In the spring of 1997 Celtic were struggling to stop Rangers achieving nine consecutive league wins in a row. In March, Celtic manager, Tommy Burns, gambled in the transfer market to bring Roma’s experienced defender, Enrico Annoni, to Parkhead. The transfer was delayed for a period whilst the clubs disputed the fee but eventually the Italian was to make his way to Glasgow.
Volatile Italian, Paolo Di Canio, was already at Celtic Park at this time and he was said to be amused at Annoni joining him. Di Canio recalled being marked by the rugged Annoni in their clashes from Italian league football. Di Canio was a Lazio fan and with Annoni coming from Roma, the two became friends despite their previous footballing differences.
Annoni was a tough and uncompromising defender and he had revelled in the nickname ‘Tarzan’ in Serie A. He was brought to add some much needed steel to the Celtic backline which had faced criticism for some considerable time. Sadly, Celtic could not prevent Rangers getting the nine and Tommy Burns was sacked at the season’s end. Wim Jansen came in as the new manager and after looking over his new squad he bought centre half Marc Reiper from West Ham to play alongside Alan Stubbs at the back and ‘Rico’ fell out of favour for a short period.
In December Rico appeared as a substitute late in the game in the League Cup final against Dundee United with Celtic leading 3-0. The game was played at Ibrox and the stands were a sea of green and white when the trophy was presented with many Celtic supporters claiming that Ibrox had never looked better. Rico was at the centre of the post match celebrations on the field as happy Celtic players paraded the trophy.
With Celtic now desperate to stop the dreaded ‘ten’ Jansen deployed Annoni sparingly. In the vital new year Glasgow derby in January 1998, Rico was given the important job of marking Rangers’ main threat, Brian Laudrup. He was ready made for this role after performing it so often in Italian football and he completely marked Laudrup out of the game in Celtic’s 2-0 win. No one appreciated it at the time but that result was to be the springboard to Celtic’s success come May.
In March, Stephane Mahe received a serious injury which kept him out of Celtic’s last six league games. Rico was chosen to play in these remaining fixtures at left back, which was not his natural position but he did so with typical enthusiasm. His experience was vital during these difficult games as Celtic fought out a title battle with Rangers, none more so than on the last fateful day of the season when Celtic beat St Johnstone to win their first league title in ten years. Rico celebrated afterwards with the overjoyed Celtic supporters and is well remembered for wearing a bright green wig on his shaven head during the manic celebrations which were going on all around the new stadium.
Rico played one more season under the stewardship of Jo Venglos before moving back to Italy in 1999. He was a real character and the Celtic fans took them to their hearts with his tough tackling, aggressive style. He is also immortalised by the apocryphal cry from the stands – ‘Aw no, no’ Annoni oan annaw noo!’, a phrase which still greatly amuses Celtic fans to this day.
Enrico Annoni was only at Celtic for a relatively short period of time but he will always be fondly remembered by Celtic fans for playing a small but vital part in Celtic achieving their own precious one-in-a-row in 1998.