Colin Watt with A Celtic State of Mind – Stick to the facts: John Barnes outspent Dick Advocaat to the tune of £12.5 million

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Listening to the fantastic John Barnes interview by Paul John Dykes from last week, I felt that there were several topics that stuck out; many of these have already been plundered by other Celtic blogs, as well as the red tops, but one of the most striking aspects of the discussion was Barnes’ perceived lack of spending power during his Celtic Park tenure… The Liverpool legend felt that he would have had a better chance of success had he been given the same transfer budget as Martin O’Neill.

Now, like Barnes, I like to deal in facts, so let’s take a look at the overview of Season 1999/2000 in terms of transfers… At Parkhead, we welcomed Eyal Berkovic, Stiliyan Petrov, Bobby Petta, Olivier Tebily, Stéphane Bonnes, Rafael Scheidt, Dmitri Kharine and Ian Wright for a total outlay of somewhere near £14 million, with just £3.65 million coming in from the sales of Harald Brattbakk and Craig Burley. Barnes’ £10.15 million deficit was an eye-watering outlay considering that Wim Jansen and Dr Josef Venglos had combined deficits of £8.075 million over the previous two seasons.

In fact, Barnes and Dalglish’s successor, Martin O’Neill, had a first-season deficit of £12.575 million – just £2.425 million more than Barnes – on his way to winning a domestic treble. But don’t let facts get in the way of a good story.
 
Across Glasgow, Rangers were unusually quiet in terms of transfers that season with Dutchman Michael Mols being the biggest outlay at £4 million. Back to the facts, Barnes actually substantially outspent Dick Advocaat that season. The Dutchman made a transfer profit of £2.250 million, stretching the difference between his and Barnes’ transfer deals to a colossal £12.4 million… think about that for a moment.

David Murray once said that, “For every £5 Celtic spend, we’ll spend £10.” Now, we know exactly how that worked out for them, but in this instance Celtic had heavily outspent Rangers, a side who had narrowly won the title the season before and whose 9-in-a-row momentum certainly looked to be petering out.

It can be said, though, that some signings shouldn’t be judged by their transfer fees. Some of Celtic’s greatest have come on low transfer fees – Lubo Moravcik for £300k, Henrik Larsson for £650k and, on the other scale, signings like Chris Sutton and John Hartson had arguably shown how spending big money can bring in terms of quality.

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So, let’s actually take a look at some of the players that were signed by Barnes, and their roles within the 1999/2000 squad:

EYAL BERKOVIC

Eyal Berkovic arrived from West Ham, mere months after a training ground bust up with future Celtic striker John Hartson, for a then record transfer fee. Berkovic had undoubted quality and within Israel, they believe him to be one of the best they have ever produced, but what can’t be denied about him is that he is a temperamental character who has had his fair share of contentious moments.

At this point, as Barnes now agrees, Celtic didn’t require a player like Berkovic. They already had midfielders like Paul Lambert, Craig Burley, Lubo Moravcik and Morten Weighorst. Despite these options in the middle of the park, Barnes clearly saw this as an area to strengthen with the signings of Berkovic and Petrov, who we will touch on shortly.

Berkovic, as an expensive marquee purchase, was brought in to play every week – see Martin O’Neill with Neil Lennon or Brendan Rodgers with Scott Sinclair for examples. This led to two difficult situations – Craig Burley was getting less game time than he expected for a player of his calibre, and this eventually led to his departure from the club; Stiliyan Petrov, meanwhile, was utilised in the unfamiliar right-back role.

Berkovic certainly wasn’t a bad player, but could his transfer fee have been spent in other areas to better enhance the squad? Most likely, but he certainly wasn’t the worst signing.

STILIYAN PETROV

Bulgarian international Stiliyan Petrov was signed from CSKA Sofia for £2 million. Stan was on trial at Celtic alongside fellow countryman Milen Petkov, who decided that his football future wasn’t in Scotland. In his autobiography, Petrov admits that Celtic were more interested in signing Petkov but decided to sign Petrov after impressing in his trial. During his interview with Paul John Dykes, Barnes suggests that Petrov was one of those players who “would play anywhere he was asked to play” and that he didn’t properly get the chance to settle because “fans would boo when I brought him on”. Petrov himself has already strongly denied these claims in his autobiography and in previous interviews. He admits that he was severely homesick, received very little support from the club and knew himself that he was never able to play as a right-back, a position which Barnes tried to
transition him to play. Needless to say, that Petrov’s career did take off when Martin O’Neill gave him the chance to play in his natural position. Weird that, eh?

This article could go on and on about the rest of the players signed or departed from the club during Barnes’ short tenure as manager but there’s a simple message here. Barnes was treated like every other Celtic manager, who are judged on 3 things: performances, signings and style of football. Barnes claims that when he arrived at Celtic Park, he felt that the only one who wanted him there was Kenny Dalglish. What he doesn’t care to mention is that Celtic were at this point on their fourth manager in four seasons, players are aware that a new manager can shake things up by bringing in their own style and their own players. For those that had been through several managers during their spell at Celtic, it could be understood why they weren’t overly excited at an inexperienced coach coming in to do what two out of the previous three vastly experienced managers couldn’t do. There’s a good chance they felt like their positions in the squad were at threat, as was clearly demonstrated by Craig Burley.

Players often say after a manager has departed, “Maybe we should’ve worked a bit harder for him.” That may be the same for players under Barnes. It wasn’t an easy job to step into as a first role and kudos should be given for having the guts to take the job. But, ultimately, where John is wrong is in claiming that he was sacked because of unconscious bias. He wasn’t sacked because of the colour of his skin; he was sacked for one of Celtic’s most dreadful results in history.

Barnes may have gone on to become a success as manager at Celtic, but the timing of his appointment was wrong, Celtic needed success on and off the park. The stadium was already redeveloped, and money was being plunged into the club by fans to secure its long-term future.

Barnes as a project was simply just bad timing, Celtic couldn’t afford Rangers to go on and have another run of dominance and that’s why, similar to many English clubs who are fighting relegation, Celtic turned to an experienced manager in O’Neill.

Colin Watt

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