Player. Pariah. Prisoner; The Entertaining Times Of Olivier Tébily

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Many players go on to live diverse and interesting lives after time has been called on their playing careers; Ramon Vega became a hedge fund manager whilst Bobby Petta is currently a rising disc jockey. However, only one can lay claim to becoming France’s first African winemaker after hanging up his boots.

Born on the 19th of December 1975 in the capital of the Ivory Coast, Abidjan, Olivier Tebily and his parents emigrated to Paris when he was two, before moving west to Poitiers.

He grew up playing football for local clubs in the area and in his teens he would often work in the surrounding vineyards for extra pocket money, sowing the seeds of a passion that would endure for the rest of his life.

Eventually he was spotted by a scout from Chamois Niortais FC playing at a tournament and, after convincing Olivier’s mother, they got him to join their academy, where he progressed quickly before making his first team debut in 1993.

Soon afterwards he bought his first couple of hectares of land as insurance against the uncertainties of professional football. Speaking to the BBC in 2017 he stated, “When I signed my first professional contract, I bought two hectares, “I said to myself: ‘If I get an injury and football stops, I will have something to carry on with.

“I did that because I used to work on this land to get a little bit of pocket money to go on holiday – to the seaside with my friends – before turning professional.

“It’s really difficult to become a professional so I bought this straight away to insure myself.”

After five years and 91 appearances for Les Chamois Tébily joined LB Chateauroux for their only season in Ligue 1 midway through the 1997-98 campaign. Although unable to remain in the top flight the club achieved some impressive results, most notably beating the mighty PSG 2-1 with Olivier scoring the opening goal.

Following their relegation at the end of 1998 the club cashed in on the player by selling him to Steve Bruce’s Sheffield United for £200,000; he wouldn’t be there long though as John Barnes and Kenny Dalglish arranged to bring him to Celtic for £1.25m after only eight games in the summer of 1999.

Speaking to in March of this year the player described the move by saying, “I had a very good performance against Sunderland, and Kenny Dalglish and John Barnes were in the stadium. They contacted Sheffield United to do the deal for me to move to Celtic.

The first day I arrived in Scotland they talked to me about the big derby – Celtic v Rangers. I didn’t know what it was about, but I quickly realised that it was a big game.

“That was my first impression when I came to Scotland. It was a massive stadium with 60,000 people. It was huge. When you play the first game there, you’re really happy.”

His first game may have been one that he wished to forget however as he scored an own goal in a pre-season friendly against Leeds United; indeed his first full season could be deemed less than ideal as he was part of the team beaten 3-1 by Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup as Celtic ended the season without silverware.

Further disappointment would occur whilst on duty with his national team. Despite being a naturalised Frenchman Olivier had chosen to represent The Elephants in the land of his birth.

A disastrous African Cup of Nations campaign which saw them draw with Togo before losing to Cameroon resulted in the country’s FA diverting their flight back from Ghana to a military base in Yamoussoukro to have their behaviour “rectified” when the team believed that they would be heading back to Abidjan.

In an interview with Ivorian news outlet Liberation in 2000 former Marseille striker Ibrahim Bakayoko was less than pleased with the situation and stating, “The people were not happy, they wanted to instil patriotism in us.”

Going into the details of the time spent there he says that, “The soldiers did their job, hard, they applied the instructions of the Head of State. But they are also fathers of families. After the exercises, we played soccer and volleyball. We signed autographs, took pictures.

“It was supposed to last a week, we only did two days.”

However, the trend of disappointment would not be long in continuing as the club recruited Martin O’Neill in the June 2000 and the change in the club’s fortunes would be swift and emphatic as they swept the board domestically that year to complete a domestic treble.

Tébily never seemed to settle and gained nicknames such as “Bombscare” and “Olivier Terribly” from the fan. When Celtic strengthened their defence further in the summer of 2001 with the addition of Guinean Bobo Baldé, this addition would ultimately signal the beginning of the end for the player at the club.

A lack of opportunities in the team and the chance to be reunited with Steve Bruce provided the catalyst for a move to Birmingham City for £700,000 in 2001.

“When I first came to England, I was with Steve Bruce at Sheffield United. When he arrived at Birmingham, he needed a defender again for the play-offs. He asked me to come and, because he was my first manager in England, I came straightaway.”

Six enjoyable, if not very successful, years at the club were to follow with highlights including a man-of-the-match performance against Chelsea in April 2006.

He made his final first-team appearance for Birmingham in October of that year.

Tébily signed for Major League Soccer team Toronto FC on 24 April 2008; however an ankle injury after only four games signaled the end of his playing career.

This opened the door for him to pursue his second love, wine, although land in Cognac is both expensive and seldom available – and Tébily didn’t have enough of it.

He ran two local restaurants while waiting for a solution, which was laced with tragedy when it came six years later. After his neighbor’s only son died, the retiring Cognac farmer had to decide who to sell his business to last year. Olivier was, and remains, grateful.

Rob McCarry is a Celtic fan and blogger from Glasgow. This his fourth piece for The CelticBlog.

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