Former Dundee defender Lee Wilkie has recalled Argentina superstar Claudio Caniggia’s colourful spell at Dens Park.
The centre-back – who also played for Dundee United and won 11 Scotland caps in a career cruelly cut short by injury – says the capture of Caniggia marked a surreal time at the club.
Although he sometimes clashed with the Italian management duo of brothers Ivano and Dario Bonetti, Wilkie was in awe of Caniggia and his fellow marquee signings including Temuri Ketsbaia and Fabrizio Ravanelli.
“It was very different,” he told the Tele’s Twa Teams, One Street podcast. “It was such a change for the players in the day-to-day normality we had at Dundee.
“It was a majority of Scottish lads and then suddenly half the team are foreign.
“They felt a bit weird coming into a different club, a different country but the biggest shock for them was probably the weather.
“We were used to it being Baltic most days but boys like Ravanelli couldn’t cope – he had thermals on in August and everything.
“We used to train at the Michelin and lots of other different places with Dundee struggling for training facilities.
“It was any place we could find. Riverside was a shock for them on a December morning and certainly not what a guy like Caniggia was used to!
“Caniggia, Ravanelli, Ketsbaia, all the top names that came into the club were brand new. They were great lads, they really were.
“It was a bit surreal training against these boys. I was a bit stand-offish because I had a reputation of being a little rash and I wasn’t going to smash Caniggia in training!
“He was just left to do his thing and you gave him the respect he deserves.
“He basically got to do whatever he wanted around the club. Nobody was going to tell Caniggia he couldn’t do something!
“We’d be at training and his five-year-old son would be up with us. We’d be doing a shooting exercise and running out of balls because Caniggia’s son had six at the side kicking them about!”
Wilkie also revealed Caniggia’s free reign didn’t stop there and the Argentine was known to enjoy a pre-match cigarette in the Dens Park dressing room.
He said: “We had the one cubicle in the changing-room and I used to like my pre-match toilet to just chill out and read the programme to get my mind ready for the game.
“I’d always have to wait on Caniggia coming out the toilet because he’d be in there smoking a rolly-up.
“He used to just come out with a wee smile on his face, shrug his shoulders and walk past you but that was just the kind of guy he was.
“The Italians and the Argentines were horrified the British boys would drink beer but they would smoke as if it was the healthiest thing going.
“They were really fit, though. Caniggia was probably the fittest guy I played with and fans could see that when he scored his first goal against Aberdeen and took his top off.
“He was so strong for his age and looked after himself really well.
“He was one of the biggest players in the world and it was amazing he was at Dundee.”
It was a crucial time in Wilkie’s career but bust-ups with the Bonettis led to him going on loan to Plymouth Argyle, Notts County and Falkirk.
But he found his way back to Dens, impressing then-Scotland manager Berti Vogts enough to get a call-up to the national team.
“It was difficult for me because I was young and fiery and they were exactly the same,” Wilkie said of clashing with the Bonettis.
“I had a couple of fall-outs with them that really came from nothing. It’s disappointing how it ended up because I really quite liked them.
“Dario really knew his stuff as a coach and, as an ex-defender, he used to take us away to do bits and pieces in training.
“I really enjoyed that. The two times I fell out with them were from silly little things in training that shouldn’t have happened.
“My loan moves then came from the fall-outs but I got called back from Falkirk because they’d fallen out with Marco De Marchi and Fan Zhiyi.
“When I was on loan at Notts County I’d pretty much given up. I was close to deciding I was done with football because I was fed up.
“I was in a bad place. I got injured down there in my first or second game, sat stuck in a hotel and I thought that was me done.
“I was only 20 so I was just a bit naive and immature I guess. Getting back to enjoying the game was about 75 per cent luck.
“I was playing for Falkirk, doing OK and enjoying it in a young team in the First Division with boys like Mark Kerr and Lee Miller.
“My head was still pretty much gone from the previous couple of months. But with the Bonnetis falling out with almost all the centre-halves at Dundee bar one, I was back in.
“I got on well with [former Dundee owner] Peter Marr and he liked me as a player so persuaded Ivano to bring me back.
“I went back and played about six games towards the end of that season and Berti showed up to watch me put in two man-of-the-match displays.
“Next minute I’m called up for Scotland.”