Football: Celtic send for Dalglish and Barnes

KENNY DALGLISH returned to Celtic yesterday after an absence of 22 years from the place he calls home, took an appreciative nod at Parkhead's physical transformation and smiled: "It's changed a lot since the last time I was here. They must have spent my transfer [money] well."

Jokes and Dalglish: there could have been no greater indication that change was firmly on the agenda. The bane of England's media had dropped off his taciturn baggage at the border before making his entrance with the other half of Celtic's new double act, John Barnes.

The former England international takes over from Jozef Venglos to become Celtic's fifth team coach in as many years. But, if it was all a bit new for Barnes, Dalglish's return to his native city untapped a hidden humour which, if not exactly Billy Connolly, was far from the Victor Meldrew image with which he has been previously identified.

"We'll need to order a large tracksuit," Dalglish gestured at Barnes, confirming that his one-time Anfield protege would be launching his new career when he takes Celtic for pre-season training on 1 July.

Dalglish will be the director of football and, if the Celtic supporters are ambivalent about the 35-year-old Barnes facing such a daunting job as his baptism in coaching, then the return of their old favourite may sooth their fears.

More than a thousand fans stood outside Celtic Park to acclaim Dalglish, now 48, who has remained an idol with supporters despite his move to Liverpool in 1977. A glimpse of King Kenny was enough to assure most of those fans that the club is now back on the right track.

A lot, however, has changed since Dalglish left for pounds 400,000, not least transfer fees themselves. Then Jock Stein was not just a manager, but he ran Celtic from top to bottom. These days, the plc board - of which Celtic are one of the most profitable - and City investors can pull rank on the manager, as Dalglish experienced at Newcastle United last August.

Celtic's board are fully aware that just one League title in 11 years is not enough to sustain a club which has grown from near bankruptcy in 1994 to an operation with a pounds 30m turnover. The sell-out 60,000 crowds for games against St Johnstone will disappear soon unless Dalglish and Barnes halt Rangers' dominance which their coach, Dick Advocaat, reaffirmed with three trophies last season. In contrast, the kindly but ill-equipped Venglos has failed to build on Wim Jansen's success of 1998.

"We are confident that the new structure will add value to the shareholders," Frank O'Callaghan, the chairman of Celtic plc, said pointedly, "as well as produce success for the club and return Celtic to prominence in Europe."

The latter is something Dalglish knows all about, having helped Liverpool to three European Cup triumphs as a player. But domestic matters require more urgent attention and, if Dalglish's hand is not on the first-team tiller, Celtic believe he can still provide the kind of help that was never available to Liam Brady, whose spell as manager between 1991 and 1993 highlighted the difficulty in bridging the gap between being a high- profile player and a successful manager.

"It would be stupid of me not to use Kenny's experience and knowledge," said Barnes, whose release by Charlton last month brought down the curtain on a playing career best remembered for his days in Dalglish's championship- winning Liverpool sides of 1988 and 1990.

"This is John's first stab as coach," Dalglish said, "but I got my first opportunity in a similar way at Anfield [in 1986] when Bob Paisley put me in charge and I had him to turn to. I believe John is going to be a tremendous success as a coach. When I gave him certain responsibilities at Newcastle, the players spoke highly of how he put his ideas across."

Dalglish headed off the notion that Celtic have taken a sizable risk by handing the reins to Barnes. "Anyone coming in is a gamble. We have made the decision we believe to be right," Dalglish said.

Celtic's appointment of Venglos just 11 months ago has not delivered the envisaged results, and Dalglish feels inexperience should not be held up as a barrier to Barnes. Venglos now becomes a consultant.

Barnes, who has signed a three-year contract, said: "Football is a simple game and I won't judge players by my standards or Kenny's standards."

For Dalglish, whose long-term aim is to create a youth academy at Celtic, the first task is sorting out the present. "I will look after the future development of the club," said the man who six months ago tried to buy out the majority shareholder, Fergus McCann. "Rangers have got trophies because they deserve them, and it's up to us to get back to that level. Everyone wants the same thing, whether it's the plc board, supporters or the manager."

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