Alex McLeish rejects 'lucky' accusation as he reflects on Rangers title triumph 20 years on - 'I never had a penny to spend at all my clubs'
Twenty years ago on Thursday, however, Arteta was a member of a Rangers team charged with piling up the goals against Dunfermline on the final day of the Scottish Premier League season at Ibrox. The second step of the treble they craved in Alex McLeish’s first full season as manager was in their sights.
McLeish has sometimes been branded a “lucky” manager. While he was indeed fortunate to inherit players of the calibre of Barry Ferguson, the manager identified Arteta, then playing on loan at Paris St-Germain from Barcelona, shortly after he arrived from Hibs to succeed Dick Advocaat in December 2001.
“He (Areta) was a No.6 for PSG and I thought ‘well, there’s no way he’s going to take Barry’s No.6 jersey so we will have to find another position for him’,” recalled McLeish. “He was the playmaker at PSG, he started everything. But Barry started a lot and finished a lot. He was just a one-off.”
The pair were instrumental on that last-day win against Jimmy Calderwood's Dunfermline. The League Cup was already sitting in the Ibrox trophy room. Rangers were level with Celtic on points and even goal difference going into that last afternoon, although they had scored one goal more.
Celtic managed a four-goal win at Kilmarnock, which was impressive considering they had to pick themselves up after their Uefa Cup final defeat against Porto in midweek.
Rangers, meanwhile, managed a five-goal win as they swept Dunfermline aside 6-1. Arteta’s late penalty meant things were slightly more cut and dried as play raged on in Ayrshire.
Emotional Celtic striker Chris Sutton memorably called into question Dunfermline’s professionalism in an interview shortly after Martin O’Neill’s side had come so agonisingly close.
“Mikel’s goal sealed it,” said McLeish, who attended a 20th anniversary dinner earlier this month. “It was a hurly burly 90 minutes. I kept hearing all the people behind me saying ‘Celtic have scored, Celtic have missed a penalty, Celtic have done this, Celtic have done that….’
“We had a plan from the beginning of the week that if we scored a goal we would run in the net, retrieve the ball and take it back to the centre. We knew it could all come down to goal difference.
“Sometimes you don’t think about that, you say ‘just win’. Our message that week was, ‘we’re going to win this but we have to score as many goals as we can.’ I know big Chris Sutton had his say but Celtic missed a penalty and a barrowload of chances. We were worthy of that title.”
A 1-0 Scottish Cup final win over Dundee sealed the treble. “I grew up a Rangers fan as a kid,” said McLeish. “I would never have believed I would be the manager and win three trophies in one season.
“Some people say ‘you’ve been a lucky manager’. Lucky? I’ve never had a penny to spend at all my clubs and, somehow, I have got quite a lot out of the players and man-managed the great team Dick left me.”