No More (Cult) Heroes: Didier Agathe

At the tail end of the 99-00 season a friend of mine invited me to Love Street to watch St. Mirren win the First Division. All they had to do was beat Raith Rovers. Celtic weren’t due to play Dundee United until the next day (the day Dalglish picked all the young lads) so I thought, why not? At least I’d get to applaud a team winning the league. 

The Buds duly thumped a few goals past the hapless Fifers and lifted the trophy. On the wing that day for Raith was a forlorn looking character. He had a decent touch and was certainly fast but seemed to lack something in spirit. He seemed pretty disengaged from the game. 

That was my first sighting of Didier Agathe, and curiously St. Mirren were to feature quite heavily in his fortunes over the next twelve months; he made his debut for Celtic against them, scored against them and of course we clinched the league against them. 

After his time with Raith was up, Hibs signed him on a loan deal. They played him through the middle and he made a sensational start to the following season, scoring a couple of goals as Hibs made the early running in the league (they were top until Celtic beat them 3:0 in September). But somehow Hibs never got round to finalising a full time deal. 

Enter stage left Celtic. Martin O’Neill and the boardroom movers and shakers managed to secure Agathe for the frankly ridiculous fee of £35,000, barely enough to by a single end in Easter Road. 

The Hibs fans were livid -this was to have been their new hero and here he was wandering off for a pittance at a time when transfer fees were at their peak. 

He signed for the Hoops on the same day as Alan Thompson, but that was the last we saw of him for a while. Whereas Thompson went straight into the first team, Didier went straight into the reserves not to emerge for a few months. When he did appear, at Celtic Park against St. Mirren, he wasn’t up front as he had been at Hibs. He was on the right wing; better yet, he was tearing it up. 

As always there was just one thing missing; his final ball was somewhat ‘unpredictable’, but the number of times he was getting through to the byeline ensured that he could come up with the goods often enough. 

His introduction really kicked the season on. With Agathe on the right and Petta on the left we had potent threats on both wings and we made it tell. The high point of these early stages was a 6:1 win over Hearts at Celtic Park, notable not only for the fact that Celtic went a goal down, but also for the sight of Agathe giving former Hun Gordan Petric a 5 yard start in a chase for the ball and still easing past him to set up number six. 

That early promise was followed by a seriously bad debut against Rangers at Ibrox (he never even threatened to get past Numan) and a fraught return to Easter Road to fight out a 0:0. But these were blips in an otherwise inexorable rise. 

His first goal for the club was the stuff of legend. It was at Dens Park the night Neil Lennon made his debut for Celtic. After the defeat at Ibrox Rangers had started to look dangerous again and we couldn’t let the gap between the two teams decrease. Therefore nerves were being shredded during this particularly tense game. With the score standing at 1:1 in the dying seconds of the match a corner was swung in. The ball bobbled to the back post and Agathe headed it over the line. All over Scotland people either cheered for all they were worth or suffered that horrible sensation of a lump of cement falling into your stomach when you know you’re beat. That goal proved that team’s fighting abilities. They weren’t going to give up the league. 

Agathe’s other notable goal that season was the only strike at Pittodrie during the run in. After the league was won we still had the cup final to look forward to. Of course fate decided it would be against Hibs. 

A fortnight prior to that we went to Easter Road on league business, winning 5:2, but Agathe – still an object of hate at Easter Road – foolishly allowed the crowd to get to him and he was sent off for two bookable offences. 

Revenge was taken in the final, though. With 30 minutes gone and the game bogged down in the midfield Agathe went on a run through the heart of the Hibs side, finally releasing McNamara to open the scoring in an eventual 3:0 win. 

From loan player at Hibs to first pick for Celtic – it had been quite a season. 

The next looked like being just as productive. He got a goal in Amsterdam to help the team into the group stages of the Champions League, he tore Juve to pieces at Celtic Park and his league form was as good as ever, playing a major part in Celtic running away with the league again. But in November, on the eve of a tough UEFA Cup tie against Valencia Agathe’s season came to a sudden halt. 

Celtic were playing Hearts at Tynecastle, a tough game at the best of times. The game was approaching half time still tied at 0:0 when Agathe made his way into the box with the ball. He was kicked hard on the top of the right knee, went down immediately and didn’t move. On Radio Scotland Gordon Smith announced that Agathe hadn’t even been fouled and wasn’t it a disgrace that Celtic got a penalty. Agathe didn’t play again that season.

The loss of such a player undoubtedly contributed to the rather flat second half of the season and without his cutting edge we narrowly lost to Valencia. It also contributed to our inability to beat Rangers four times out of five after his injury (gifting them two trophies in the process and starting the ludicrously short-lived ‘Eck has a hoodoo over O’Neill’ theory). I would argue that the loss of Agathe, and to an extent Valgaeren, cost us a second consecutive treble. 

When he returned he was still the fastest player in the league, but he had lost some of his zip. Still, he was a crucial part of team that won the double, although MON was now deploying him more as a right back than a right winger. In fact his ability to get up and down the park coupled with excellent tackling meant that he was probably our best right back since the heyday of Danny McGrain. 

Season 2004-05 he was plagued by injury, spending long periods of time out of the team, but his importance to MON can be gauged by the fact that when the big games came along he tended to risk Agathe (witness the 2:1 win over Rangers in the Cup – he played most of the game but re-strained his injury and was out for a longer period). This undoubtedly contributed to his obvious lack of fitness at the end of the season. 

The arrival of WGS in the summer put everyone’s place up for grabs, especially the players who had blown it at Fir Park the previous May. Agathe’s cause wasn’t helped by another injury sustained before any pre-season games, thus allowing Irvine and subsequently Telfer to get his foot in. 

Almost every Celtic supporter would have played Agathe in preference to Telfer. Most were puzzled by his exclusion from the team, but the answer to that can probably be found on the training ground; Telfer was a dedicated trainer, the kind that’s first to turn up and last to leave. Agathe, by contrast, was a regular recipient of the yellow bib, reserved for those who perform worst at training. The story that he had refused to do afternoon training sessions when requested to do so on the ground that, ‘I know my own body’, wouldn’t have helped either. 

Agathe on a good day was as effective a wide man as you could hope to see, although a good number of supporters simply didn’t like him, feeling frustrated that he would sometimes appear reluctant to cross the halfway line. Others were constantly urging him to hit the byeline, often starting to shout this advice when the player was deep in his own half just after a lung-bursting foray up the pitch. More still felt that he simply couldn’t cross a ball. The last one was certainly unfair – his crossing was poor when he arrived, but when you consider deliveries such as the first goal in Seville, or Petrov’s goal at Ibrox it’s obvious that this area of his game improved considerably during his time at CP. 

And so the man whom MON once valued at £15m walked out of the door for free in January 2006, with the media eager to see him sign for an EPL team, thus generating a cheap headline about Celtic allowing a million pound asset to simply walk away. But for whatever reason no deal was struck; Arsenal were mentioned (although that was more than likely just kite flying by the player’s agent) and he did seem on the verge of a deal with Bolton before that collapsed due to personal terms. After trials with a few high profile clubs he briefly rejoined Martin O’Neill at Aston Villa. He made only 5 appearances before being released and eventually returning to La Reunion.

Didier found out that he’d never had it so good at Celtic, and that’s a well worn path. 


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