Many eyebrows were raised when Martin O’Neill signed Didier Agathe from Hibs in September 2000. Agathe had only played a handful of games for the Edinburgh club on a short term contract before he was brought to Celtic Park in a surprise move. He had made an impression as a lightning quick striker for Hibs but on his arrival at Celtic he was to be converted to become a very effective wide man. In his debut at home to Saint Mirren Agathe had gone on several lung bursting rounds down the right flank, to entertain the Celtic fans. At that time some fans took to referring to him as ‘Jairzinho’ after the legendary Brazil World Cup winning winger from 1970. O’Neill, not normally one to go overboard, had lavished praise on his new signing after this impressive debut.
Agathe quickly settled into playing the right wing-back berth in O’Neill’s favoured 3-5-2 formation. He became one of Celtic’s finest assets but in a team with such formidable characters as Larsson, Sutton, Lennon and Mjallby, Didier kept a very low profile in comparison. In December 2000 he scored a sensational goal at Love Street against Saint Mirren when he ran half the length of the park before scoring.
O’Neill quickly brought success to Celtic with a domestic treble in 2001 and the next step was to bring the Euro glory nights back to the club. Against Ajax in Amsterdam, Didier had delighted the Celtic fans with his quick burst down the wing and scored a magnificent goal when he again ran from deep after outpacing the Ajax defence. By now he was deemed as irreplaceable in the team and it was difficult to find anyone who could compete with him for speed when he was in full flow.
He was always a great asset in European games and had a sensational game in Stuttgart when Celtic were on the road to Seville. Celtic scored two quick goals in the away leg to kill the tie, both virtue of terrific runs by Agathe when he laid on goals for Chris Sutton and Alan Thompson on a plate. In the UEFA cup final against Porto in Seville he had another fine match and Porto were said to have feared his speed on the right flank.
In the 2003-04 season Martin O’Neill reverted to a 4-4-2 formation and Didier was now required to play as a more orthodox right-back. He was still a threat with his runs from deep and for a slightly built player he could compete physically, particularly with his slide tackles which were a speciality. In 2004 Celtic memorably defeated Barcelona over two legs and Didier Agathe was largely responsible for preventing the great Ronaldinho from inflicting any damage on the Celts over the two games.
After Martin O’Neill departed in 2005 Didier fell out of favour with the new manager, Gordon Strachan. For such a naturally fit player Agathe was said to dislike training and O’Neill was not concerned with this as long as the player performed on the pitch to a high standard. Strachan was more of a disciplinarian in that respect and soon brought Paul Telfer and Shunske Nakamura to Parkhead to form a partnership on Celtic’s right flank. He was now out of favour and not long after that he left the club by mutual consent, something that could never have been envisaged even a year before.
Didier Agathe was the quiet man in Martin O’Neill’s hugely successful Celtic team and will always be fondly remembered by the fans for giving the team a different dimension with those thrilling, entertaining runs down Celtic’s right wing.