Didier Agathe – “My desire was to play at such a special club created by a priest.”

Didier Agathe with A Celtic State of Mind

Scotty Alcroft was recently joined by former Celt, Didier Agathe, who was recently appointed as joint manager of English community club, Chester-le-Street United. Here’s what the Frenchman had to say…

I’m sure a lot of people don’t know this, but before you signed for Celtic, you actually played a game for Rangers… How did you manage to appear alongside Robert Duvall in A Shot At Glory as a Rangers player?

My manager at the time was John McVeigh, who asked me and another couple of Raith Rovers players to be in the film. It was a long time before I signed for Celtic. It was a great experience, Robert Duvall was in the movie and I got to meet Ally McCoist and a few other players.

When did you first hear of Celtic’s interest?

It was the 28th August 2000, 3 days before the transfer window closed. Martin O’Neill had gone to see Rab Douglas, and seen my second goal during that game. I was then called by an agent to tell me that Celtic wanted to sign me. I thought it was a joke so I hung up the phone, but he called me back and I knew then that it was genuine.

You were an absolute bargain at only £50,000. What can you remember about the day that you signed for Celtic?

I never thought about it as a bargain, I just wanted to play for such a big club. I was shown around the stadium and told the history of Celtic and then I sat in the Director’s Box for around 30 minutes to take in the atmosphere and appreciate being there. My desire was to play at such a special club created by a priest.

You had a rapid rise in the Scottish game. You went from Raith Rovers to Hibs and then on to Celtic in the space of a year. How did it feel to walk into that Celtic dressing room, and which players stood out for you?

When I first arrived at Celtic I was injured and played in reserve games. One of the players said to me after I joined, “You will never play in the first team.” This was great motivation for me and made me certain I would work hard to do my best.

You made your debut in a 2-0 win against St Mirren in an incredible treble-winning season. What can you remember about your debut?

We went to play in Ireland near to where Martin came from. We had a police escort from the airport to the stadium and security at our dressing room. Jackie McNamara was injured and I was put on the right side against St Mirren and ended up winning Man of the Match.

We can’t get you on A Celtic State of Mind without talking about Seville. I was inside the stadium that night too and it was such an emotional roller-coaster. What can you remember about that day and how did it feel to walk into that dressing room after the game? What did Martin O’Neill say to the players?

I was late for the training session due to the time difference. Johan Mjällby and I did the press conference. Lots of personal mistakes contributed to us as a team giving away the game but we were still so proud to have achieved what we did and get to the final. What gets said in the dressing room always stays in the dressing room.

One game that stands out for me was the tie against Barcelona in the UEFA Cup in 2004 when you tamed Ronaldinho, who regarded as the best player in the world at that time. What was that experience like and did Ronaldinho say anything to you during or after the game about your performance?

Ronaldinho was the best I ever played against. He was so unpredictable. I studied him and built the knowledge to understand that on the left side, he always played a long ball to the right, so this helped me to mark him. He put a nice article out about me and gave me his shirt.

One scenario that gets Celtic fans into a debate is whether Martin O’Neill’s Seville side were better than Brendan Rodgers’ invincible Celtic side. What’s your thoughts on this?

You can’t compare generations of football players. It was two top managers and it’s about them. The players just do their job. Both Martin and Brendan build a confidence and belief in their players and inspire the team to win.

You had an incredible Celtic career over six years. What were your highlights?

Each time I played and each time we won. People work hard all week and pay for their ticket to come to watch the players put on a performance and give 100%. That’s what it is about. When you play in front of 62,000 people, some of them blind or deaf and they come to experience the atmosphere, you play for the fans and not for money.

Your Celtic career came to an end when Gordon Strachan took over from Martin O’Neill. Was there a clash of personalities there or was it his much talked-about training techniques that didn’t suit you?

He started double sessions and I remember Chris Sutton was quoted at the time as saying that he, “knew his own body.” I don’t want to talk about Gordon Strachan. I would rather talk about Martin O’Neill or Brendan Rodgers.

Finally, what are you doing with yourself nowadays?

I am now the manager at Chester-le-Street Town after a very difficult situation at Durham City. I have taken young talented players from Reunion Island, Holland and England to help them establish their careers in football. I’m working with Lewis Pendleton at Park View Academy of Sport and John Gamble is the Head of Coaching.

Our joint aim is to provide the players with support and coaching to make sure they progress to playing as professionals.

Also, I am trying to help raise funds for a charity walk organised by a priest in Madagascar named Father Pedro. Father Pedro has already been able to raise money to have a school built in Madagascar and now he is aiming to have an astro-turf pitch for the children. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, so we want to help raise awareness for Father Pedro’s association.

Didier Agathe was interviewed for A Celtic State Of Mind by Scotty Alcroft @ScottAlcroft

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