History records that Celtic won nothing in season 1998-99 as Rangers, their former rivals, won the domestic treble, but the record books never tell the whole story. Jozef Venglos, Dr Jo, was appointed Celtic manager on 17 July 1998, five days before our first (ever) Champions League qualification game. He had little time get to know the players, never mind prepare for the challenges ahead.
Having lost the title the previous season for the first time in a decade, Rangers reacted by spending £32m in the transfer market, and kids, that was a time when £32m was a LOT of money. Into an already talented Ibrox dressing room arrived two who won the World Cup that summer: Guivarc’h and Charbonnier, the German national team keeper, Klos, Numan, van Bronckhorst, Hendry, Kanchelskis, Amato and the legendary Daniel Prodan.
As a consequence, Dr Jo was never going to win the league that season, however, the talent he added on a £7m budget was significant: Lubo Moravcik, ‘Marko’ Viduka, Johan Mjallby and a loaner keeper, Tony Warner, who played a memorable cameo.
14 matches into the league campaign, Celtic had yet to win successive games when Rangers came to Celtic Park. Mjallby made his debut with Moravcik playing his third game. Lubo and Henrik Larsson destroyed Rangers as Celtic ran out 5-1 winners. It was a tough season to be a Celtic supporter, but not totally joyless. We finished the season playing brilliant, attacking, football.
Fergus McCann later noted that he wished he met Dr Jo earlier in his time in charge of Celtic. The Slovak brought a knowledge of scouting, sports science (mocked by Craig Burley) and tactical awareness not seen, even under the more-feted Wim Jansen season. Despite winning nothing, the fans also knew how Dr Jo upped our game against a financially doped opponent.
In the summer of 1999, new major shareholder, Dermot Desmond, appointed Kenny Dalglish director of football. On paper the Dalglish appointment looked wise. Kenny had won the English Premiership with two different clubs, repeatedly getting the better of Alex Ferguson. It was not wise, not in the slightest. Kenny wanted rookie John Barnes as manager, a mistake that cost Dermot a substantial sum to put right in a subsequent £25m share issue. Oh how we missed Dr Jo, may he rest in peace.