LIAM BRADY had a clear vision for Celtic on the summer’s day in 1991 when he walked through the front doors at Parkhead.
The charismatic Irishman accepted the challenge to get the team back on track following the brutal departure of club legend Billy McNeill.
It was an enormous burden of responsibility for a rookie team boss. In early October 1993, the dream was over.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE series, author Alex Gordon opens his book files to offer an exhaustive investigation into one of Celtic’s most intriguing managerial appointments.
Here is the first of the edited extracts from Alex’s tribute book, ‘The Winds of Change‘, published by CQN in 2015.
IT’S early afternoon on Friday July 16 1993 and the Brother Walfrid restaurant at Celtic Park is as hectic as an oasis.
In the welcome solitude, I have been invited to share a table with Liam Brady, the Celtic manager of two years and 27 days. I like the softly spoken Dubliner; he’s intelligent, thoughtful and articulate.
As Sports Editor of the Sunday Mail, the biggest-selling newspaper in Scotland at the time with close to a three-million readership, I got to know Brady shortly after his appointment as Billy McNeill’s replacement. Back on June 19 1991, the accomplished 72 times-capped Republic of Ireland midfielder looked the perfect fit for Celtic Football Club.
A first-time manager, certainly, but one with a sound footballing philosophy.
As a player, his sheer quality shone through with his every caress of a football. Brady was an elegant, attacking, subtle creator in the hurly-burly environment of congested midfields. It was a career that was to begin at Arsenal with a first team debut at the age of 17 in 1973 and, a mere six years later, see him deservedly crowned the English Footballers’ Player of the Year.
MIDFIELD DUEL…Arsenal’s Liam Brady is challenged by Celtic legend Davie Hay during his days at Chelsea.
A season later, Brady embarked on a captivating journey to Italy where he beguiled the fans of Juventus, Sampdoria, Inter Milan and Ascoli for seven years before returning to London to wind down his career at West Ham United, removing his debonair skills from the football field at the age of thirty-four.
There was no argument, Liam Brady was a class act; an authoritative, ambitious individual with the pedigree, hopefully, to put his stamp on a football club desperate to return to valued traditions.
That was then and this is now. Brady, almost suffocated by relentless squabbling within the walls of Celtic Park, is struggling. The club is in the shadow of their ancient foes, Rangers. The Celtic manager is only too cognizant of the fact the team have endured consecutive barren years during his albeit brief period in charge.
However, two seasons of non-success at this club constitutes a full-blown crisis. Brady accepts he is under awesome pressure.
There are the usual rumblings in the background insisting Brady is about to walk. I am well aware these suggestions are not too wide of the mark. The Celtic manager is clearly frustrated and, years later, told me he was on the brink of chucking it a few times during that particular summer.
At this stage, though, with a new season on the horizon, the position is clear. It is either resign or remain and try to change it. Brady chose the latter.
The Celtic manager is now thinking positively. He is also talking expansively. Not for the first time he tells of a role that is clearly physically, mentally and emotionally draining.
‘You can’t fathom the sheer magnitude of this job or the size of this club until you are actually involved in it,’ he admits. ‘You think you can, but, believe me, you can’t. The demands are with you night and day.
‘You look at our support on a matchday, home or away, and you realise you have to cope, you have to produce. It’s my job to put a formation out on the pitch that will entertain and, most importantly, be successful. So, of course, it hurts that it hasn’t happened.’
Significantly, and with a twinkle in his eyes, he adds, ‘Yet.’
THE ITALIAN JOB…Liam Brady and Trevor Francis during their days at Sampdoria.
Brady is looking forward to the forthcoming three-game tour of Italy and then the friendly game against Sheffield Wednesday on July 31 which will be the season’s curtain-raiser at Celtic Park. The Yorkshire club are managed by Trevor Francis, his team-mate of two years at Sampdoria.
The Irishman produces a photograph of himself and Francis, a pre-match pose in the colours of their Italian club. ‘This may be helpful,’ he says as he passes the snap across the table. Undoubtedly, this will seem like a small illustration of the man’s professionalism, but it indicates his anticipatory thinking.
We have organised an interview to publicise the encounter and he has sought out an image which will sit perfectly with the feature. These days, of course, a couple of clicks of the keyboard will produce such photographs; that was not the case back in 1993.
The Daily Record and Sunday Mail would not have possessed such a snap among their library files. It would have meant the Picture Editor getting on the case and scouting one down, either from a London agency or an Italian newspaper. That could be time consuming. Brady eliminated the problem by producing a snap from his own collection.
At this stage in his pre-campaign plans, I am aware he has long identified a genuine signing target. Pat McGinlay had been involved in a wrangle with Hibs over his contract for about a year and it has now just expired. Pre-Bosman, the player wasn’t permitted to simply walk away while the Edinburgh club held his registration.
At this stage, though, Brady remains resolute and is confident of pushing the deal through before the competitive action gets underway with an opening league encounter coming up fast against Motherwell at Fir Park on August 7.
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the next riveting instalment of the Liam Brady story – only in your champion CQN.