Argentina World Cup star Claudio Caniggia says the Dundee derby is the strangest thing he’s ever been a part of in football.
The man who lit up Italia 90 before going on to play in USA 94, and then make the squad for the 2002 competition in Japan and South Korea, made an unexpected arrival at Dens Park 20 years ago.
In just a short time playing for Ivano Bonetti’s side, Caniggia made himself a Dark Blues legend and says his decision to leave for Rangers was “very difficult” because of his love for the club.
Having played in some of the biggest derbies in the world during his playing career, Caniggia admits the derby with Dundee United is one that certainly sticks out.
Speaking during a fans’ Q and A for the Longest Forty, the 53-year-old responded to a question from a Dundee supporter about the derby.
“I remember playing Dundee United, it was a good confrontation,” he said.
“I knew there was rivalry between the clubs.
“It was the most strange thing I ever saw – stadiums 100 yards from each other! It was great.
“I remember being in Dens and just crossing the street and after one minute we were at the Dundee United stadium. That was the most strange thing.
“I have played in a lot of derbies, Boca Juniors-River Plate, after that Rangers-Celtic, I played against Lazio when I was at Roma so I can say I have played great games with two teams who hate each other. It was great for the people.
“I knew the fans would feel it a lot to win against United. I know the feeling of winning a derby.
“With my team-mates we celebrated with the fans and it was great. I had won derbies in my career and that was another one – I wanted to win that game because I knew how significant it is for the fans.”
He added: “It was a great experience, one I liked a lot and I’m not just saying that. I liked my time a lot in Scotland.
“I didn’t know anything about Dundee when Bonetti called me but I said ‘let’s go and don’t think about that’. The people were great.
“I remember the first game against Aberdeen, coming on in the second half. I was kicked by a defender who got a red card – I had to jump otherwise he would have broken my legs!
“I liked the way of playing football in Scotland, I liked the dynamic of the game.
“You could never say you had won a game if you were winning 2-0 with five minutes to go. In Italy, you are winning 2-0 or 1-0 and no one wants to go forward so I liked that a lot.”
Caniggia’s ability and manner on the pitch quickly endeared him to the Dundee support with many sporting long, blonde wigs as a tribute.
“I remember the guys with the wigs, it was very funny. I like the people in Scotland a lot, very funny, easy going people and with a lot of pride.
“Dens was a small stadium but I liked it a lot and the people at the club were great.
“We had good players. I remember Gavin Rae, Barry Smith, Georgi Nemsadze – we had a few good players. We could match the big teams.”
At the end of the first season, however, Caniggia would move on to Rangers as he chased a place at the 2002 World Cup.
Caniggia explained: “I was already 34-years-old but I was very fit. I enjoyed a lot being at Dundee but I was thinking about going to the national team.
“I knew I would be 35 by the time the World Cup, and I knew it would be very difficult but I had to go to the biggest team to maybe have a chance.
“I repeat, I enjoyed a lot playing for Dundee and I love the people there.
“I decided to go, Rangers came to me and I spoke to the coach and I said ‘let me go’ because I wanted to go to the World Cup with Argentina.
“They let me go and it was great, I came back to the national team for the World Cup.”