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Football: Bobby weight-ed for his big chance; PART two of our exclusive serialisation of Different Class from Empire Publications. Priced pounds 10.99 it will be in good book stores this month.

JOCK STEIN will forever be remembered as Celtic's finest manager, inspiring a team filled with Scots to become kings of Europe in 1967.

That European Cup success plus a record-setting nine consecutive league titles in a row guaranteed him immortality but what he is not given credit for is his role in saving Bobby Murdoch's career at Celtic and turning him into one of Scotland's greatest midfielders.

The arrival of Stein at Parkhead on March 8, 1965 began an eight-year relationship peppered with arguments and laden with trophies before the manager sold Bobby to Middlesbrough.

In the final week of our serialisation of David Potter's biography of Bobby, Different Class, we recount how father figure Stein did everything to groom Murdoch into one of Europe's leading midfielders even sending him to a FAT FARM to win his constant battle with his weight.

However, his first masterstroke was to play the Hoops star in his best position.

Potter recalls: ``Murdoch had played in various attacking roles, including inside-left and right, but Stein suspected he might be a better wing-half, a powerful, aggressive ball winner who could pass better when kicking up the field rather than across it.

``Indeed, it was Bobby's passing that was his hallmark the inch-perfect delivery that finds a man and conserves his energy and compels the opposition to chase shadows.

``Neither for the first nor the last time Jock's judgment was as spot on as Bobby's passes would become.''

Within two months Stein's new-look side had claimed their first of many medals, beating his old club Dunfermline 3-2 in the Scottish Cup Final.

And so began the greatest period in Celtic's history, with Murdoch pulling the strings at the heart of what would become the legendary Lisbon Lions, feared and revered throughout Europe.

Italian managerial great Cesare Maldini, then assistant coach at AC Milan, singled out Murdoch for special praise after his side had knocked Celts out of the 1969 European Cup.

The book reveals: ``Maldini, who had won the European Cup for Milan as a player in 1963, singled out Murdoch.

``Stein smiled and replied `and what a player he would be in your match setup of one game a week' perhaps an indirect comment on Bobby's weight problem, a telling factor in his slow, yet still glorious, decline at Celtic.

Potter says: ``Season 1969/70 saw the first inkling of Murdoch with a real problem. Strenuous efforts had to be made to keep his weight down, not helped by his recurring ankle injury.

``Stein told him a great Celtic team needed a fit Bobby Murdoch so he was sent to Lief's Nature Cure Centre in Hertfordshire to lose weight and in a fortnight he shed a stone.

``By the time he returned to action in mid-October supporters could see a tremendous difference in this leaner, fitter Murdoch who had regained his appetite for the game.

``Without Stein he might well have emigrated to Australia or continued to play fitfully in the forward line of a team going nowhere rather than become a European superstar.''

By 1971 Murdoch's weight problems had returned and with his fitness deteriorating he fell out of the first-team picture. An operation on an ankle and a return to the health farm had battered his confidence but Stein publicly defended his 26 year-old midfield dynamo against criticism and he bounced back again for a spell.

However, it all came to an end in the early weeks of the 1973/74 season when the Hoops manager got a call from Boro's new boss Jack Charlton.

Potter says: ``He wanted to sound out his old friend about any good right-halves in Scotland to which Jock quickly replied: `I could give you Bobby Murdoch.' ``He of course did not want to leave Celtic or Glasgow but knew the time had come. The great Bobby Murdoch left Parkhead on September 17, 1973.

``Yet however distraught Bobby was at leaving the club he loved there was no public bitterness. Stein and he knew that just as Celtic had made Murdoch, so had Murdoch made Celtic.''

And Jock Stein had a hand in making BOTH great.

CAPTION(S):

SLIM CHANCE: Jock Stein's fitness regime saved Murdoch's career
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 5, 2003
Words:699
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