a more successful club after he’d left. He had created the ultimate goalscoring weapon in Henrik Larsson, left us with a creative mastermind in Lubo Moravcik and even rejected bids for Paul Lambert, keeping a vital midfielder with Champions League Winning experience at the club to prove a vital asset for future Celtic managers.
It’s odd, that even after losing a league to our fierce rivals at our own ground, crashing out of cup competitions early and suffering some horrific results home and in Europe, there’s not many Celtic fans out there with a lot of bad words to say about Jozef Venglos.
I’ll certainly always appreciate the football I watched when he was in charge, even if we finished the season with nothing.
Hope you’re having a good kip, Dr Jo!