THE accent down the phone remains far more Cumnock than Connecticut, even if it changes for the television.

“I get dog’s abuse for not speaking in my Cumnock voice on television,” says former Celtic and Scotland man Craig Burley, who for the past five years has been a forthright football pundit for ESPN in the United States.“Do they honestly think I’m going to speak in my old accent to an American audience?”

Burley hasn’t changed much. He is still someone who does not care what anyone thinks about him. He says what he thinks, which for some is too much.

“I now piss off Americans when I used to piss off Scottish people,” he says.

Celtic supporters to this day don’t quite know what to make of their former player, who has never been scared to put the boot into his old employers. They conveniently forget he was among their best performers in the 1998/99 season when 10-in-a-row was stopped.

Perhaps his problem is that it went downhill while the ticker tape was still falling on the field. Manager Wim Jansen had more or less already quit and Dr Jo Venglos was appointed – 10 years too late.

“The thing is, my memory is terrible” – perhaps not what you want to hear when you want to take someone a walk down a certain lane.

It was 20 years ago this week since Scottish football first took a winter break. Burley was a Celtic player and, though they were the reigning champions, they were hardy a club without worries, especially as Rangers were spending money – although that came back to haunt them – and Celtic were not.

This was a crisis. Today, there are Celtic supporters of a certain age who believe the club to be, if not in crisis, then not far away from one. History and common sense would suggest this is ridiculous given the context.

Let’s go back 20 years. It began well enough. At least for the newspaper men, of which I was a rookie, who were forced to spend more than a week in the exclusive resort of Puerto Banus in search of a story at a time when if an hour went passed and a back page hadn’t come out of Celtic Park then you would check to see if the club was still alive.

Mark Viduka had signed a few months earlier and immediately disappeared back to Melbourne. By January, he had yet to play a game and it was unclear whether he would, but he was expected to turn up in Spain.

However, while the Australian, a genial if rather bizarre individual, and his agent wanted to fly to the south of Spain, Celtic owner Fergus McCann told him that was a no.

“Big Mark was a superb player,” recalled Burley. “We played against Croatia Zagreb. He was their striker, and Alan Stubbs got his nose broken twice by him. We said afterwards ‘we have got to sign that guy’ because he had everything. A serious footballer, if something of a character.

“What I remember is you press guys waiting at the airport for him, we all came through arrivals and said: ‘Sorry lads, but he’s not here.’

“When he went missing the first time, we all had this vision of wee Fergus standing on his own at Zagreb airport, holding up a piece of cardboard with ‘has anyone see Mark Viduka?’ written on it. We couldn’t stop laughing at that vision.”

Celtic back then was not a tight ship. It was more a grand old boat with more leaks than a colander.

“The club then was in a slump,” say Burley, the frustration in his voice still there. “After Wim Jansen left, which was a huge disappointment after such a great season, we heard Bobby Robson’s name being mentioned, Guus Hiddink as well, and then when Dr Jo Venglos came in, and I mean this with due respect, the whole thing just didn’t feel right.

“There wasn’t a lot of control at that point. The Viduka thing summed it up.

“I’m not saying it was a lads’ holiday, but it wasn’t far away. Let’s put it this way, we were a very sociable group and had a good couple of nights. I always remember big Gouldy [Jonathan Gould] sleeping in and missing training. Next thing you know he’s running to catch us with his goalie gloves and boots on.”

Burley neglects to mention whether Gould had anything else on. The mind boggles.

“We were champions. We had a great team, but the World Cup had a big impact on us,” the now 47-year-old says. “There were maybe seven of us with Scotland, Marc Rieper and Morten Wieghorst were with Denmark, and we dropped like flies.

“I missed lots of that season. I didn’t even train during that winter break and I was hardly alone.

“Also, and this isn’t great to say, there was a lack of respect concerning the manager. We as a group did push the envelope too far. I’ve got to admit that.

“I’m pretty sure Brendan Rodgers won’t let the boys away with what we did in Spain.”

Burley covers the English game for ESPN but keeps an eye on Scottish football. If Rodgers decides to move on then this son of Ayrshire believes one of his own, a former team-mate at Chelsea, would be ideal to manage his old club.

“The story of 2018 for me is what Steve Clarke has done with Kilmarnock,” Burley says. “Clarkey is surely the leading candidate if Brendan left any time soon. He comes across as dour but he has a dry sense of humour. And he can cut you.

“When we were at Chelsea, we were playing I think Sheffield Wednesday and I had an absolute stinker. I mean, a right shocker.

“I’ve got my head in my hands in the dressing room and I spy Clarkey coming over to me, and I’m think he’s going to pat my back and tell me not to worry and that it was one of those days.

“Instead he says, ‘son, you were terrible. Go home, take two Paracetamols, shut the door behind you and close the curtains. Don’t come out for two days.”

Burley is pleased to see there is a league race at last.

“We won the title on the last day of the season and that’s the best way to do it,” he says. “That win, against St Johnstone, was a fantastic day – when it was over.

“Celtic should still win it but there are others, and I include Kilmarnock, who will fancy themselves.”