English football legend Sir Bobby Robson correctly predicted that Russell Latapy would be a huge hit in Scotland, as revealed by former Easter Road boss Alex McLeish.
The ex-Hibs, Rangers and Scotland manager was speaking to Si Ferry on Open Goal as he reflected on the first time he became aware of the playmaker’s availability.
In particular, he recalled a friendly game where Latapy, on trial, played as if he were “floating” above the pitch.
This convinced the former Aberdeen and Scotland centre-back to sign the Trinidad and Tobago star. He would be a huge hit at Easter Road, helping the club to the First Division crowd and third place in the SPL. He would later go on to have a less-than-stellar spell with Rangers before starring for Falkirk over a six-year period.
McLeish said: “An agent phoned me and asked if I knew about Russell Latapy. I said I knew the name because he’d played in Portugal with Bobby Robson.
“So I phoned Sir Bobby. He said, ‘beautiful little player, he likes to have a bit of fun, but I think he’ll smash it in Scotland’.
“I asked Russell to play a trial game for us to make sure he had the legs. We played a friendly up at Brechin, I think it was. I was amazed he said yes. It was pelting with rain, certainly not the Caribbean weather he would have been used to.
“This wee guy plowed through the pitch like he was dancing above it. He was like he had a hoverboard above the grass. He was sensational.
“I was looking up into the stands to make sure there were no scouts watching. I was scared we were going to lose him in the 24 hours before the deal was done.”
Latapy had a bit of a reputation for enjoying the nightlife during his time at Hibs, which at times made him life difficult for his managers. Ultimately he would be sacked by the club after socialising with countryman Dwight Yorke, which went against club rules, and ended up with a drunk-driving charge.
McLeish, however, remembers a happier time when the two came to an agreement as he was ready to punish his midfield genius.
He added: “We were in Trinidad and Tobago. I think Rod [Petrie] saw it as a commercial trip. Russell was so excited to be back in his homeland.
"I told the players there was a curfew and they needed to be back by a certain time. Now, Russell probably wasn’t the only one who did break it, but he was the one who was caught.
“So I told him the next day that I’m going to fine him. He asked me to show a bit of leniency. Then I heard that Brian Lara is one of his best pals - and I like cricket. So I told him to bring Brian Lara in for lunch and I’ll let you away with it.”