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Dundee’s Bonetti era: How sports writer landed Claudio Caniggia signing scoop while shopping in Tesco

Claudio Caniggia in action for the Dark Blues
Claudio Caniggia in action for the Dark Blues

It is 20 years ago to the day since Dundee fans had their footballing world turned upside down as Ivano and Dario Bonetti arrived with grand plans to place their club among the elite.

Household names would begin to arrive at Dens Park as the Bonettis’ ambitious plan took seed.

However, in the end ambition over-reached reality as they left the club after two years and Dundee were hit by administration in 2003.

This week Courier Sport will delve into the history books to cover the highs, lows and fall-outs that littered the reign of two enigmatic Italians.

On May 11, 2000, the 1999/00 season still had two matches yet to play but Dundee owners Jimmy and Peter Marr couldn’t wait to parade their new appointments.

Two days after a 3-0 derby win over Dundee United, the club confirmed Jocky Scott and Jimmy Bone’s contracts would not be renewed beyond the summer.

Three days hours later Ivano Bonetti was confirmed as manager with elder brother Dario as his assistant.

The first in the media to meet Dundee’s exotic new manager was former Evening Telegraph senior football writer Tom Duthie.

He said: “At the Queen’s Hotel, myself representing the Tele along with Radio Tay sports editor, the late, great, Dick Donnelly, we met the new boss over coffee. I don’t remember much about what we asked him, but I do vividly recall our introduction to his eccentricities.

“Within minutes of us sitting down, Ivano asked a waitress which kind of coffees were available before asking if two types could be brought to him. When the two cups appeared, he sniffed both and apologetically informed the staff he wouldn’t bother with either.

“Such was the charm we would come to know from him, no offence was taken but we knew there and then his time as manager was going to be different.”

Tom added: “Throughout his two years in charge he was very easy to get on with and he would go out of his way to help. He tended to be very open about what was happening at the club and what his plans were.

“The problem was he was not always easy to track down and you had to be flexible if you wanted to see him.

“Unlike almost every other manager, he was never concerned about training first thing in the morning and often late in the evening before a session, players would receive calls or texts telling them their start time the next day had been moved.

“Initially it was clear he didn’t have the highest opinion of some of the players he’d inherited, but once he saw the way the likes of Barry Smith, Gavin Rae and Willie Falconer went about their work, both in games and training, that view changed.

“Rae’s ability to run all day in training hugely impressed him and he would say that had he been an Italian he would have had a successful career in Serie A.

“With money to spend Ivano did sign a succession of players he knew from Italy and elsewhere around the world.

Former Tele sports writer Tom Duthie
Former Tele sports writer Tom Duthie

“Without doubt his biggest signing was Argentine great Claudio Caniggia – former team-mate at Roma of his brother and assistant boss Dario.”

Ten years previously, alongside his great friend Diego Maradona, Caniggia had taken the 1990 World Cup in Italy by storm, propelling Argentina to the final, though missing the 1-0 defeat to Germany through suspension.

He lifted the Copa America and Confederations Cup before also featuring at the 1994 World Cup in the USA after serving a 13-month global ban for cocaine use.

Little did the journalist realise but he’d soon be reporting on the star signing for Dundee amid confusion over tinned macaroni in Tesco.

“That deal came about after another Argentine, Fabian Caballero, suffered a serious knee injury in a midweek derby win over United at Dens,” added Duthie.

“After the following weekend’s game, away to Celtic, Ivano revealed Cabellero would be out for many months. I covered that game at Parkhead and Ivano was clearly devastated by the news.

“The next day, by chance, I bumped into him in Tesco and what unfolded was probably the best story I ever broke – and also once of the strangest incidents in my time covering the city clubs for the Tele.

“As we chatted, I asked Ivano what he was going to do about replacing Caballero. He revealed he was signing World Cup star Caniggia, but made me promise not to use the story until a deal had been sealed.

“As I asked him how long this would be his fiancée (now wife), Erica, marched toward us holding a can of Heinz Macaroni and exclaimed ‘Macaroni in a tin? This cannot be possible!’

“All I wanted to know was when I could break the Caniggia story but had to explain to her the macaroni she was holding might not be quite up to the standards she was used to back home in Italy.

“That sorted, thankfully after a nervy few days, Ivano gave me the green light to break the news Caniggia would be a Dundee player and his signing made headlines around the world.”