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The Dream Team
A bitter feud between Celtic coach Wim Jansen and Jock Brown, the club’s General Manager, ensured the glory of the 1998 title triumph was all too brief. The row memorably culminated with Dutchman Jansen quitting his post just a day after the championship trophy was hoisted aloft.
His replacement was former Czech national coach Dr Jo Venglos. The experienced Venglos would produce a team capable of playing attractive and attacking football and was unfortunate to end the 1998/99 season trophy less. But the knowledgeable Dr Jo had been employed on a one-year contract and as Fergus McCann relinquished power after his five years reign at Parkhead the new men at the helm were keen to make their own coaching appointment.
That meant Celtic were set for their third head coach in the space of little more than 12 months. Having appointed two experienced but low profile continental coaches Celtic revealed a startling change of policy when newly appointed chief executive Allan McDonald unveiled a new coaching team of 35-year-old former Liverpool winger John Barnes and Celtic legend Kenny Dalglish. It was a surprise move but the key to the appointment was McDonald’s close friendship with Dalglish.
The supporters greeted the appointment of the rookie Barnes with a degree of bewilderment, but concerns about his ability to perform the role were eased by the notion the experienced Dalglish would be on hand to guide both his protégé and the team.
Despite a disappointing time as Newcastle manager, ex-Liverpool boss Dalglish still retained a reputation as an astute operator and his Premiership title win with Blackburn was relatively fresh in the memory. The Celtic support was also naturally pleased to see the return of a club legend, a man who was unarguably one of the most talented to ever wear the Hoops.
His partnership with Barnes appeared a workable gamble, with Kenny’s knowledge and connections a seemingly effective safeguard should the former England winger need time to settle into management.
With a handful of new signings, including £5.75 million record Scottish buy Eyal Berkovic and highly rated young Bulgarian Stiliyan Petrov, the early signs were promising if not spectacular. But despite nine wins in the opening eleven games an Old Firm defeat saw the Hoops fall seven points behind Rangers.
The Scottish press had been critical of the Barnes appointment from day one and were by now becoming increasingly vocal in their doubts about the ex-Watford man. Barnes could just about deal with the sniping of hacks but what he couldn’t cope with was the loss of the irreplaceable Henrik Larsson who broke his leg on UEFA Cup duty at Lyon. It was an injury which rocked the confidence of the entire club and sparked a spiral of events which would culminate in humiliation for Celtic and the sack for Barnes.
In the wake of Larsson’s horror injury Barnes brought in TV talk show host and veteran striker Ian Wright as a short term but high earning replacement for the brilliant Swede. But despite a debut goal it was swiftly apparent the ageing former Arsenal man, a close friend of Barnes, was not the man for such a Herculean task. In fact Wright was a disaster.
A fee of £5.5 million was then splashed on Brazilian defender Rafael Scheidt – a player the coach had only seen a few times on ESPN and on video. It was a signing which all too painfully illustrated the reckless naivety and ineptitude of the management team.
A productive December on the field saw Barnes pick up Manager of the Month and Viduka Player of the Month awards and hinted at a brighter 2000. But after a January break in Portugal there was growing discontent in the dressing room, with the harmony in the camp at breaking point. Both Viduka and Lubo Moravcik were involved in protracted talks to resolve their futures while a split had emerged between those players signed by Barnes and those previously at the club.
When the league campaign recommenced Celtic would drew at Kilmarnock before throwing away a two goal lead to lose 3-2 at home to Hearts, all but handing the title to Rangers. Fans were now becoming increasingly disgruntled with the coach and his expensive but seemingly gutless signings. The manner of the capitulation to Hearts caused grave concerns about the lack of team spirit and Barnes would later admit that by this point he had “lost the dressing room”.
Many fans were also questioning the input – or lack of – from Dalglish. Matters would come to a head on the evening of February 8th.
On the night in question Inverness Caledonian Thistle were the visitors to Celtic Park for a Scottish Cup tie which had been rearranged after high winds had damaged part of the Celtic Park roof. The Bhoys had a number of injuries but with a line-up packed with internationals the home side were expected to ease past the first division team.
What followed was perhaps the most infamous 90 minutes witnessed at Parkhead for a generation, if not all time. A shambolic and rudderless Celtic imploded under the Parkhead floodlights. The Highlanders cantered past a light-weight home side to a 3-1 victory and booked their place in football and tabloid folklore. I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded of that headline again.
But while there were no sign of passion or fight on the pitch, in the dressing room it was a different story. At half-time, with the Celts trailing 2-1, assistant coach Eric Black raged at certain players for their lack of effort. Mark Viduka took exception to Black’s outburst and the forward had to be restrained from attacking the former Aberdeen winger.
The enraged Aussie then threw his boots in the bin and refused to play the second-half. Meanwhile keeper Jonathan Gould rounded on team mate Berkovic and his lack of contribution to the team’s cause. The reign of the ‘Dream Team’ was coming to an abrupt, chaotic and shameful end.
Black would later reveal that he had intended to provoke a reaction from Viduka but the one he got was not what he had expected! Lubo Moravcik meanwhile recalled how Barnes just looked on helplessly as the situation escalated to near violence.
Within 24 hours of the final whistle Barnes was axed. Dalglish was urgently summoned from a golfing-come-scouting holiday in La Manga, Spain to take control of the chaos. On arrival back in Glasgow he had hastily arranged meetings with his Head Coach and Assistant before speaking to MacDonald and chairman O'Callaghan. It was clear that the sackings were inevitable and unavoidable and they were announced later that night in an arranged press conference at Celtic Park. Terry McDermott resigned without being asked when it became clear his position was untenable.
Dalglish's own position might have been assumed to be rocky, but his immediate return from Spain to deal with the crisis and his agreement to assume the interim head coach position, as well as the fact that he had a seven year contract probably saved him. Angered by the treatment of Barnes in the Scottish press and the subsequent stream of half-truths and leaks that the Press served up to the public, Dalglish would attempt to seek a measure of revenge by hosting press conferences at the famous Celtic pub, Bairds Bar, in the Gallowgate followed by a number of pre-match Press conferences in the Celtic Supporters Association premises on London Road.
He would bring back former manager Tommy Burns as first team coach and Celtic would go on to lift the League Cup. The trophy would provide the thinnest of silver linings to a season shrouded in storm clouds.
Dalglish always insisted that he was an interim Head Coach and that he did not want the position full time, despite the protestations of the fans and probably against some of the chivvying of some Celtic Board members who thought that would do the job . He did not think he was the best Head Coach that could be obtained for Celtic but he DID think he was the best person to be Director of Football Operations at Celtic. In truth he really had no time to do the job that he had been recruited to do once Barnes was sacked with the first team in such a parlous state. Future recruitment, scouting re-organisation and more importantly development of a cohesive youth plan and plans for the Celtic Academy could not be adequately addressed whilst he was devoting time to being head coach.
The search for the new Head Coach was carried out under the intense scrutiny of the Scottish media, a group with which Dalglish had a brooding relationship with following his perception of their treatment of Barnes. As a Director and Head of Football Operations Dalglish had input into the process of selection of a new coach at Board level, but the task of getting that man onboard fell to Allan MacDonald as Chief Executive and Jim Hone as Contracts Director.
It was also clear that whilst MacDonald and Hone laboured away to bring Guus Hiddink, then attempting to stave off relegation at Real Betis in Spain, to Celtic as the new Head Coach, the principal share holder Dermot Desmond was working to a different list of candidates, most of which had Irish connections. It was also clear that Dalglish's position as Head of Football would come under serious pressure. The ambition of the club and level of Head Coach sought by Celtic would mean that the incumbent would more than likely want complete control on the footballing side, his own coaching team in place and would not want interference from above.
The change and choice of a new manager / head coach at Celtic has never been achieved easily. As usual the process took longer than desirable and was full of debate, both public and private. Dalglish would depart soon after the appointment of Martin O’Neill that summer. While the Irishman quickly reversed fortunes on the field the Parkhead accountants would be counting the cost of the Dream Team experiment for years to come.
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