Neil Sargent looks at the change from tradition that ushered in a new era at Dens Park, bringing with it players like Nemsadze, Caniggia and Sara.
The summer of 2000 saw a revolution take place on Tayside.
In a bold move, Jocky Scott was replaced as manager by rookie Italian boss Ivano Bonetti and his brother Dario. While lacking experience in the dugout, both men came with hugely impressive CVs from their playing days. Ivano, who was to take over in a player-manager role, could count clubs like Juventus, Sampdoria, Torino and Crystal Palace among his former clubs, while Dario, his assistant, had played for AC Milan, Roma, Sampdoria and Juventus.
The club’s kit for the season featured dark blue shorts for only the second time in 20 years, replacing the traditional white shorts which had defined the kit for most of Dundee’s history. It was manufactured by US sportswear company Xara and sponsored by Ceramic Tile Warehouse.
The top was dark blue with white trim on the torso and sleeves, while the dark blue socks with white trim completed the set. The decision to go with blue shorts was a subtle change from convention but represented the mood that was sweeping Dens Park at the time. This was still the same Dundee as before, only somehow different.
Over the summer an overhaul of the playing squad took place. Out went stalwarts like James Grady and Eddie Annand and in came an array of foreign stars drawn from every corner of the footballing world. Italians Marco Di Marchi, Alessandro Romano and Marcello Marrocco were joined by Argentine strikers Fabian Caballero and Juan Sara and, in August, by defender Walter Del Rio.
Spanish midfielder Javier Artero and Georgian playmaker Georgi Nemsadze also arrived but the biggest signing of them all was to come in October when Argentine World Cup legend Claudio Caniggia shocked Scottish football by signing a one-year deal with the Dens Park club.
By the time Caniggia arrived on Tayside the team were already showing signs of the incredible football that they were capable of, but also an erraticism that would hamper their progress in the league. Stunning performances like a 3-0 derby win over Dundee United at Dens Park were tempered by disappointing results including a 5-1 defeat to Hibernian at Easter Road.
Nevertheless, the Bonetti brand of football was exciting, attacking, skilful and continental, and players like Nemsadze and Caballero were quickly becoming club legends.
Caniggia made his debut from the bench away to Aberdeen in October and scored a 90th-minute goal to clinch a 2-0 win. The following week he scored a sublime lob against Motherwell on his home debut but couldn’t help the team avoid a 2-1 defeat.
Over the course of the season more and more foreign talent arrived on Tayside. October saw the arrival of Argentine midfielder Beto Carranza and Italian goalkeeper Marco Roccati; Italian midfielder Marco Russo signed on in November; Georgian defender Zura Khizanishvili joined in March alongside Australian midfielder Mark Robertson, and Italian defender Mauro Vargiu joined up at the start of May.
But, for all that the Bonetti era is remembered for the foreign talent who graced our game, the Italian was admirably loyal to core of Scottish players who formed the backbone of his team and who progressed superbly under his leadership. Gavin Rae, Rab Douglas and Lee Wilkie would all go on to become Scotland internationals, while Bonetti’s captain, Barry Smith, made more than 400 appearances for the club before becoming the manager in 2010.
Thirty-four year old striker Willie Falconer made 17 appearances during the 2000-01 campaign while young striker Stevie Milne played 24 times, scoring four goals. Defender Steven Tweed was an almost ever present, appearing 38 times in all competitions, while other Scots to feature under Bonetti that season included Jamie Langfield, Shaun McSkimming and Hugh Robertson.
For all the talent on show, the team’s lack of consistency meant that ultimately they finished the season in sixth place in the table. The most memorable results, though, came in the Dundee derby matches against United. In September a Juan Sara hat-trick gave them a 3-0 win at Dens Park, then in November a stunning chipped goal from Georgi Nemsadze and another from Caniggia earned them a famous 2-0 victory at Tannadice.
The season also saw Dundee secure European football for the first time in 27 years when they successfully applied to take part in the now defunct UEFA Intertoto Cup, where they lost on aggregate to Serbian side FK Smederevo.