Rangers had just endured the first season in my living memory without winning a trophy. We had appointed our first foreign manager and the fabled 9-in-a-row team was being dismantled. For various reasons, but mainly through age, performance and a required rebuilding process. Dick Advocaat was the man given the funds, and it’s fair to say he didn’t hang about. Entering the last full season of the 20th century, Rangers fans were in for a treat.
In came 14 players at a cost of around £36m, out went 16 for just under £8m. It’s fair to say that Advocaat was backed. To put this in perspective, Rangers won’t have spent £36m combined over the last 10 years. The biggest intrigue was going to be around how Advocaat would replace decades of experience and thousands of appearances. He was basically starting from scratch.
Sergio Porrini and Jorg Albertz were the only regulars under Walter Smith that would keep their place under Advocaat. Remember, The Little General had the best part of nine months to plan his summer signings. He must’ve been like a kid in a sweetie shop.
As is the Dutch way, Rangers would revert to a back four. Lionel Charbonnier would replace Andy Goram until Stefan Klos could be secured on Christmas Eve from Borussia Dortmund. A World Cup and Champions League winner respectively.
Colin Hendry and the tragic Daniel Prodan were signed to partner the now fit, Lorenzo Amoruso at centre-half. With hindsight, this wasn’t the best use of £6.5m with Joachim Bjorklund leaving the club for £2.5m. A Bjorklund/Amoruso partnership would’ve had a nice balance. We certainly didn’t think that Craig Moore would be the one to provide the stability to Amoruso’s flamboyance.
One of the highest profile signings was Artur Numan. He was Netherland’s first choice left-back at the World Cup in France during the summer. It was a step up from anything we’ve had before. The highest profile signing was though being former Manchester United winger, Andrei Kanchelskis. He was also a record signing at £5.5m. A lot of money for a near 30-year old with not much sell on value. He did, however, bring us £5.5m worth of showboating and one hell of a volley!
The Kanchelskis volley
Blue tinted glasses
There’s a recurring theme during Rangers 9-in-a-row run, Walter Smith’s last season and Advocaat’s first. A misconception that all were swept aside relatively comfortably. For context, this season (2018/19) Rangers have already scored the same number of goals as 1998/99. Rangers would also have to concede six goals in their next game to match the tally of 31 conceded from ‘98/99. A record of eight draws and five losses is also comparable to this season’s nine and five. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
The expectations of fans, journalists and pundits for an entirely new team to gel instantly is and always will be unrealistic. Rangers fans can only hope that Steven Gerrard is as successful in the league in his second season as Advocaat was with his. Advocaat’s start can only be described as shaky, at best.
A sticky start
Rangers opened their campaign with an, on paper, easy season opener against Shelbourne at Prenton Park, Tranmere’s ground. The game was played here due to the “heightened political situation” in Ireland at the time. There was of course blame apportioned to Rangers fans due to issues in a game against Bohemians some 14 years earlier.
With a team loaded with international footballers, Rangers promptly found themselves 3-0 down after 48 minutes. Only Van Bronckhorst started from Advocaat’s many signings. It wasn’t until the introduction of Gabriel Amato and Jonatan Johansson that Rangers clawed their way back into the game. Running out 5-3 winners as quality and fitness prevailed – it was a hard watch on Teletext I can tell you! To make matters worse, Rangers lost their opening league fixture against Hearts, 2-1. Changes had to be made.
Never a dull moment
There are so many talking points from this season. The revelation that Daniel Prodan was badly injured and may never play again, and he was signed in this condition without a medical. The emergence of Barry Ferguson and his partnership with Giovanni van Bronckhorst in the middle of the park. Jorg Albertz scoring even more goals from midfield. Stephan Guivarc’h, what was that all about? Selling Rino Gattuso when he was told he was dropping down the pecking order in Advocaat’s 4-4-2. Most surprisingly would be the form of Rod Wallace.
With all the money being spent, the diminutive Englishman, signed on a Bosman from Leeds United was a revelation. Wallace also scored one of the great, Rangers European goals. Wallace would finish his Rangers career with a goal every two games, give or take. I always felt Advocaat felt the need to replace him and that he wasn’t good enough. Judging him on how much he cost rather than his contribution on the park. Put it this way, Advocaat spent £12m on Tore Andre Flo who left with a similar goalscoring record to Wallace.
Rangers best ever European goal?
May Day mayhem
This season won’t be most remembered for Rangers winning the treble but for the game that won the league. Rangers hadn’t beaten Celtic all season but on the 2nd May 1999 had the chance to win the league at Parkhead. It proved to be one of the most memorable games in any Rangers fan’s lifetime.
Neil McCann had been impressing for Hearts for a while now and it was only a surprise that he hadn’t been signed sooner. He had tormented Rangers enough times in the past, worse players had been signed for less. He was signed in December as Advocaat looked to balance the threat of Kanchelskis on the right. Ironically, he was a known Celtic fan, but he now lives in Celtic fan’s heads rent free apparently. Claudio Reyna had also been signed and Rangers now had an embarrassment of riches in midfield.
Rangers fluid shape
Rangers were playing a flexible 4-4-2 depending on the personnel selected. They could play narrower with Albertz and Reyna wide or an almost 4-2-4 with McCann and Kanchelskis. Advocaat was also a fan of an asymmetric 4-4-2 picking just one winger and one, more defensive, wide midfielder.
For this game, Rangers were almost at full strength with just Barry Ferguson and Artur Numan missing. The latter having had injury problems most of the season. Gabriel Amato was preferred to Jonatan Johansson to partner Wallace up front. His ability to hold the play up and his more physical presence giving him the edge. Amato would be another player who was sold, just as he was starting to look like a player.
McCann was involved in everything and opened the scoring after 12 minutes. Wallace was played through and could’ve scored himself but squared it for McCann for the simplest of finishes 6 yards out.
Stephane Mahe, Celtic’s erratic, French full-back was having a stinker and things were about to get worse. He was booked before the clock had ticked over to the 20th minute for a foul on Wallace. Inexplicably, he then went apoplectic at referee Hugh Dallas after McCann had tripped him. It wasn’t a foul in a dangerous place or particularly aggressive. Mahe raged at Dallas even though he had been given the free-kick. It was almost like he wanted to be sent off….and Dallas duly obliged.
Things only went from bad to worse for Celtic and to say their support didn’t handle it well is an understatement. Dallas awarded a free-kick to Rangers near the corner flag and before the ball could be played he was struck by a coin thrown from the Celtic support. Celtic fans were also attempting to get onto the pitch and presumably, at Dallas. Rangers get a corner and from this, Dallas awards a penalty. Vidar Riseth pulling back Tony Vidmar as he attempts to go for the ball. Another fan gets onto the pitch but Albertz converts and the score is now 2-0 with Celtic down to ten men. This is all before the half-time whistle remember. At half-time, another Celtic fan makes it onto the pitch whilst a further fell from an upper tier to the one below.
At this point, allowing a 6.05pm kick-off maybe wasn’t the brightest idea.
Game, set and match
Hugh Dallas, starting to apply common sense (if not the laws of the game), books Celtic goalkeeper Stewart Kerr for handling outside his box. An incorrect decision but with hindsight, great game management by Dallas.
Rangers go 3-0 in front as McCann again gets behind the porous Celtic defence and calmly rounded before slotting past Kerr. The mild-mannered Rod Wallace is sent off after reacting angrily to a Riseth challenge before the latter is sent off himself. This time for taking out Vidmar as he attempts to see out the clock, Riseth following the example of Mahe. Rangers ran out 3-0 victors and celebrated with a huddle on the half-way line, well, why not?
Celtic 0 v 3 Rangers 2nd May 1999
The crowd behaviour and the Celtic player’s behaviour was obviously condoned but in the guise of “Old Firm Shame Game”. Eric Black, the Celtic Assistant Manager saying that Celtic fans were “provoked”. If you count being outplayed and outfought as provocation then I suppose you’d agree with Black’s assessment. Black also said they will now focus on winning the Scottish Cup and prove they are the better team. Spoiler alert – they weren’t.
Rangers would go on to win the treble in Dick Advocaat’s first season. Not a bad way to start. Strangely, his average formation had no fewer than six players that were already at the club. For all the money that Advocaat spent in his time at Rangers, I always felt his most telling contributions were less obvious. His average line-up is a bit surprising until you remember Numan’s injury woes and that Amato only just misses out to Johansson.
4-4-2. Klos, Porrini, Vidmar, Hendry, Amoruso, Ferguson, Van Bronckhorst, Kanchelskis, Albertz, Johansson, Wallace
Immediately promoting Barry Ferguson to the starting line-up, we all know how he turned out. Playing Sergio Porrini at right-back instead of centre-half. Re-signing Craig Moore from Crystal Palace the same season he sold him to form a formidable partnership with Amoruso. Claudio Reyna arriving from Wolfsburg and being, for me, one of the most underrated players in recent history. The aforementioned Rod Wallace on a free and signing Neil McCann from Hearts.
His most obvious legacy will, of course, be the now named Hummel Training Centre. A facility that is now being used properly to shape future Rangers stars in the Youth Academy and entice new players to the club.
We will always be grateful for what Advocaat did in his first couple for seasons at the club, given the success he had. He sold Rino Gattuso though and for that, he will never be forgiven!