Date: 22nd November 2017 at 4:46pm
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Kenny Dalglish assumed control of Celtic in the wake of the sacking of his prodigy John Barnes after the Inverness Caledonian Thistle debacle on the 10th of January 2000.

A lot of events from those days don’t seem that long ago. But this one definitely does.

He was actually on holiday when it happened. Needless to say that vacation ended pretty swiftly when he was called up by CEO Allan MacDonald with the firm instructions to get his arse back to Glasgow immediately.

Many wondered why Dalglish hadn’t been in charge in the first place with Barnes serving his apprenticeship as his number two. The fact is he wasn’t and Barnes had been thrown in at the deep end and drowned. His managerial aspirations have never recovered as a result.

Kenny had a lot of credit at the bank with the support.

As has already been underlined in the previous article he had been a wonderful servant to the club on the park. His move to Liverpool back in 1977 was undoubtedly heartbreaking for the fans at the time but after nearly a decades worth of service and an enormous haul of goals and trophies in the Hoops no one could hold any grudges.

Playing with the financially superior Merseysider’s he went on to lift four European Cups, something he could never have dreamt of doing with Celtic during an era when any quality players developed by the club were soon sold on for big money down south.

His managerial CV was pretty stellar as well. Indeed it was the most successful of any manager to be appointed to the manager’s role at Celtic Park.

Various league titles and trophies had been lifted with Liverpool before then guiding Blackburn Rovers to a Premiership title in 1994/95.

He had then led Newcastle Utd to a 13th placed finish in the Premiership as well as a rare modern-day FA Cup Final appearance.

It couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for Kenny as we won 3-0 away at Dundee only two days after his appointment before securing a League Cup final place four days later via a 1-0 win at Hampden over Kilmarnock courtesy of a magnificent Lubo Moravcik header.

As a result, heading into the international break optimism was high.

We returned on the 1st of March to once again face Dundee, this time at home and produced a scintillating display as we battered the Den’s Park side 6-2 with forgotten man Tommy Johnson scoring an almost unfathomable hat-trick.

But the real star that night was new signing Rafael Scheidt who we’ll settle on just calling Rafael for now.

Rafael’s signing is one of the most maligned in the history of the club.

Signed from Gremio for a fee reported as low as £4.8 million or as high as £5.6 million dependent on the source – either way, it was a lot of money – he was a complete disaster. Having been capped 18 times by the Brazil it seemed like we were signing quality but it then transpired that then Brazilian national team coach of that time Vanderlei Luxemburgo was under investigation for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for capping unworthy players in order to increase their transfer value.

Rafael was, of course, one such player linked to the scandal.

In short, he appeared to be completely out of his depth and decidedly bog standard.

The signing could have easily been avoided if we’d actually, you know, bothered to scout him properly but the basis of the purchase appears to have been the aforementioned international appearances on his CV combined with video footage of his career highlights provided by his agent.

After viewing this Kenny was apparently sold and then recommended him to Barnes who subsequently requested the board go and get him which they duly did on December 15th. About two mins after stepping off the plane he was hospitalised with an appendicitis before being further sidelined after a training ground collision. Hence why it took nearly three months for him to finally see some competitive action.

All of this combined with the unfortunate pronunciation of his surname meant he was cannon fodder for both the press and opposition fans alike.

By the time he made his debut that freezing cold evening against Dundee the jury was well and truly out.

I was there that night.

Rafel looked cumbersome, uneasy on the ball and like he’d never played at top team level before. It was worrying, to say the least.

“Perhaps all of the curiosity around him was the reason?” I said to myself upon leaving the ground at full time in an attempt to explain the poverty of his touch and general awareness. The truth of the matter was he just wasn’t up to it. Gremio had taken us for a ride and it then transpired that they had desperately needed the transfer fee as they were on the verge of financial collapse. A mark was required who they could flog a dud to and it had unfortunately been us.

Back to things on the field and the three back to back wins had restored optimism of a grandstand finish to the season under King Kenny.

They proved to be short-lived.

Hibs beat us 2-1 at Easter Road and we went into the third Old Firm encounter of the season in desperate need of a victory to stop Rangers going into an unassailable lead at the top of the table. The game took place at a wet Celtic Park on Ash Wednesday evening. I got my ashes in the morning but any attempts to observe the fast were corrupted after a few games of pool at the long since defunct Kilkenny’s pub in the city centre.

Heading up to the game I had a fish supper and more than a few pints of Guinness in my stomach.

Everyone was feeling pretty optimistic.

Though I suppose you always do after an all-day session in the boozer.

We hadn’t beaten our rivals in the last five matches and were ‘due a win’ as the saying goes.

Beside me at the front of the upper tier in the Jock Stein stand that night sat an array of characters. The type you only get on midweek Old Firm match nights when the booze has been flowing all day. To my left was an older gent in a trench coat who seemed to spend the entire evening swigging from a hip flask and assuring me that ‘we’ll do this mob’. In front was a young lad in a Republic of Ireland home top who would routinely lock and load an invisible sniper rifle and aim it at the opposition players in between gesticulating manically at every decision that went against us. Then there was a guy just to my right who spent the entire game with his crucifix in his mouth and hands clasped in prayer whilst remaining completely focused on the events transpiring on the field of play. An eclectic bunch.

Celtic were actually magnificent that night.

Up against an impressive Rangers team packed full of big money signings we got stuck into them from the get-go and seem destined to win it. Jackie McNamara gave the physically huge by comparison Jorg Albertz a torrid time as he competed vigorously for every ball in the midfield. He effectively rag-dolled Albertz to the point where the big German seemed disinterested in taking part anymore. We had the ball in the net thanks to Viduka and initial feelings of optimism seemed to have been validated but it was chopped off for handball, the Australian having subtly used his arm to guide the ball into his path before executing a superb finish.

Surely it wasn’t going to be one of those nights where Rangers kept us out under relentless pressure for the draw as had happened on more than one occasion under Tommy Burns? In fact, it wasn’t to be. No instead it would be much worse.

Having been on the back foot all night Rangers broke in the dying embers and Rod Wallace hit the winner with about three minutes to go.

As the ball rippled in the net and the blue masses went crazy up at the other end the gent to my right finally allowed the crucifix to slip from his mouth and uttered his first words of the evening: “I don’t believe this shit!”

The elderly gent to my left fell silent, had one last swig from his hip flask and then departed off into the damp night air.

Meanwhile, the excitable young lad in front of me downed his imaginary sniper rifle and sunk into his chair.

It was heartbreaking.

As we trudged back into town that evening we knew the title challenge was over and so more than likely was King Kenny’s reign.

The next two weeks were actually a bit surreal.

We hammered St.Johnstone 4-1 at Celtic Park with Viduka and Burchill both scoring doubles.

We then rolled up at Hampden eight days later to play Aberdeen in the League Cup final.

The scene was set for another Celtic disaster but the day and victory was actually pretty routine as Vidar Riseth put us ahead after 15 mins. Tommy Johnson then raced clear to stroke it past veteran Aberdeen keeper Jim Leighton and make it 2-0 just before the hour mark. That was enough to secure only our 11th victory in 23 League Cup finals and our first silverware since winning the League Championship in 1998.

You know there was such a malaise about the club back then in the wake of the Old Firm defeat eleven days earlier that I don’t actually remember watching that game.

Perhaps I did and have forgotten though I was more likely buried face down on a couch somewhere recovering from a hangover which was standard form for an 18-year-old student on a Sunday afternoon. It was only our fourth trophy since 1989 but there just seemed to be a general ambivalence towards a competition which is only ever taken seriously when it’s part of a treble bid or if you were playing Rangers in the final.

What then followed has since entered into the annals of Celtic’s history filed firmly under ‘bizarre’.

Having secured a trophy Kenny decided it was time to go on the offensive against the perceived laptop loyal and did a press conference with Vidar Riseth at Bairds Bar in the Gallowgate in the lead-up to the following weekends final Old Firm encounter of the season at Ibrox.

To say the least Norwegian internationalist Riseth looked completely bemused as he scanned the walls of the legendary Celtic themed pub that were covered in various historic ‘Tim-centric’ paraphernalia.

Finbar O’Brannigan – Willie to his friends – who was the then vice-president of the Celtic Supporters Association Social Club decided Hugh Keevins long-standing nasally voiced criticism of Celtic both on Clyde’s nightly football phone-in and in print had gone on too long so decided to eject him from the premises most likely with proprietor Tam Carberry’s blessing. Some say Hugh went quietly. Others say he resisted so Finbar threw him out.

Either way, this was one argument Hugh wasn’t going to win.

Kenny Dalglish was somewhat apathetic to Keevins plight saying “It’s not my premises. It’s not my house.” and then went on to thoroughly support the action when he stated: “I wouldn’t invite him into my house either, by the way.”

Kenny was pretty defiant during the whole affair.

The press was disgusted by it all.

Jim McBeth of the Scotsman wrote one of the most contemptuous articles ever penned by a Scottish sports journalist as he mocked the local patrons’ and Kenny’s broad Glaswegian accents. It became a feeding frenzy for them but was actually a stroke of genius by Dalglish who got the whole Celtic support back on side and right behind him via the classic siege mentality. Unfortunately, the fruits of such labours were short lived.

The game at Ibrox occurred on a sun-kissed Sunday lunchtime on the 26th of March.

I awoke at a friends house that I’d crashed at over in Bothwell.

His younger brother had decided he was going to take up baking that day and made brownies. Meanwhile, as the game kicked off the atmosphere was somewhat optimistic in the Santi household. God knows why but we figured that after the previous week’s cup success and with the pressure of expectation to win the title long gone added to the fact we were ‘due a win’ over the light blues who we hadn’t beaten at Ibrox in six years then an upset could be in the air.

We were of course wrong.

Rather spectacularly so as it turned out.

Right from the off it was clear that Rangers were at it and we weren’t.

Albertz who’d been shellacked all evening by Jackie McNamara in the previous meeting ran the show all afternoon. In the end, we were crushed 4-0. Our biggest Old Firm defeat in over a decade and one of the worst in our history. The brownies had proved to be the highlight of the day.

That was really it for Kenny.

Any chance of him staying on as head coach was buried that day in Govan. To be honest it probably made up his mind to that the Celtic hot-seat was not for him. A return to the Director of Football role or total departure from the club were the more likely scenarios.

We actually finished up the season pretty strongly losing only one of the final ten games, with five wins and four draws including hidings dished out to Kilmarnock (4-2), Motherwell (4-0) and Aberdeen (5-1) who must have been sick of the sight of us by then.

Kenny’s last game in charge was the final league game of the season.

We defeated Dundee Utd 2-0 at Celtic Park with youngsters Jim Goodwin, Brian McColligan and Ryan McCann all making their debuts while John Kennedy, Mark Fotheringham and Simon Lynch got their first starts for the club.

Simon Lynch, who I actually went to school with, scored that day and seemed destined for stardom.

Sadly like so many home-grown Celtic prospects before and since it never really materialised.

Indeed the only young player who started that day who went on to make any serious impact at the club was John Kennedy who’s playing career was cut short by injury but who now makes up an important part of the coaching staff. What the day was truly memorable for though was the return of Henrik Larsson who came on a sub to rapturous applause shortly after Mark Burchill made it 2-0 on 65 minutes. Larsson’s recovery had taken seven months but as we would find out in the coming four seasons, boy was it worth it.

Our final league form for the season went as thus: Played 36. Won 21, drew 6 and lost 9.

Our most defeats in a league season in six years for a second-placed points total of 69, a whopping 21 points behind league winners Rangers.

Larsson’s injury had undoubtedly played a big part in our problems and ultimately in the management’s downfall.

He’d already scored 11 goals in 12 matches before he got injured and it wasn’t a coincidence that our form collapsed soon after. That being said we still had terrific scoring talent in the team. Viduka, for example, scored 27 goals in 37 games and Lubo and Berkovic had got over 20 from midfield between them. Mark Burchill had also gone into double figures. Celtic had scored 90 goals that season in the league which had exceeded the previous seasons tally so goals weren’t the problem. But in order for Barnes vision of a free-scoring team that would outgun the opposition to have been successful then Larsson was a vital component.

It’s inevitable to wonder what could have been achieved had Henrik not gotten so badly injured.

For a start, it’s safe to assume that the 100 goal mark in the league would have been blitzed and the nosedive in form that occurred in the wake of his injury would have at the very least been far less terminal. But it’s all ifs, buts, and maybes.

Dealing with players getting injured is part of football.

Rangers themselves can point to various instances of big name players getting crocked at vital times in the season over the years. Every club can. It’s how you respond. If your fate solely lies in the form of one player then that’s not football management at all. It’s just putting your eggs in one basket and hoping for the best.

Barnes needed to find a solution to the Larsson injury and rather than put his full faith in young Mark Burchill or go out and find a quality replacement he instead opted for the old pals act and drafted in Ian Wright.

Wright was well and truly a spent force. At 36 he stood no chance of being any kind of replacement for Henrik and it just goes to show you the disdain Barnes must have had for the quality of the game up here. Also even with Henrik fit would it have been enough to claw back a 21 point deficit? You’d have to say no.

There’s also the outlay on players.

Celtic spent close to £15 million on players and got very little bang for their buck. Stillian Petrov looked unfit, Eyal Berkovic seldom turned up, Bobby Petta was ineffective, Olivier Tebily sent shivers down your spine – and not the good kind – every time he got on the ball and Rafael was, well a complete and utter unmitigated disaster.

Allan MacDonald looked like the right man for the top job at Celtic but ultimately let his heart rule his head.

He later claimed he had been deceived by Fergus in regards to new investment coming into the club and also about a get out clause in Jo Venglos’s contract which allowed him to leave only months after MacDonald’s appointment.

That all may have been true. But it doesn’t explain his decision to appoint his old friend and golf partner Kenny Dalglish and to then allow Dalglish to bring in the untested John Barnes as head coach. The buck also stops with MacDonald in regards to the aforementioned signing policy.

That policy being to spend millions on players with sketchy CV’s and on the basis of video highlights.

The Rafael signing was beyond farce.

An utter debacle that dragged on and made the club a laughing stock for months.

To this day it is widely regarded as one of the biggest wastes of money not just in Celtic’s but indeed in world football history.

If you add his reputed transfer fee to his reported £20,000 a week wages and early pay off the whole thing came to about £9 million.

That’s a lot of heat taken off of Tony Cascarino right there.

In many ways, the Ian Wright one was just as bad.

He was effectively given a retirement package at Celtic and duly obliged as his performances indicated he’d spent his training sessions with his slippers on and pipe in hand. I actually met him in Trash nightclub around the end of the season. He was smoking a cigar and seemed disinterested in engaging with anyone outwith his circle. Just as well as the only folk who wanted pictures with him were Rangers fans.

Indeed I’m pretty sure he, Rafael and Tebily all received nominations at the Rangers player of the year awards dinner that season. A perfect example of a player stealing a wage. Safe to see the Scheidt and Wright signings would have never have seen the light of day under Fergus’s watch.

The plus point of MacDonald’s reign was revamping the clubs media and online presence, re-engaging with the support and the making sure Henrik was signed up to a new contract. MacDonald later claimed that Fergus was dead set on selling Henrik just before his departure, believing the time was right to cash in. There’s little doubt that the loyalty shown to Larsson by the club around that time was the reason he repaid us by giving us his best years when many others would have demanded a move ie: Cadete, Van Hooijdonk, Di Canio etc.

He also began the conversation about the widening TV money distribution gap for Scottish clubs compared to clubs down south as well as on the continent and proactively sought out discussions with Dutch and Scandinavian clubs over a proposed Atlantic league.

Allan MacDonald announced he would be departing the club in September of 2000.

Many regard his farewell gift as the appointment of Martin O’Neill to the management position in the summer of 2000 with Kenny exiting. The truth is that he actually wanted to appoint Guus Hiddink and arm him with a rumoured £30 million transfer kitty to take on his fellow Dutchman Dick Advocaat across the city.

He was overruled though by majority shareholder Dermot Desmond who had instead been pursuing O’Neill.

There’s no doubt the Hiddink appointment would have been highly ambitious and exciting. Though it would have been ultimately ruinous. The Dutchman like ‘The Little General’ was a chequebook manager with a short-term approach. Seldom had he spent more than two seasons with a club. There’s no way he would have given us the five years that Martin did. MacDonald stayed on long enough to oversee the appointment of his replacement Ian McLeod in March 2001.

By that time the club was in excess of £30 million in debt.

Needless to say, McLeod would employ a much more long-term and prudent financial strategy to the clubs approach.

In many ways, Allan MacDonald’s reign was an insight into the path the club would have gone down if Fergus had ever sold his shares to the Jim Kerr and Kenny Dalglish led consortium who had approached him back in 1998. That being reckless spending and the build-up of mountains of debt.

The difference is that there would have been no Dermot Desmond there to reel them in.

Whilst he had great ideas in regards to improved TV rights distributions and moving the club forward on a grander scale ie; the mythical Atlantic League ultimately none of them came to any kind of fruition. I won’t be too harsh on him though. He sunk his £60K season end bonus into the clubs youth development programme.

A nice gesture.

Though the mind boggles as to what was the basis of him qualifying for a bonus in the first place.

Anyway, Saint Martin arrived and the good times rolled like we hadn’t seen since the 70’s.

So that’s the end of the Dark Days series.

But then again there’s always the Tony Mowbray season!