Look through the illustrious history of a club like Glasgow Celtic and you’ll find it littered with names that were considered, by their peers and those watching them, to be world class. Henrik Larsson, Paul McStay, Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch and Billy McNeill – just a few of the names that fall into that category.
For me, a lifelong Celt, they are names I’m almost as familiar with as I am the names of my own family. I can’t deny their ability – Henrik Larsson, for example, may become the greatest Celtic player I will see in my lifetime. His exploits both for Celtic and afterwards, where he is fondly remembered at both Barcelona and Manchester United, might never again be equalled, with the Scottish game currently in dire straits and not looking like improving any time soon.
And yet there’s another Celtic player who I would say is my favourite ever player to pull on the famous green and white hoops. A player, the mere typing of whom’s name in the title of this article brought a smile to my face. That man? None other than Mr Jorge Cadete.
Hailing from Pemba, Portuguese Mozambique, Cadete signed for the Bhoys in April of 1996, having scored an impressive 62 goals in 164 games for Sporting Club de Portugal. His brushes with silverware were few in the Portuguese capital, only securing one Portuguese Cup in his final season there but he had made his mark and ensured he was on the shortlists of a number of clubs throughout Europe by the time he made his move to Glasgow.
Celtic’s acquisition of Cadete was not without incident, however. They would go on to win a legal dispute that would end in then-chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, Jim Farry, being sacked after he was found guilty of gross misconduct in his role. An inquest into the signing of Cadete found that Farry had acted in a manner that had contributed to a significant delay in Celtic signing the player, resulting in him missing numerous important matches.
That would all soon be forgotten however, when Cadete made an explosive debut in front of a home crowd at Celtic Park in April of 1996. An emphatic 5-0 win saw Cadete, himself, immediately repay his new club for their efforts in signing with the final goal of the game. And with that, he became an instant hero to the Celtic faithful.
Cadete would go on to play only one full season in Scotland, scoring over 30 goals in around 40 appearances for the club. He wouldn’t win any silverware or individual accolades during that time, given what was a dominant Rangers side, led by Walter Smith, bulldozing all before them. Cadete’s season in Glasgow would co-incide with the season in which Rangers would win their 9th consecutive top-flight league title, equalling Celtic’s own achievement from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. And yet, despite his all-too-short stay and his relative lack of success in terms of trophies, I still remember Cadete as fondly, if not more so, than many other more successful equivalents. Why is that?
For me, the timing of his arrival at Celtic Park has a lot to do with it. He joined the club at the end of a season in which they only lost one match. Rangers were so dominant, however, that even a team as consistent and exciting as the one led by Celtic legend Tommy Burns couldn’t topple them. Nevertheless, Burns’ side was one of the most exciting in Celtic’s history and was really the team that I deem the reason for me really falling in love with Celtic. Along with Cadete, Pierre Van Hooijdonk and Paolo Di Canio played with a flair and dynamism not seen in decades in the east end of Glasgow. They were dubbed ‘The Three Amigos’, owing to their exotic and swash-buckling approach to games. The team, as a whole, was full of quality, be it from experienced heads like Tosh McKinlay and Paul McStay, or from young up-and-comers like Phil O’Donnell and Simon Donnelly.
More than that, however, this team and time period in the history of one of Europe’s great clubs represented a time of resurgence. Just hours from bankruptcy, Canadian businessman Fergus McCann had swooped in and purchased the club, giving them resources to manage their significant debts and putting a plan in place that would serve the club immeasurably in the years to come. Implementing investment in new training facilities, youth development and the stadium now renowned as one of the best in world football, McCann laid foundations which were ultimately responsible for the club’s first foray into the Champions League around a decade later. To say he is one of the most important figures in the club’s history would be a huge understatement.
But what does that have to do with Cadete? It’s simple. Cadete was an emblem, a symbol of the bright future the club had in front of them. Every time the net bulged thanks to his instinctive finishing ability, I swelled with pride. Every time he wheeled away, his trademark finger twirling in the air and his brown hair flowing behind, I and the rest of the Celtic faithful could taste the hope and optimism denied to us for years before by the previous owners. His stay in Glasgow may have been far too brief for most’s liking but there’s no doubt it brought more joy to fans than some have done in ten times as long at the club.
I’ll leave you with highlights found on YouTube of Cadete’s famous debut in green and white, 20 years ago this year. A debut that prompted commentator Gerry MacNee to utter those famous words,
“Here’s the new boy coming through……. JORGE CADETE SCORES FOR CELTIC!”