Stiliyan Petrov arrived at Celtic Park back in 1999 under former Liverpool legend John Barnes, and the Bulgarian admitted that life was hard at first due to ongoing dressing room cliques and fights that made things awkward for a 19-year-old in a foreign country to settle down. The ex-Hoops midfielder was speaking to FourFourTwo, and revealed that “internal issues” marred his initial spell at Parkhead that ultimately led to the departure of Barnes.
Although he went on to star in a very successful Celtic team afterwards, Stan recalled how those early days were very hard on him but that he managed to see it through and reap the rewards for sticking it out.
He said: “I couldn’t understand much of what was going on, due to the language barrier, but there was always fighting I could see little cliques and problems. He couldn’t control the powerful characters. It was John’s first job since retiring as a player, and a big one for him.
The former Bulgaria international also defended John Barnes, insisting that maybe the job just came too early for him in his managerial career and that Celtic consumed the novice boss. He said: “The team was winning, but we had many internal issues. The players weren’t giving everything for him. Sometimes a job can come a bit too early for someone, but that doesn’t mean they’re a bad manager.”
Better times were on the horizon however, as we all know the turn of the millennium heralded in a new era in Scottish football. The arrival of Northern Irishman, Martin O’Neill, from Leicester City, saw a complete reset at the club – much like the one we are presently seeing under Ange Postecoglou. O’Neill put demands on all of his players for success and Petrov revealed it was the character and unity which made that team so fearsome.
He said: “He was clear about what he wanted. He took the players he needed from the previous era – the ones with character, fire and quality – and built his own team. He brought in Alan Thompson, Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon, Bobo Balde, Joos Valgaeren – huge players for us. Martin knew how to build a team of warriors. We didn’t fear anyone; we played Barcelona, Lyon and Liverpool, and we weren’t scared. Teams feared us when they came to Celtic Park. We had such togetherness and we had winners, and we were hungry for success.”