MILLENNIUM MANAGERS: New century saw Bonetti era start as Smith saved Dundee United

The 21st century is not yet 20-years-old but, between them in that time, Tannadice Street rivals Dundee and Dundee United have managed to work their way through 23 managers.

Dens Park and Tannadice.

That astonishing turnover rate tells you one thing – the past nineteen-and-a-half years at Dens Park and Tannadice have been turbulent.

We know that because, with very few exceptions, clubs change managers so frequently for one reason and one reason alone – because of a lack of success on the park.

In the case of the Tangerines and Dark Blues, that failure to get the desired results has often coincided with off-field problems as well.

The first two decades of the millennium have seen Dundee plunge into administration twice and, in effect, there has been no fewer than five changes when it comes to the men running the club from the boardroom.


Read more from our Millennium Managers series here 


At United, there have also been five changes in the chairman’s seat and, if success has come in the shape of the 2010 Scottish Cup win, several near things in other finals and a string of healthy league finishes, there has also been relegation, financial crises and rebellion among the rank-and-file support.

With so much going on behind the scenes, it’s arguably not surprising many managers have struggled to assemble teams capable of sustaining success over a prolonged period.

Tonight, Tele Sport begins a five-part series on the city’s ‘Millennium Managers’ . . .

That Dundee changed manager in the summer of 2000 was a major surprise, given the job that club legend Jocky Scott had done over the previous two-and-a-bit years in charge.

Jocky Scott.

On a shoestring budget he’d completed the task started by John McCormack in the 1997/98 campaign by leading the Dark Blues back to the Premier League and, in the next two seasons, would guide them to fifth and seventh-place finishes despite limited resources.

Unhappy, however, with the style of football, owners Peter and Jimmy Marr decided on a change of direction and the one they chose could hardly have been more radical.

From nowhere, they appointed flamboyant Italian Ivano Bonetti as manager and his brother Dario as No 2.

Dundee manager Ivano Bonetti and his brother Dario, who was assistant at Dens.

Both had illustrious playing careers with a string of big clubs back home in Serie A, and Dario had even earned a couple of full Italian caps.

However, other than a brief and eventful spell in England with Grimsby Town for Ivano, neither were household names in this corner of Europe.

But their appointment excited fans, particularly as they set about signing a string of players from all over Europe and beyond.

What followed was two of the most colourful and exciting years in Dundee’s history that saw players like Claudio Caniggia, Fabian Caballero, Juan Sara and Temuri Ketsbaia arrive

Incidentally, popular Georgia international Georgi Nemsadze is not included in the list because he was actually fixed up by the Marrs in advance of Bonetti’s arrival.

There was also a brand of flowing football that wowed not just fans of their club but of others around the country.

Unfortunately, the final chapter of that spell would be financial disaster that saw Dundee plunge into administration with massive debts that almost led to the doors at Dens Park closing.

That would happen in November 2003, over a year after the Bonettis had headed home to Italy in acrimonious circumstances.

They left during the close season in 2002, though, for months prior to that, with Ivano spending more and more time back in Italy, a parting of the ways looked likely.

If, for most of their time at Dens things were on the up, over the road at Dundee United it was a struggle.

Early in the 2000/01 campaign, boss Paul Sturrock decided he needed a break from the game and resigned as manager.

With stability badly needed, chairman Jim McLean moved to appoint his long-time managerial rival Alex Smith as boss.

Alex Smith, right, installed Maurice Malpas as one of his coaches.

If most of his time in charge was spent battling on the park to keep United in the top flight, the veteran has probably never had the credit he deserved for the work he did to get the football side functioning like it should.

With events over the road at Dens overshadowing those at Tannadice for the first time in two decades, Smith faced a thankless task.

He was not helped by the fact he took charge as the support were becoming increasingly disgruntled with the board.

As the club’s only title-winning manager, Jim McLean would always have a special place in the hearts of Arabs but many felt his time as chairman should be coming to an end.

Eventually, he resigned after a violent altercation with BBC journalist John Barnes in October 2000.

There were others, most notably local businessman Eddie Thompson, who supporters felt were better equipped to lead their club and who were also willing to do so.

That meant Smith worked to a backdrop of fan protest, though it has to be said only rarely did that affect the atmosphere at games.

Going into the second-last match at St Johnstone, United were in real danger of being relegated and, when they fell two goals behind, scores elsewhere meant they were down if everything stayed the same.

Amid chaotic scenes at McDiarmid Park, United staged a remarkable fightback to win 3-2.

That secured safety with a game to spare but it was a close call for Smith and his team.

In the next edition of Millennium Managers – Eddie Thompson takes over at United but managers continue to come and go, while, over the road at Dens, Jim Duffy leads Dundee to the Scottish Cup Final but a major cloud was on the horizon.

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