MAYBE it isn't too early to judge Paul le Guen at Rangers. In any other environment, assessment probably would be reserved after only 10 league games and three months. But not in the Old Firm arena - something that the Frenchman fails to grasp. His unwillingness to bend to the peculiar demands of his Ibrox position could be in the process of breaking him.
Yesterday's defeat at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and the circumstances surrounding it, could prove defining for the supposed brave new dawn that Le Guen was alleged to be ushering in. The inability of his Rangers team to win football matches makes this season indistinguishable from the previous campaign under Alex McLeish that was supposed to be a one-off, never to be repeated. Except McLeish's team had more points on the board by this juncture of the season.
There is no precedent in recent times for an Old Firm manager coming good on the back of winning only four of their first ten league encounters. Le Guen's record across his first ten league games is the worst opening to a season by a new manager at an Old Firm club since John Greig's team won only two, drew six and lost two of their opening ten games in 1978-79. Moreover, no Old Firm team has ever overturned a ten-point deficit, the gap that now separates the ancient adversaries.
Le Guen had one player in indisputably good form this last month and that was Allan McGregor. Yesterday the Rangers manager dropped the Scot in favour of Lionel Letizi, only for the French keeper to spill the shot that allowed Graham Bayne to pounce and score the decider. Le Guen's 1.8m signing from Austria Vienna, Filip Sebo, never looked capable of demonstrating the same alertness at the other end.
Le Guen's rag-bag mix of poor recruits from this summer and equally indifferent signings from the previous close season made for a grimly impotent team. Predictably, members of the Ibrox crowd turned on the French goalkeeper, but boos when he first touched the ball gave way to applause as the faithful divided. Solitary shouts of abuse at Le Guen were also audible. "Our start is not very good so we must get results," the Rangers manager offered in wonderfully understated fashion yesterday.
Le Guen would then have no truck with the suggestion that he could have placed too much pressure on Letizi through defying supporters and media in favouring him over McGregor. "No, no no." He offered the same response when asked whether he regretted selecting Letizi.
He was then asked if he hoped the fans would be respectful of Letizi in future games. "As for me, I am respectful for the fans. Some of them come many kilometres. I am respectful for them. I repeat I do my job, I try my best but this situation is a little bit strange."
The Rangers manager conceded that his side "lacked inspiration". It is frightening to compare the paucity of matchwinners at Rangers compared with the Celtic ranks and a Hearts side who will move seven points clear of the Ibrox men if they triumph in today's Edinburgh derby. Le Guen bemoaned the fact that his men "passed and passed and passed the ball" yesterday. They are only taking their lead from a training ground style that appears increasingly at odds with the approach required to win matches in Scotland.
Rangers youth player Steven Lennon said last week that the biggest change to training under Le Guen is that tackling has been outlawed as the Frenchman sees this as an impediment to the club's youngsters refining their technique. Without tackling, Tony Mowbray said recently, Scottish football would be nothing. If Le Guen is still to wise up to this fact four months on, then there must be genuine concern as to whether he will ever come to grip with the game in this country. Time is ebbing fast for him on that score.