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The close season of 2000 was a strange one as we waited the appointment of a new manager at Dens Park.

The previous campaign had seen us finish seventh under Jocky Scott’s guidance in what had been a good season.

We had known since around April that Jocky wouldn’t be in charge but there weren’t any real signs who would replace him.

Then, in July, the surprise announcement came it was Italian brothers Ivano and Dario Bonetti who were going to be responsible for improving the squad that Jocky had built.

Little did we know then the transformation there would be to what was a successful team.

The two brothers came in and immediately it was clear to see Ivano was the more charismatic of the pair.

They brought with them a translator but Ivano’s English was understandable if not great.

Dario, on the other hand, was quite imposing in stature and character. However, once you got to know him, he was a decent guy.

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They were only in the club a few days when we were whisked away to an Italian training camp, which was based on the top of a mountain, half-an-hour from civilisation.

It was a new experience for the Scottish boys and three weeks together was challenging even for the more placid players like myself.

The training itself was different, too, with the morning sessions no more than a jog.

It started on day one with a 1km run, building up to doing eight of these come the second week.

The days of being hammered physically were all gone, which was great, but the boys didn’t feel they were doing enough.

The afternoon work was all with the ball and focused mainly on shape, with the players getting to know what was expected of them in formation.

It was repetition which most found monotonous but it did hold us in good stead going into the season and it is something I have used frequently in my managerial roles.

There was an influx of Italians, which was to be expected, as most managers like to bring their own players in, but it did cause a divide.

I’m not sure if it was meant but we had two separate dressing-rooms at our home training base at Caird Park.

The home-grown boys were in one changing-room and the foreign players in the other, with the exception being Georgi Nemsadze, who found himself with us, something I think he preferred.

There wasn’t a problem as we all wanted to play football but the unity and togetherness you get in dressing-rooms just wasn’t apparent.

In saying that, when we went out on the park there was a cohesion that looked as if we had been together for years.

The players Jocky had at his disposal fell by the wayside one by one, until there were only a handful of us training with the first-team squad.

The rest were sent to train with Ray Farningham and Stevie Campbell, who, at one point, had 40 players training with them.

The ones left were the mainstay of the team with the likes of Rab Douglas (for a few months), Gav Rae, Willie Falconer, Steven Tweed, Lee Wilkie and Shaun McSkimming all playing big parts in the forthcoming league campaign.

It was crystal clear at the Bonettis’ first game in charge they would be different.

They turned up at the game and took their place in the dugout in their denim jeans and shirts, which was something that was new to the league.

It was more in tone with playing at Dawson Park but they had their own style and, looking back, probably set the dress code for some managers today.

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The Bonetti era brought many and varying types of players to Dens Park.

It was primarily the foreigners who made the headlines but it shouldn’t be forgotten the part the home-based players had in keeping the team ticking.

Guys like Gav Rae, Steven Tweed and Robert Douglas (before his move to Celtic) are all players the fans know inside-out.

Today I’ll give a wee bit of insight into a few of the overseas players I was fortunate enough to share a dressing-room with under Ivano and Dario Bonetti.

There are plenty of others that could be mentioned, such was the nature of the squad, but these four are the ones who stood out for me.


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A top-class player who kept the ball for fun.

The Georgian international came as a bit of an unknown quantity but it only took one training session for the boys to realise he was a player.

His ability to see a pass was incredible but he was also able to make the right one at the right time.

He had a trick to get away from players but most of the time he could find space and time to get on the ball when it seemed impossible.

He was a very humble guy, who wasn’t known for his defending but I can assure you he never shirked his defensive responsibilities.

Off the park he was a genuinely good guy and in the dressing-room his broken English had the boys in stitches.


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There’s not much I could add about what has been said about Claudio the player.

He was an excellent striker who scored goals and worked hard for the team.

What impressed me most about him, though, was off the park.

The Argentine took time to talk to the young forwards at Dens like Steven Milne and Graham Bayne.

He was a gent and, when I arrived at Dens in 1995, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be playing with a World Cup winner.

Pouring pints in a local pub after a derby win showed how down to earth he truly was.

A tremendous talent but an even better person.


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The Argentine forward came with good pedigree, having played at Arsenal, and it was soon clear why he had been involved in their first team.

He had everything as a forward. He was quick, had a great strike and an unbelievable touch combined with the strength of an ox.

He wasn’t the most hardworking in the team but he got away with it as we knew he would score vital goals for us.

Unfortunately, his potential was never realised after an injury he sustained in a derby.

He didn’t really get back to his best partly due to the injury but also because he was so laid back, he didn’t push himself to get back to his fighting weight and full physical fitness.

In saying that, he was still a great player when he did return, showing incredible touches.

A game at Celtic Park sticks in my mind when he controlled the ball from a long kick-out and held off a Hoops defender before scoring.

It showed a lot of the qualities that would have made him a star in today’s game.


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The Georgian came with the reputation of an angry player after a goal celebration at Newcastle but he was actually a quiet man off the park.

The midfielder did have a switch though that, if pushed, showed he wasn’t a man to cross.

He scored six goals in his cameo appearance in the 2001-2002 season, two of which against Motherwell were different class.

His running with the ball at his feet was as quick and as good as I’ve ever seen.

However, he was another player who wasn’t a “big-time Charlie”

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There were a lot of memorable moments for Dundee under the all-too-brief stewardship of the Bonettis back in the early 2000s.

Today I’m going to have a look at some games that stood out for me in those two action-packed seasons with the Italian brothers at the helm of the club.

The first game that springs to mind is the opening league game under their tenure.


July 29, 2000.

We travelled to Fir Park as something of an unknown quantity with all the new arrivals.

In front of us was a team who had finished fourth the season before.

In a side containing only five in the starting line-up from the previous campaign, Ivano selected himself on a day to remember for him.

We took the lead in the first half through a great Pat Billio strike from the edge of the box and, in the same half, the gaffer received a yellow card for a crude tackle.

The second half was taking shape when Ivano received his second yellow for another challenge and was duly sent off.

The remainder of the game was backs-to-the-wall stuff until Javier Artero went on a mazy run and scored one of the goals of the season.

It sent the massive travelling support home delighted and optimism was high for the rest of the season.


October 14, 2000.

This game is probably most remembered for the debut of World Cup winner Claudio Caniggia but, for me, it was more notable as it was my mate Rab Douglas’ last game for the club.

The big goalie was unbelievable to play in front of as he commanded his area so well and made defending it so much easier.

He once told me if a ball came in to the box and he shouted for it to get out the way. I made the mistake of not moving once and still have the mark to prove it.

He deserved his move to Celtic and showed what a class act he was when he went there.

Caniggia marked his debut with a goal after coming on as a sub for the injured Steven Milne.

Just as impressive as that goal was the opener by Ivano, who chipped the keeper from about 20 yards.

It was a great day at Pittodrie but also a sad one for myself, knowing Big Rab was off to Celtic Park.


November 11, 2000.

I had played in, and lost, a few derbies but this is up there with one of the best performances I have been involved in.

Claudio Caniggia had put us in front in the first half after we capitalised on a mistake by a United defender.

The second was a great goal which was finished off by a magnificent chip from Giorgi Nemsadze. It was started at the back and four passes after keeper Marco Roccati had moved it out, Giorgi was scoring at the other end.

It was a great game, filled with the usual passion of a derby but won in the end by an exquisite finish from our Georgian team-mate.

There were plenty of other games that could have made the list, as at times, the football we played was outstanding.

The game when we beat Aberdeen to get into the top six for the first time was memorable, even if we celebrated a bit too much at the final whistle.

It looked as if we had won the league after the game but it was tremendous to celebrate any win with the Dundee fans who travel through thick and thin.

At the end of the next season it was expected that Ivano and Dario would be there for the following league campaign.

As usual, though, there is never a dull moment at Dundee and that summer was no different.

TOMORROW: The end of the road.
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The summer of 2002 was like most as I went on holiday and then returned home and started my own fitness schedule before I began pre-season training with Dundee.

The letter telling us when we were to go back arrived and it read, as usual, to return fit for the first day of training.

The day came to go back and I duly turned up at Caird Park expecting Ivano and Dario Bonetti to be there.

It was to everyone’s surprise when they weren’t and neither were the Italian players.

Rumours started to spread that the Italian management team had been released from their contracts but there was some confusion as to whether they were or not.

Ray Farningham was at the training ground to take training for the boys that were there and, despite the confusion, we started our pre-season routine.

Then suddenly, about 30 minutes into the session, Ivano appeared with some of the foreign players asking what was going on.

However, we carried on with our first session of the season and it was later we found out that the Bonetti era was at an end.

It was a bizarre situation but the brothers said their goodbyes and were gone.

The managerial vacancy was quickly resolved, however, when Jim Duffy was appointed in the following days and normal practice resumed.

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The season that followed saw the club reach the Scottish Cup Final only to suffer the heartache of a 1-0 defeat to Rangers.

Despite the loss, European football was ensured and it was probably fitting, given what had gone before, Italian Serie A side Perugia would be faced in the Uefa Cup.

However, the three years had come at a price and, sadly, only weeks after that Perugia tie in October 2003, the club plunged into administration with massive debts.

It heralded the end of a project which, ultimately, failed to deliver and began a traumatic period when the club only survived extinction by the skin of its teeth.

Ultimately, that will always have to be taken into account when looking back on the Bonetti era.

But, from a playing point of view, from start to finish with the Bonettis, there was never a dull moment — from the way they arrived at the club, when Jocky Scott left after a successful couple of years, to their quickfire departure.

I found adapting to the brothers’ ways was the most difficult part of their tenure at Dens.

However, I always felt I had to buy into what they were doing to give myself the best chance of retaining my place in the team.

In a footballing sense, it is a time most Dundee fans will remember fondly, given the calibre of player that was brought to Dens Park — and I have to admit I’m no different.

As a kid, you grow up hoping to play with World Cup winners and quality internationals but, in reality, it very rarely happens.

I was very fortunate to be part of what was an exciting time at Dens Park.

The Bonetti era was short but it had an impact on Scottish football and certainly boosted coverage of Dundee.

There are many players who didn’t like the way the Bonettis treated people but, for as much as I didn’t like how certain things were handled by them, I did get on with them.

I still hear from Dario on the odd occasion and he always says what a great time he had in Dundee, while also speaking highly of the fans, too.


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