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How Dundee’s Ivano Bonetti era was ended 20 years ago with a single sentence

Ivano Bonetti faces the media after he was given his jotters in July 2002 following a day of Dens drama.
Ivano Bonetti faces the media after he was given his jotters in July 2002 following a day of Dens drama.

Dundee FC’s Ivano Bonetti era was ended in a single sentence 20 years ago.

Chief executive Peter Marr called time on manager Ivano’s Dens Park tenure, along with his brother Dario, the assistant boss, and club co-ordinator Dario Magri.

The end, when it finally came, on July 2 2002, was without ceremony.

The news was broken to the assembled media just minutes after Ivano had left a meeting held at the ground between his entourage and the board.

Owners Peter Marr and Jimmy Marr leave Dens with son Paul after ending Ivano Bonetti’s spell in charge of the club.

Marr said: “After discussions with the Bonetti’s and the management team it has been decided to mutually terminate their contracts forthwith.”

It was a dramatic end to a dramatic day, which saw the Italian trio shock many onlookers by turning up for the first day of pre-season training at Caird Park.

Now all that was left of the most colourful and star-studded era in the club’s history was bitter-sweet memories and losses of over £9 million between 2000-2002.

Ivano Bonetti makes his way through the media scrum as he exits Dens Park following his sacking.

Ivano was in charge for 90 games which brought 29 wins, 40 losses and 21 draws.

The former Juventus and Sampdoria midfielder replaced Jocky Scott as manager before the 2000-2001 season and pledged attractive football and big-name signings.

He brought brother Dario with him as his assistant, although the pair’s management skills were unproven beyond the semi-professional levels in Italy.

It became evident that what they lacked in top-flight managerial experience they would more than make up for in terms of their enviable and extensive list of contacts.

Ivano signed a string of players from all across Europe and beyond including Fabian Caballero, Juan Sara, and, perhaps most famously, Claudio Caniggia.

Claudio Caniggia in action for Dundee.

It also signalled soaring bills and a spiralling debt.

Back then, however, few voices could be heard raising concern that the road the directors were following would end in an almighty financial crash.

The first season brought a top-six finish, international headlines and as attractive a brand of football as was being seen anywhere in the country.

Ivano rated the top-six success as equal to anything he had achieved in his illustrious playing career which had included Sampdoria’s Serie A triumph in 1991.

Caniggia’s time was up after just one season and he joined Rangers.

Chinese star Fan Zhiyi shows his new colours after signing for Dundee during the big-spending Ivano Bonetti era.

There was positive news where a good start to the 2001-2002 campaign prompted Peter Marr to express his delight at the club’s progress under Ivano.

He started discussions to look at extending his existing three-year contract until 2006 before things took a turn for the worse following the early positivity.

Dundee were knocked out of the League Cup in October by lower league Ross County after a slump in form and were struggling for any degree of consistency.

Further high-profile signings like Temuri Ketsbaia and Chinese skipper Fan Zhiyi were brought in on big wages to stem the tide but failed to improve results.

The dreaded vote of confidence

A Scottish Cup third round draw against Falkirk in January 2002 was followed by a disappointing 4-2 defeat to relegation-threatened Motherwell at Fir Park.

Ivano was back home in Italy arranging his wedding and missed the defeat which left Dundee sitting uncomfortably on the edge of the relegation zone.

Peter Marr rubbished any talk of a crisis.

He blamed injuries and gave his manager the dreaded vote of confidence!

“At the start of the season you think if things are going to be okay then the top-six is a sensible target to aim at, and possibly a place in Europe too,” he said.

“But after the season we have had so far with injuries, I would be happy with a top-six finish, though it would be nice to do even better than that.

“I think we are on course.

“It’s disappointing at the moment but I am sure things will get better shortly.”

They didn’t.

Dundee managed to squeeze past Falkirk at the second time of asking in the Scottish Cup before going on a disappointing sequence of five games without a win.

The poor run included a derby defeat against Dundee United at Tannadice and being dumped out of the Scottish Cup in the fourth round by First Division Partick Thistle.

Ivano returned to Italy to marry fiancée Erica following the cup exit and there was mounting speculation about his future as he missed three games whilst on honeymoon.

Marr had become increasingly frustrated at the erratic behaviour of his boss.

He put contract talks on hold and said Dundee fans were concerned because they “have not been seeing the kind of football they were getting last season”.

Cracks were starting to appear in the relationship.

Was the fat lady clearing her throat?

There was then a clear-the-air press conference called by Ivano where he told reporters his future was at Dens Park and insisted he had no thoughts about leaving.

The press conference did little to dispel suspicions that he and the club were not entirely working together in harmony.

He described the suggestion the impending birth of his first child might lead to him quitting as “a joke” and said the only way he would leave would be if he was sacked.

Ivano faces the media during his press conference where he insisted that he was committed to life at Dens Park.

Ivano said: “My wife has said to me she will enjoy coming here with the baby next season and I look forward to bringing my family to Scotland.

“There is no problem with that.

“100% I think I’ll be here then.

“I don’t want to leave.”

Ivano blamed the poor season on a severe injury list.

A reporter suggested Ivano had been luckier than most managers to have been afforded the resources to bring in players such as Caniggia and Caballero during his spell.

“I am not lucky,” he said.

“If you spend £1 million on a Ferrari then there is a problem which leaves you having to use a Citroen then you are unlucky.”

Ivano and Dario Bonetti walk to training at Caird Park but their Dundee era would soon be over.

Dundee were struggling to find top gear and suffered a 2-1 defeat against Motherwell on the final game of the league season and ended the campaign in ninth.

The board moved to distance itself from comments Ivano made against Willie Young afterwards when he suggested the referee would be celebrating Dundee’s defeat.

He returned to Italy at full-time and didn’t come back after being asked to appear before the general purposes committee of the SFA to explain his comments.

Former manager Jim Duffy was strongly linked with the job during the summer but Ivano stressed he would be back for pre-season training following a holiday.

Marr called time on the Bonetti era

Ivano did go back to Dens but it wasn’t for long.

Ivano later said it was he – and not the Dundee board – who finally decided that the time was right for him to go and insisted: “Peter Marr did not sack anyone.”

Marr later criticised Ivano for his lack of regard for the Scottish game.

Ivano Bonetti was all smiles at the start of the day at Caird Park but his era soon ended following talks with the Dundee board.

He said the Italian’s time as a player in Italy’s top flight with Juventus and Sampdoria had affected his attitude and subdued youth development at Dens.

Duffy took the Dundee job and said he was inheriting a really good squad which he bolstered with the signings of Nacho Novo and Jonay Hernandez.

The Bonetti era was over.

Ivano Bonetti leaves Dens Park after being given his marching orders by the Marr brothers back in July 2002.

Marr said he was convinced things would change for the better under Duffy who brought in a new set of rules.

When he said no to jeans, one foreign player said he didn’t own trousers and was told in no uncertain terms to get out and buy a pair!

Duffy was asked to operate on a tight budget, but, with many of the Bonetti squad still around – and on big wages – the debt continued to mount.

Duffy led Dundee to a top-six finish and the Scottish Cup Final in his first season before the board was controversially increased to include Giovanni di Stefano.

Giovanni di Stefano and former Juventus superstar Fabrizio Ravanelli in Dundee in 2003.

The policy of big signings returned including Fabrizio Ravanelli but it all went wrong in spectacular fashion and Dundee was plunged into administration.

Fifteen players were sacked, Nacho Novo, Gavin Rae and Julian Speroni had to be sold and a handful of first-team men who’d survived the initial cull subsequently quit.

The days of big wages and superstar names are gone now at Dens Park.

Daring to dream came at a price but Dundee fans will never forget the big-spending rollercoaster ride which eventually came off the rails.

More like this:

Fabrizio Ravanelli was talked out of taking ‘henchmen’ to Giovanni di Stefano’s door after Dundee FC departure

Fan Zhiyi in Dundee: When the Dark Blues signed the Chinese David Beckham

Claudio Caniggia: Argentine legend pulled pints after Dundee derby heroics

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