The Appointment From Hell: When Celtic Hired John Barnes
If John Barnes managerial career is remembered for nothing else, let it be remembered for one moment of genius from an anonymous sub-editor at the Scottish Sun: SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS. I imagine the only person who read that headline and didn't crack a smile was Barnes himself, who was handed his P45 shortly after that defeat to Caley Thistle in the Scottish Cup in February 2000.
It was the beginning of the end of a brief, tumultuous and surreal period in Celtic's history. After finishing a quite laughable 21 points behind Rangers in 1998-99, the Celtic board had decided to ring the changes. Manager Jo Venglos was shuffled off to become 'European technical director' or something, and Parkhead demi-god and Premier League-winning manager Kenny Dalglish was appointed Director of Football, in charge of player recruitment and squad selection. So far, so good.
But, crucially, he wasn't the manager. Barnes was. John Charles Bryan Barnes. Not-even-retired-yet-and-certainly-not-a-manager John Charles Bryan Barnes. Unsurprisingly, it all went belly up.
To be fair to Barnes, it didn't start too badly. His star striker and all-round wonderful man Henrik Larsson (peace be upon him), had bagged eight goals in nine league games and the team was four points behind Rangers with a game in hand and a superior goal difference. Hardly what you'd call desperate times.
But then the worst thing that could possibly have happened did happen. Larsson suffered a rank double leg-break while playing against Lyon in the UEFA Cup, ruling him out for the season and threatening his very career. Celtic lost their talisman and it was only October.
But lo! Our young manager knew just the chap to fill in for Henke. "If we're going to replace Henrik Larsson it has to be with a very special player and a very special personality,” Barnes said between wiping nervous sweat from his brow. “We cannot bring just anybody in.”
Certainly not, John! You clearly understand how cherished our dreadlocked Swede is. Well, go on then, tell us who it is! Who is the charming, suave, twinkle-toed answer to our prayers?
"Ian Wright is one of those mentioned as a possible short-term option.” Oh. “What he would bring to the team is goals. That's what Ian Wright is known for."
Well, you weren't wrong there, John. Plural goals he did bring. Yes, Wrighty gifted us THREE whole goals of our very own. To keep. Get that man an England shirt.
But it wasn't old Ian's fault he didn't turn out to be the saviour we needed. He had, of course, been a top class goal-getter in his time. But this wasn't his time. This was much, much later than then. He was older than the bloody gaffer.
Something good did come of it all, though. What we needed, it turned out, was a manager. And we got one six months later, after Barnes and then Dalglish were sacked and Martin O'Neill came on board to lead one of the most successful periods in our history. Sometimes you have to take one step back to take two steps forward.