News of Rangers suspending striker Kenny Miller and club captain Lee Wallace following their alleged bust-up with caretaker manager Graeme Murty in the wake of the 4-0 Scottish Cup thrashing by Celtic had Stiliyan Petrov recalling the night anarchy reigned in the dressing room at Parkhead.
He was in his first season in Scotland after signing for Celtic from CSKA Sofia and was a reluctant spectator as civil war erupted at half-time during their Scottish Cup tie against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
With Inverness 2-1 ahead at the interval (they would go on to win by 3-1), striker Mark Viduka clashed with assistant manager Eric Black, almost coming to blows. The Australian threw his boots in a bin and refused to go out for the second half while rookie boss John Barnes, hopelessly out of his depth, had little to offer.
Petrov was provided with a crash course in how a football club – and dressing rooms – can unravel. Barnes was dismissed the day after super Caley went ballistic and Celtic were atrocious.
“When I played, we had strong characters [in the team], guys who didn’t like to lose,” said the Bulgarian. “The manager didn’t have to motivate us or tell us what we were doing wrong; we knew. But [in Martin O’Neill] we also had a manager who could control us and tell us when we were doing well or how to put something right. If you had a bad result every 30 games, that was fine. You had to accept [that criticism] and work out how you were going to bounce back.
“As for Kenny, you need someone to get up and tell people the truth, tell them what it’s all about. Do you know what? Some managers don’t like that these days.
“John Barnes didn’t recover and, if you want to be a good manager, you need to be able to do that. These days, it’s not about what kind of training sessions you put on, it’s how you control and lead your team. If you have a team who will play for you and trust you, you are almost there.”
The changing room can be an unforgiving environment when teams are struggling and, if performances plummet, harsh words and confrontations are unavoidable.
“It’s terrible when it gets to this stage and it’s hard to control,” said Petrov. “It’s a delicate situation. As a player and a human being, you say things that you might sometimes feel sorry about later. But then it’s a collective. You need to understand each other and accept that some people react in different ways.
“Someone is a bad loser, someone shows their emotion a different way. We had arguments. Some things were said that hurt me, some things I said hurt other players but you leave it behind. It’s about the bigger picture.”
Miller was an unused substitute at Hampden and, according to Petrov, that will only have increased his frustration, which was allegedly vented in Murty’s direction after the final whistle.
“I’m not surprised by Kenny’s reaction,” he said. “I’ve played against him and he’s the kind of man who doesn’t like to lose. It hurts a lot – and will hurt for years to come – and Kenny knows that.
“He’s been with Rangers through some tough times, so he knows how important it is for the club to get back on their feet. I don’t know what has happened behind closed doors; a lot of things go on and there are always two sides to a story.
“But I would keep guys like Kenny because they know how to lead and also to explain what Rangers is all about. Celtic have that with Scott Brown.” Indeed, Petrov argues that part of the problem with Rangers is that they do not have enough club legends working at the club and educating young players and new arrivals about the ethos of the club.
“You need guys like that,” he said. “When I was here, we had Tommy Burns – Mr Celtic. Every game, he would tell us how important it was, what it means to the fans, what they’ll do if we win or lose. Every single day.
“When you have that history right in front of you, you know what you are playing for. That’s a big problem for Rangers because, if you don’t know your history, then you won’t create a future. I believe that most of the Rangers players don’t really know what it means to play for the club. You can see that. If you have the pleasure to play for a club like Celtic or Rangers then you really need to understand what comes with it. If you don’t, you are in big trouble – and I think Rangers are in big trouble.”
l Stiliyan Petrov and John Hartson were speaking at the John Hartson Foundation annual golf day at Trump Turnberry. This event was for the Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity. The Hartson Foundation aims to raise £1million by 2020.