Gary Caldwell is a very well-known name in Scottish football – Having started out at Newcastle United, Caldwell went on to play for his country 55 times, playing club football for the likes of Hibernian, Wigan Athletic and Celtic. The centre-back is now a manager, although maybe not a highly popular one. NE98 looks back at his career on the pitch, and his fortunes in the dugout so far.
Gary Caldwell was clearly a promising young player, coming from the same family as another footballer – his older brother Steven. Playing for both Celtic Boys Club and Hutchison Vale – two famously impressive youth sides – the youngster caught the eye of English side Newcastle United.
Caldwell officially signed with the Premiership side in 1997. It would be exciting enough for a young lad from Scotland to be signed up by Newcastle nowadays, but back 22 years ago, it was an even bigger deal. Under Kevin Keegan the Geordie club were challenging for tiles – the season Caldwell joined saw United finish second. So this was quite obviously a big move and one that showed how talented the club felt Caldwell – and his elder brother – were.
Caldwell would never actually make a first team appearance for the Toon during his time there. Loans to Darlington, Hibernian, Derby and Coventry would however give him the chance to rack up 50 first team appearances by his 21st Birthday.
Unfortunately for Caldwell, his work out on those loans didn’t have the desired affect and Newcastle did not see enough in the centre-back’s performances to warrant giving him a new deal. Caldwell’s contract would be terminated at St James Park in the middle of the 03/04 season, allowing the player to sign a deal with Hibernian. This was a return to Easter Road for Caldwell, having made 11 appearances for Hibs in 2002, before further loans with Coventry and a shorter loan with Derby County.
Caldwell very quickly became popular at Easter Road, especially with his manager Tony Mowbray. This is why the following summer when speculation mounted that Caldwell might look to leave upon the expiry of his contract, Mowbray admitted to being desperate to keep the defender.
Mowbray told the BBC:
“”With the financial state of Scottish football, I don’t know what terms we could offer him as opposed to other clubs.”
Following a trial that summer with Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem, Caldwell would sign a short contract with Hibs that would allow him to play for the start of the season. This was shortly extended to a two year deal, which obviously delighted Mowbray.
“”I am delighted that he has agreed to sign the deal, I appreciate qualities he brings, he’s a good professional”
Hibernian would pip Aberdeen to third place and therefore a UEFA Cup First Round Qualifying place in Caldwell’s first full season at Easter Road. With 37 appearances in the 04/05 season Caldwell had become a firm part of Tony Mowbray’s plans.
Although, the short-termism of a two year contract was always a concern. Caldwell would enter the final year of his deal in the 05/06 season with no sign of signing any kind of extension. After a 0-0 draw at Easter Road against Dnipro in the UEFA Cup Qualifying campaign first leg, Hibs were thrashed 5-1 away.
That thrashing signaled a tougher time for the Edinburgh club. They would drop a place in the table to finish fourth in the 05/06 season, which was further frustrating as they watched city rivals Hearts surpass their finishing place a year earlier, finishing second and therefore gaining a Champions League Qualifying spot for the 06/07 season – while Hibs would not play in either of Europe’s top competitions, although they did qualify for the Intertoto Cup. While Hibs as a club had regressed slightly over the year, Caldwell was looking to progress.
Caldwell had been rumoured to be signing a pre-contract with Celtic in the summer, and Hibs fans did not react favourably to this. Caldwell was even booed after a mistake in a game against Aberdeen towards the end of the season, as Hibs stumbled towards a disappointing finish – picking up just eight points in their final ten games of the season.
In June the deal bringing Caldwell to Celtic Park on a free transfer was confirmed by his new manager Gordon Strachan.
“He’s coming here in the summer and there will be no deals done now.”
Strachan also gave his view on the increasingly common and much criticized method of free transfers:
“Players are not doing anything wrong in this new free contract system, and people will have to get used to it.”
Caldwell had moved to Celtic for the opportunity to win trophies and play to his full potential in Europe – across four years Caldwell certainly did this, although not without some struggles to get there.
Caldwell was used regularly in the first part of the season as Celtic strolled to the SPL title in 06/07 – finishing 12 points ahead of Rangers. Although injuries blighted the second half of the campaign for Caldwell.
This meant Caldwell would miss out on a Champions League last 16 tie with AC Milan, which was tightly contested with Celtic narrowly being knocked out in extra-time. As well as the centre-back missing league action from November, only returning for the final two games of the season.
Nonetheless, the league title was the first winners’ medal of Caldwell’s career and he didn’t need to wait long before adding another, coming on as a substitute as Celtic defeated Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup Final to do the double.
Having come under pressure at times for his performances at times in his first season – which the defender put down mostly to his injuries. Although the critics would only get louder the following year.
Celtic did reach the Champions’ League Group Stages after barely avoiding elimination at the hands of Russian side Spartak Moscow – going through on penalties. They’d then look more impressive in the group stages, progressing, however they were routinely dispatched by Barcelona in the round of 16.
Domestic action was however still a success for Celtic as a team, winning the title again, however this time it was a more tightly contested race, as Celtic finished just three points ahead of Rangers.
Caldwell’s critics, in his opinion, were mostly there as he admittedly had not performed well in an un-natural position of right-back.
While Celtic as a team did not succeed as well as they previously had in the 08/09 season, Caldwell began to come into his own – as you’d expect as he’d entered his prime at 27 years old.
Caldwell did help his team to win the League Cup, but a disappointing Champions League campaign, as well as finishing four points behind Rangers, after two consecutive 0-0 draws against either Edinburgh side to end the season, meant a frustrating season overall.
Caldwell however was named player of the season. He told the BBC:
“It’s good to get some reward for your personal performances,”
“But football is a team game and there’s still a reward I want for the team at the end of the season. That would really cap my season off.”
Of course Caldwell was speaking of the league title, and while he believed playing consistently in his strongest position of central defence had been behind his top drawer individual performances, Caldwell would still have been down to not add more honours to the team’s trophy cabinet.
The 09/10 season was Caldwell’s last and least successful season at Celtic Park – He would leave in January having been eliminated in Champions League qualifying by Arsenal and subsequently finishing third in a Europa League group containing Hapoel Tel Aviv, Rapid Vienna and Hamburg. Celtic did not go on to win any trophies that season under their new manager Tony Mowbray.
It may have been expected that Mowbray, who loved having Caldwell at Hibernian, would have relished working with him at his new club. However, Mowbray backed the club in a contractual dispute that lead to the Scotland international’s exit.
Caldwell’s contract had been running down and he felt the club were “Kidding themselves” if they believed he’d accept the offer they made. Caldwell might have felt he’d get the support of Mowbray, who you could have assumed would be desperate to keep Caldwell – similarly to how he was desperate to keep him at Easter Road.
Caldwell, who was then the vice-captain, was apparently after a fairly modest wage in comparison to his team-mates, nonetheless, Mowbray was unwilling to ask the board to up their offer.
Mowbray told the Guardian:
“I am happy to deal with whatever scenario finishes really,” said the manager. “I’m not going to go to the club and say ‘you have got to give the player this much money’. This is modern-day football, there is the equation of business against football.”
“I need to make sure in a couple of transfer windows that my squad is deeper, stronger, full of good players. If Gary Caldwell is a part of that, so be it. If he is not a part of it, we’ll have somebody that is. There will have been an offer made to Gary and he either takes it or he doesn’t take it.”
Former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan had recently taken charge at English Championship side Middlesbrough, and as is well known, was basically attempting to turn the club into Celtic – bringing Barry Robson, Willo Flood and Chris Killen to the Riverside. Scott McDonald, Lee Miller, Stephen and Kris Boyd would later join them – and an offer was accepted for Caldwell.
However, Caldwell would go on to receive an offer from Wigan Athletic – they were playing in the Premier League at the time – and obviously the chance to move to the higher league was one that couldn’t be turned down.
At 27, Caldwell being in the prime of his career, it was a decent opportunity for the defender to make his mark in the Premier League.
Caldwell told Wigan’s website:
“To play in the Premier League has always been an ambition of mine but I know how tough it’s going to be to get in the side”
Caldwell contributed to Wigan finishing in 16th place that season – despite being sent off twice – six points clear of the relegation places. However, with just 36 points, Wigan would have been well aware that on other occasions with stronger teams below them, they could easy have met the drop. This was of course a bit of forewarning for the side managed by Roberto Martinez.
Having been the vice-captain at Celtic, Caldwell was awarded a captaincy for the first time in his career in the 10/11 season, following the departure of Mario Melchiot.
If you needed more convincing that Wigan were potentially lucky to escape the drop the season before, in 10/11 Athletic finished once again in 16th, this time six more points. Wigan’s points tally from the previous season would have seen them relegated, finishing second bottom.
Caldwell would end up playing 24 times in the Premier League that season, once again showing that he could be part of a crucial of a defence – although only three other teams conceded more goals in the league that season than Caldwell’s Wigan.
Improvement was shown again the following season – this time Caldwell played in all but two Premier League games – with Wigan jumping a position, with the aid of an additional point, in the next campaign. Although the defensive line led by Caldwell actually conceded one goal more than they had the previous season.
The following season would be Caldwell’s and Wigan’s at this time of writing, final Premiership campaign. Despite an FA Cup triumph – which Caldwell actually played no part in – Wigan dropped to 36 points, the same tally that saw them finish 16th three seasons earlier. Also conceding a joint league high of 73 goals. Caldwell played 25 times in the league in 12/13.
It was upon the relegation to the English Championship that Caldwell’s career began to slowly come to an end. The Scot missed the vast majority of the season before returning for Wigan’s FA Cup Semi-Final and Play-Off campaign. Caldwell really suffered from penalty agony in those games. Caldwell took the brave step of taking the first penalty in the FA Cup Semi-Final shoot out with Arsenal – missing it, leading to a loss for Athletic. He would then go on to concede a penalty against QPR in the Semi-Final of the Play-Offs – seeing Wigan’s promotions hopes ended.
An on-going hip injury that had plagued Caldwell’s previous season – and probably should have kept him out of the games he did play – would prevent him playing another game in his storied career. In February 2015 he announced his retirement from playing.
Caldwell said to the Express:
“That’s the end for me. I have been struggling for years and even training was becoming really painful.
I had the second operation on my left hip just under two years ago, and while it helped a little bit I was never the same again.
I played four games and that was it.
The first time I got the operation it was a success and it had a good effect.
“But the surgeon was honest with me when I went in the second time in the summer of 2013 and said that he wasn’t sure if it was going to help me.”
Caldwell called it a day on his playing career having played 280 club games, scoring ten times, and achieving 55 Scotland caps.
When Caldwell had signed a contract extension with Wigan in July of 2014, the writing was clearly on the wall – with youth team coaching responsibilities added into his role.
Wigan manager Uwe Rosler said:
“It’s part of Gary’s natural development that when he has no first team duties to fulfil, he will take an active role in coaching in the academy.”
With his retirement, Caldwell would move formally into a coaching role with Wigan, but it wouldn’t be long before he was thrown into the deep end.
Malky MacKay was sacked with the club sitting in the Championship relegation zone, with just five games to play. Despite being unable to save the club from relegation, Caldwell was trusted to continue in his role with the aim of returning the club to the Championship.
He repaid the club’s faith with an immediate return, via winning the league. This gained the former Celtic man the manager of the season award and things were looking very promising. However, he was sacked in October of the next season with the club once again sitting in the Championship relegation zone. This was considered by many to be a rather harsh decision.
At the beginning of 2017, Caldwell attempted to reignited his coaching career by taking the job at League One Chesterfield. This job was however, not nearly as successful as the one he did at Wigan. Caldwell could not prevent relegation to League Two. Once again he was given trust and faith by the board to continue on in the job and bring Chesterfield back to League One. He did not come close to this and was sacked in October of 2017 with Chesterfield underperforming in League Two – Caldwell was not popular among the club’s support.
It took a year for Gary Caldwell to find himself another job in football management – finally returning North of the border as he became the new manager of Partick Thistle in the Championship, as they struggled, following relegation, and had sacked Alan Archibald.
Up until this point, most Partick fans aren’t the biggest fans of Caldwell although things do seem to be on somewhat of the turn-around at the time of writing. As Partick manager he is currently averaging a tally of 1.07 points per game. That is generally a total that throughout a whole season will prevent a relegation – although keep in mind the club are attempting to recover from already being in trouble. In addition, the long-term goal for the club is a return to the Championship. Obviously that type of points average will not get that done.
This section was fairly full for Derek Riordan two weeks ago, it will be just as full for many other players we have planned to cover – for Caldwell it’s not quite as big.
The major controversy for Gary Caldwell in his time in football has come from his move to Celtic from Hibernian. This move continued a trend, which certainly didn’t slow down in the years proceedings, where the best players of none old firm clubs would inevitably end up at either Ibrox or Celtic Park.
Caldwell was of course well within his rights, as his contract ran down, to make the move to Celtic. Many supporters however could very well be understood in their feelings that Caldwell potentially used and abused Hibernian.
Hibs did offer the centre back the first opportunity of his career to consistently play first team senior football. Despite this, Caldwell never did sign a long-term contract which might have allowed the Easter Road club to build around him, but at the very least could have given them the opportunity to sell the international on for a fee – which it’s likely a club would have paid.
Gary Caldwell could be considered as a no-nonsense centre-back, putting defending first and simply performing as a leader on the pitch.
Caldwell’s goal tally quite obviously shows he wasn’t the biggest goal threat in the world – again, his main purpose was to defend his own goal.
While used at times in positions other than centre back, Caldwell was never really the same, nor confidence, playing away from the centre of defence.
Injuries severely plagued the conclusion of Caldwell’s career and even from his time at Celtic he may of at times been considered an injury prone player.
As manager, especially recently, Caldwell has come under a lot of fire for his way of doing things. Firstly, his decisions in the transfer market haven’t always been particularly popular. While some of the incomings in January were appreciated by Partick Thistle fans, they certainly were unhappy with what they believe has been the forcing out of club legend Chris Erskine.
The managers use of an S.A.S style training day has also come under fire. Players were put through army training, which included a staged abduction that the players were of course unaware of – one player even ran off.
Caldwell has also at times made some fairly bold statements in the media. Just over a year ago he applied for the vacant Scotland job, and then doing the rounds of the media claiming he would effective in the role.
He told the Scotsman:
“If I didn’t believe I could make an impact, I wouldn’t put myself forward.”
In addition to this, earlier this season when Neil Lennon was struck by a coin at Tynecastle, Caldwell offer his take that “I think he brings a lot of it on himself.” As you’d image, this wasn’t very well received.
We plan on having another ‘Remember Him?’ Career Retrospective in two weeks, here are some clues as to the player we are focusing on…
- Still playing in Scotland
- Has played for Hearts and Dundee United, as well as three other Scottish teams
- Was once caught speeding at over 120 miles per hour
Before that, over the next two weeks we will be taking a look at two hot topics in Scotland right now, Women’s Football and Referees.