Looking At Claudio Caniggia’s Time In Scotland With Rangers And Dundee

What did I know of Claudio Caniggia before he signed for Dundee in 2000?

Well my knowledge of the Argentine was firmly set in the early nineties.

I was obviously aware of his flowing locks, his pace, his dribbling ability, that he was close pals with Diego Maradona, had played in Italy and had failed a drugs test.

I remember seeing him playing at Atalanta and Roma on a few occasions and I remember his run against Cameroon in Italia 90‘ that saw him pretty much hacked to bits by those playing for The Indomitable Lions.

By the year 2000 Claudio had become a distant memory, who would only come back into my consciousness  during the football clip shows that would pop up every so often showing his run against Cameroon and it’s abrupt end.

Then in early October 2000, it was announced that the former World Cup star had signed for Dundee in the Scottish Premier League.

It was a time when under the ownership of the Marr brothers and the management of Ivano Bonetti, the Dens Park club were signing a vast array of talented foreign players including Fabian Caballero, Juan Sara, Javier Artero, Georgi Nemsadze and Zurab Khizanishvili.

They also had some interesting Scots in the squad too like Steven Tweed, Willie Falconer, Gavin Rae and Steven Milne. 

Dundee fans must’ve thought they were dreaming and they couldn’t believe that they could attract such technically gifted players to the Tayside, with Caniggia being the world renowned star. The signing of Caniggia was to Dundee what signing Paul Gascoigne was for Rangers fans back in 1996 or Celtic fans seeing Patrick Roberts back at their club this term, it was that exciting!

Unfortunately those dream days would eventually turn into a nightmare but the financial mess would happen after the famous Argentine had departed Dundee.

The Dee would finish sixth that season, a good start to the campaign couldn’t be sustained throughout the year. Although they did manage to break champions Celtic’s unbeaten home record and they also claimed all three points at Ibrox that same season with Claudio getting on the scoresheet on that occasion.

The above clip is Caniggia’s debut game for Dundee against Aberdeen. He came off the bench to grab a late goal as Dundee won 2-0. His goal was almost trademark Claudio as he kept it low and slipped it calmly beyond the Dons goalkeeper.

The striker also managed to score against derby rivals Dundee United as The Dee recorded an away win at Tannadice.

He may have been thirty-three when he entered the front door of Dens Park but you’d ever have known it had you just watched his playing style.

The veteran still had pace to burn, worked tirelessly hard, would gravitate to the wings and worked well within the team. He also still managed to get away from his markers and cooly finish chances.

During his years in Italy and Claudio turning up in Scotland, the forward’s career took a nomadic path. He struggled to stay anywhere beyond a year. The hitman also suffered from personal tragedy and was out the game for a year in the mid-nineties.

So when he arrived in the SPL, you did get the feeling that the thirty-three year old was looking to play as much football as possible, enjoy himself and use his time at Dens Park as a platform for one last hurrah at a bigger club.

He was one of those players that played with a big smile and an energy that was contagious!

In the end of the 2000-01 season Caniggia scored seven goals in twenty-one league appearances. He was also nominated for the Player’s Player of the Year, losing out to Celtic’s forty-nine goal hitman Henrik Larsson. 

His performances were enough to persuade Dick Advocaat that he was good enough to make the move to Rangers with a fee of around £600k – £800k being agreed. That’s a great fee for an ageing forward.

The Little General went out of his way to tell everyone that Caniggia’s performances for Dundee were a big factor in his move to Ibrox:

“Claudio has tremendous experience at the highest level and has shown, both against Rangers and other clubs this season, that he is still very sharp.”

In return Claudio was quick to thank everyone at Dundee for the support they had shown him since he arrived at the club:

“I am grateful to Dundee for giving me the chance to re-establish myself and I enjoyed my time with Dundee, where the fans were great. I am now looking forward to playing with a big club like Rangers and working with Dick Advocaat.

“I have heard how much atmosphere the Rangers fans create and look forward to some big games at Ibrox.”

Many scoffed at Rangers for signing a player in his declining years and stated the club now lacked money and ambition.

But Caniggia showed that he certainly still had ambition and that there was still life in his old legs.

Again I cannot emphasise enough just how fast the Argentine legend still was at thirty-four years of age. He left players almost half his age in his wake at times. He also had a strong work ethic and wanted to play as much as possible.

Claudio would stay in Govan for two years and they would be glory laden seasons too. The pacy attacker would score in two winning League Cup finals, including an opportunistic strike against Old Firm rivals Celtic at Hampden. In 2002, Rangers also won the Scottish Cup.

The Gers number seven also helped his club to win a historic treble in 2003, this time they added the SPL crown to their League Cup and Scottish Cup triumphs. He bagged a goal on the final day of the season and that gave the Light Blues the momentum needed to secure the league title!

Rangers fans always appreciate class and a player that has a desire to succeed in a Gers top. Caniggia was always an extremely smart forward, which helped him succeed in the Scottish top flight. He always seemed to know where the keeper was and would attract challenges from defenders before turning them or knocking the ball past them.

It’s funny to think of a Latin American superstar on these shores but Claudio seemed very humble. Taking his kids to local schools and shopping at a Lidl in Springburn.

The star’s influential performances for the Glasgow giants led to a recall for Argentina national team in February 2002. His recall was welcomed by then President of the Argentinian FA Julio Grondona:

“Caniggia is a top-quality player who deserves this opportunity,”

Argentine boss Marcelo Bielsa kept Caniggia in his squad for the 2002 World Cup. In truthfulness Claudio wasn’t fit enough for the major tournament and Argentina flopped that year. While the thirty-five year old didn’t feature on the park, he was sent off from the bench in the final group game against Sweden.

In the summer of 2003, after helping The Gers to the treble, Caniggia was released. The player was clearly gutted and he felt he had been misled about a contract extension that would have seen him feature in the Champions League for the first time:

“I remember very well him telling me if we won the league he should have enough power to extend my stay for one more year.

“I have done everything in my career except play in the Champions League.

“Alex McLeish has destroyed my last dream in football.”

While he deserved a better send off in Scotland, it was probably for the best that he departed that year. He wasn’t going to get the minutes he needed and it was clear Alex McLeish wanted to freshen up his squad.

When all was said and done, Claudio Caniggia turned up in the SPL and was supposed to be a washed up former superstar. It was thought that he only arrived for the paycheque. But the Argentine became a fan favourite at both Dundee and Rangers. He scored goals, worked his socks off and was still an intelligent striker who could lose his marker with a bit of pace or with a neat faint.

The Scottish game was all the better seeing the veteran forward strutting his stuff in grounds up and down the country!

One Response to “Looking At Claudio Caniggia’s Time In Scotland With Rangers And Dundee”

  1. Claudio DID play in the Champions League with Benfica in 1994-95. He scored three goals as well.

    Great article, thanks! You captured him very well. I loved him dearly ever since Italia90 and followed his career as closely as I could in a pre-internet world during the early to mid 90s. I’ll always have a soft spot for him in my heart =)

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