IT may have been 20 years ago this week that John Barnes was unveiled as the Celtic manager, but mention of the Englishman still provokes an extreme reaction among supporters of the Parkhead club to this day.

The ambitious appointment of the Liverpool great, who was just 35 at the time and had never coached at any level before, ultimately proved ill-fated and culminated in that infamous Scottish Cup defeat at the hands of Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

The Glasgow giants have recovered and gone on enjoy considerable success, both domestically and in Europe, since. But the episode, the humiliating cup defeat in particular, remains painful for those fans who lived through it. Bring it up in conversation and invariably the topic is quickly changed.

Is, though, the man himself prepared to talk about his stint in the East End now? Has he recovered sufficiently from the bruising experience to revisit it? Has the passage of time given him a different perspective on his turbulent time in charge of one half of the Old Firm?

Barnes was back in Scotland yesterday to lend his backing to the first Fearnley International Open – a DHL Swing Against Cancer Golf Series event that raises funds for the CLAN Cancer Support – at Newmachar Golf Club just outside Aberdeen and seemed to be quite over it all.

“It was a great headline,” he grinned as he recalled the Supercaleygoballisticcelticareatrocious banner that The Sun ran above their match report on the 3-1 loss that Celtic suffered at the hands of their Highland opponents.

Barnes is only too happy to talk about his eight month stint at Celtic exactly two decades on and his take on what transpired makes for fascinating listening. He reveals that his sacking after that dire reverse came as no great surprise to him. In fact, he felt it was only a matter of time before his services were dispensed with from the moment he took over.

He was given considerable funds for spend and splashed £5.6 million on Rafael Scheidt, £5.5 million on Eyal Berkovic and £2 million on Stiliyan Petrov among others. Still, his side proved unable to compete for silverware with a star-studded Rangers side that comprised Stefan Klos, Arthur Numan and Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

The subsequent financial meltdown of the Ibrox club due to their extensive use of Employee Benefits Trusts – a tax avoidance scheme which they used between 2001 and 2010 to remunerate players they would not otherwise have been able to afford - has made their largesse around that time look foolish in the extreme.

But back in 1999 and 2000 the man in the Celtic dugout suffered because of that willingness to spend recklessly and operate at a considerable loss. Barnes recalls how his charges were unhappy because their Rangers counterparts were receiving far superior wages from the moment he arrived. He believes that ill-feeling made his task nigh on impossible.

The dressing room bust-up that took place at half-time in the Inverness match has since become part of Celtic folklore. Mark Viduka, the striker, allegedly threw his boots in a bin and refused to go out for the second-half. But Barnes insists the lack of togetherness among the players had been evident long before that.

“Rangers were going through a period of spending a lot of money they didn’t have,” he said. “I don’t know how people couldn’t have understood that when you had the best players from England coming up here and getting paid what they were getting paid. How were they doing that? They were winning so football fans didn’t care.

“When I came Rangers still had those players, such as Van Bronckhorst, who they were paying more. The clubs were still on a level playing field, I’m not talking about the players necessarily. But they were paying more money.

“This is life. I remember the problem we had. Eyal Berkovic came and then Henrik Larsson signed his contract. But a lot of the players were unhappy because all of the Rangers players were getting £20,000 per week. Our players weren’t.

“While I believe the players we had were similar, they had a bigger squad. The most important thing was harmony and togetherness. Liverpool players aren’t necessarily better than Manchester United or Chelsea players, but the harmony among the group and the fans means you can maximise the potential.

“The players, mainly because of financial reasons weren’t happy. That goes on to the pitch. That was the biggest difference. Since my time at Watford, I have known that if you have the harmony and everybody pulling in the same direction you have a chance.”

Barnes added: “I always felt if we had a chance if we kept our first XI fit. We beat Aberdeen 5-0 in our first game. We were only four points behind Rangers after 13 games. But the harmony wasn’t right. I knew if we went through a sticky patch that would be it.

“I had won Manager of the Month two weeks before the Inverness Caledonian Thistle game. All of a sudden I was sacked. But the whole season I didn’t feel trusted and I felt they were just waiting for something to happen.

“I use Jurgen Klopp as an example. In the first 18 months, his record wasn’t better than Brendan Rodgers’ record. But the harmony and belief meant they supported him and look what has come out of that. And Brendan has proven what a good manager he is. I thought Brendan was harshly treated at Liverpool.”

Barnes clearly feels he was unfairly dealt with by the Scottish media as well. He claimed that football reporters in this country are invariably biased towards either Celtic or Rangers and aleged they pursued their personal agendas in print during his time as manager at the former.

“I loved management and it was what I wanted to do,” he said. “It was a great opportunity and I really enjoyed the dynamic of being a head coach and working with the players.

“But I didn’t enjoy the political side of things. I didn’t enjoy the media side of things. When I look at the media now, I think they are slightly more respectful in terms of managers. I listen to when managers speak and when they do that is taken. Back then, there were more agendas.

“I’m sure in Scotland most of the media have a Celtic or a Rangers bias, but back then it was harsher in terms of being more forceful. Now, even if there is a Rangers or Celtic bias, as it is not a level playing field, I don’t think they are going to be too hard on Stevie (Gerrard) if they lose a game.

“Even the media in England has changed and they are much more respectful and supportive of managers. I loved it from a footballing perspective, the other side of things I didn’t. But I understood that was the way it was.”

Barnes has been pleased to see another Liverpool and England great, current Rangers manager, Steven Gerrard, make a move into management in Scotland, show early promise and survive his first season despite not winning a trophy. But he feels his task is considerably easier than his was.

“He has done as well as can be expected,” he said. “They were comfortably second. One of the things about Rangers is it will take time for them to get back to where they want to be, which is equal to Celtic. When I came to Glasgow, Celtic were equal to Rangers in that respect.

“I remember feeling sorry for Rangers managers as I didn’t feel they were given time and the expectations were too high. They have accepted they now have to make little steps to be closer to get back to where they were 10 to 15 years ago when they were equal. I’ve been very impressed with how Steven has conducted himself.”