Fabrizio Ravanelli thought he had encountered everything in football until he experienced the Dundee derby 12 weeks ago. The Italian took part in the unique "away" trip - where Britain's closest football neighbours simply walk to each other's ground - and was swept away by the "beautiful experience" of opposition fans asking for his autograph.
Today it is Dundee United's turn to make the 170-yard trip up Tannadice Street but they will scarcely be able to recognise their city rivals. Dundee FC have become engulfed by a serious financial crisis that threatens not just their season, but their future. Ravanelli will not be waiting at Dens Park. He was one of the first to go when the club revealed a £20m debt in late November had forced it to seek administration. The savage cutsincluded Ravanelli and 14 other players, whose contracts were simply torn up, along with commercial and office staff.
It has taken its toll to such a degree that Dundee are notthinking of a return to Europe - they played in the Uefa Cup in October - but of staving off relegation. Jim Duffy's shell of a squad have managed only one win in the Scottish Premier League since the crisis broke.
"It has been surreal," admits Duffy. "2003 ought to have been remembered as the year we played in our first Scottish Cup final in four decades, and instead it may go down as the beginning of the end." He is not being alarmist. Dundee's £20m debt may not mean much at Elland Road, but there are no white knights at Dens Park. Duffy, unlike Eddie Gray, could not hang on to his best asset: Gavin Rae was sold to Rangers as soon as the January transfer window opened for £250,000, a paltry sum for a midfielder whom Duffy's predecessor, Ivano Bonetti, said would fetch £10m in Serie A.
It was the Italian coach's lavish regime that ran up the debts, unchecked by a board who had been sold the dream of a club to rival the Old Firm. Ravanelli was the tip of an expensive iceberg that included Claudio Caniggia.
Duffy, 44, has been left to pick up the pieces. "I have been doing things that I never thought would be on the job remit of a manager," he sighed. "I work every day with administrator on the budget. Every pound is a prisoner. I knew I had to sell Gavin even for a pittance and he knew he had to make the sacrifice of going simply to get some money."
It was Duffy who volunteered to tell the players and staff they had been sacked, so it came from a friendly face. "It is something I hope I never have to do again," he said. "We are in a battle for survival. The administrator will know next month if the cash-flow is enough. We are still losing money but not on the scale of the £100,000 a week that we were losing.
"It has been a lot quieter at training. I had 13 outfield players this week, but a few weeks ago it was just eight because so many were playing for the Under-21s. Still, smaller groups are better for dealing with players individually."
There is little doubting Duffy's ability to pass on his knowledge. He was the youth coach at Chelsea who oversaw the emergence of John Terry and Carlton Cole. It would be ironic if, just as the Roman Empire is rising, 110 years of Dens Park history falls into a black hole.Reuse content