Goodbye Walter, Hello Ally

6 Mar

As well as this blog, I also write some stuff on the game in Scotland for Just Football, an excellent site covering the game across the globe.  It’s well worth a look and features some fine writers…..and me.  This is a recent piece on the confirmation of Ally McCoist as Rangers manager. 

No matter how the SPL title race turns out, this season will be Walter Smith’s last in charge of Rangers.  The most successful manager in the history of the club, Smith’s second spell in charge was supposed to be a short-term appointment, to fill the gap left by Paul Le Guen after the Frenchman’s short, and disastrous, time at Ibrox.  However, with two successive League titles and an incredible run to the 2008 Uefa Cup final, it could be argued that Smith has achieved even more this time around. 

During the 1990’s, Smith delivered the last six of Rangers record-equalling nine straight league titles, but despite spending huge sums in the transfer market, failed to make an impression in the Champions League.  During his current reign, Smith’s ability to bring in new players has been hampered by Rangers current financial plight, with free transfers and loan signings more common than big-money buys.  Such restrictions make recent successes all the more remarkable and the new manager will have his work out.

Step forward Ally McCoist.  As expected, Smith’s assistant will step into the top job in time for the start of next season, the announcement coming in the wake of Rangers’ 3-0 hammering in the latest Old Firm clash.  Despite this being McCoist’s first managerial role, he is the right choice.

Those opposed to his appointment will point to McCoist’s lack of experience since he’s never been a manager in his own right, but such slights are lazy when considering the facts.  As number two to Smith with Scotland and Rangers, the former striker has been involved in European Championship qualifiers, Champions League matches, and of course, the run to that Uefa Cup final in Manchester.  Smith has also helped McCoist’s development as a coach by taking a step back and allowing his assistant to take charge of the first team for domestic cup ties.

Should the Rangers hierarchy have any concerns about appointing a supposed ‘rookie’ coach, they need only look across Glasgow at their great rivals.  Neil Lennon is in his first full season as Celtic boss and he has assembled a young side who are in contention for all three domestic trophies.  He is nearly nine years younger than McCoist, and has a great deal less coaching experience.  McCoist will also be able to rely on current Ibrox backroom colleagues Kenny McDowall and Ian Durrant, who will step up to assistant manager and first-team coach respectively.

Given that he spent 15 years at Ibrox as a player, he’s Rangers record goalscorer and only two players have made more appearances for the club, it’s fair to say that McCoist is something of a legend in the eyes of the fans.  His appointment will be a popular one and, rightly or wrongly, he will probably be granted a longer ‘honeymoon’ period than other managers would have been.  However, his popularity will mean little in the long-term should he fail to deliver silverware.

McCoist also has the temperament for the job – having grown up on the outskirts of Glasgow and being involved with one half of the Old Firm for nearly 20 years, he understands the hateful, often poisonous atmosphere that exists in one of football’s fiercest rivalries.  While some seem to struggle with life in the goldfish bowl (Le Guen and Tony Mowbray often looked like they would rather be somewhere else) McCoist thrives – laid-back, funny, outgoing and media friendly, there is little chance of him being overwhelmed by what he encounters as an Old Firm manager.

While neither Rangers nor McCoist would publicly admit it, there is one other crucial factor which works in his favour – he’s cheap.  He’s already on the payroll and he loves the club, meaning that he won’t ask the earth in terms of salary – McCoist also understands that there won’t be fortunes to spend on new players.  The alternatives for Rangers were to appoint someone who is out of work or pay compensation to another club for their manager.  Rangers are not in the best of shape financially so the latter would not have appealed to the club’s bankers, Lloyds TSB, who have a big say (too big?) in how the club is run.

If Rangers fans had been asked during the 1990’s which member of their all-conquering side was most likely to go on and manage the club, it’s unlikely that Ally McCoist would have topped many lists, with a natural leader like Richard Gough being a more obvious choice.  McCoist was seen as the joker in the pack and it was no surprise when he embarked on a media career (Question of Sport, match pundit etc) at the end of his playing days.

However, it’s McCoist who will replace Walter Smith.  Smith himself believes that his protege is ready and able to take on the challenge, and while there are no guarantees about how he will perform, McCoist deserves the chance to find out.

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