FLICK over photographs of Ally McCoist and you see how much the “journey” – an awful, overused term these days but in this case it seems apt – has taken out of him. A recurring recent image has the Rangers manager grim-faced, on the training-pitch, on his phone being told something to his disadvantage, no doubt – often in the middle of a spot of rotten Glasgow weather.
Contrast the drookit, downcast boss, the rain plastering what’s left of his hair to his head, with the pictures which will pop up out of sequence of Super Ally the player. In these he’s all bouncy and bouffant, teeth glinting and usually a trophy of some sort glinting too. Maybe it was coming down in stair-rods on those days as well, but with the bold McCoist’s smile so dominant you don’t notice.
Yesterday, the forecast for him wasn’t good. There were fears he’d be sacked as part of Mike Ashley’s intervention at Ibrox. But after a couple of phone calls – better ones this time – he was sufficiently reassured to put on a brave face and meet journalists, some of whom already had his obituary halfway written.
The press conference was to preview Rangers’ League Cup quarter-final against St Johnstone – an all-too-neat scenario for those of a necessarily vulture-ish tendency. McCoist’s football biog began with Saints; was it to finish on the eve of tonight’s tie against them? No, not quite. His job is safe – for now.
Whatever you think of McCoist’s reign at Rangers – and there are plenty who don’t think very much of it – the lead-up to those phone calls must have been stressful.
Even that will bring some scoffing. How stressful can it be, his detractors will claim, to know that when the axe falls he’ll be generously compensated?
McCoist knows that the man in the street knows what he was earning before his wage for attempting to get his beloved Rangers back into the big time was virtually cut in half. Even the man in the street’s faithful mutt knows it was £760,000, and the mutt is pretty sure that the compensation will be based on that hefty figure.
You could make a very good case for this kind of transparency, given the financial implosion Rangers suffered three years ago with the situation just as desperate now. You could also argue that such scrutiny, at any time for an Ibrox manager, comes with the territory, and McCoist is not a bewildered incomer like Paul Le Guen was. They are, after all, his beloved Rangers.
And he’s no fool. He’ll be aware the reprieve may be only temporary. But yesterday he didn’t request even a slight let-up in the negative comment concerning his position so that he be allowed to resume preparations for the cup-tie. You might say that’s Super Ally the super-realist. But, if you were feeling just a little bit charitable, you might give him some credit for that.
Right back at the beginning of the crisis, which seems longer than three years ago now, there were many who declared that, despite his lack of managerial experience, he was a good man for the job. He understood the club, they said, and would do the right things, with love and that boundless enthusiasm.
He said the right things in those early days. In 2012, on the 17th anniversary of Davie Cooper’s death, he confided there wasn’t a day that went by when he didn’t think of “Coops”, and how for the flying wingman, for Jock Wallace, Willie Waddell and the rest, the club simply had to get through “this low period” in its history.
That was before the plummet down the divisions, a new low. Then in 2013, with the first title won, he spoke about how trips to Elgin, Annan and Peterhead had changed his attitude to small clubs. They were all running their affairs far better than Rangers and he appreciated them more. For those who’ve always accused the Old Firm of not caring about the rest of Scottish football, of hardly knowing where it was based, this seemed like quite a moment.
In the first six months of mostly tumult, McCoist reckoned, he’d been through experiences that no other manager in the world could match. He hoped to learn from them. This is the key area for his critics. They will claim that he hasn’t, not sufficiently, and that as Rangers have rumbled through the leagues, he hasn’t developed as a manager in the way they’d have expected.
He’s been let down by his players, some of them among the best performers in the top flight before their big-money moves to Ibrox. Even then his accusers will insist it was the manager’s job to keep them motivated when playing in funny, faraway places. There has been criticism of the squad’s fitness levels. And disillusionment that a simple change in Hibernian’s formation – a switch to three at the back – could befuddle the team to the extent they slumped to a second home defeat in the Championship.
Then there have been the cups. Rangers have been vanquished by Falkirk, Forfar, Queen of the South and Raith Rovers, the latter in a final. Rangers were supposed to be the danger team in the cups for the top flight, offering up reminders of their old power. That’s simply not happened under McCoist. But, just when he maybe didn’t expect it, another chance presents itself tonight. The old cheesy smile may not be capable of driving away the storm clouds over Ibrox and you’d have to ask: what possibly can? Ally will take a win, though.