EVEN the most fervent of Ally McCoist’s apologists might be persuaded to agree that the Rangers manager was the subject this week of the most ironic headline of this 13-year-old century.
“Football Is Keeping Me Sane – Ally” sat above an article that proved to be simply the latest in a seemingly endless series that has consistently reinforced the view that the job at Ibrox has long since disabled his capacity for rational thought.
This most recent rumination on the trials and tribulations of Scotland’s most aberrant football club focused on his worry that off-field shenanigans would interfere with his players’ effectiveness against part-time, semi-pro opponents in Scottish League 1. He opened with the baffling observation that “the boys have been terrific with the way they have gone about their business. It’s to their eternal credit that they are getting criticised for only winning 1-0 or 2-0. That’s how far they have come”.
But, more strikingly, McCoist’s crediting his players with a sensitivity to Rangers’ reputedly waning financial robustness confounds a truth with which managers and directors have been familiar almost since the introduction of professionalism to Scottish football in 1892.
It is that players basically could not give a hoot how a club is run, who is in charge (from boardroom to manager’s office) or the state of their economic affairs as long as their wages are in the bank on the due date every month. This is an eternal verity of which McCoist himself gained first-hand experience just days before, when his squad delivered a unanimous and unconditional rejection of the very suggestion of accepting a wage cut in order to reduce the crippling expenditure of a business on the slide.
Moreover, the manager adhered to his recently-acquired readiness to undermine and embarrass his own employers in public by declaring that, in rebuffing the overtures of chief executive Graham Wallace, the players had his full support. This followed his actions of just a few weeks earlier, when he handed the voting rights of his substantial tranche of shares in Rangers to a supporters’ club in advance of an annual meeting at which the sitting directors – that is, his own paymasters – faced a potentially troublesome election to remain in power.
Given McCoist’s almost relentless exhibitions of unfathomable outbursts, as a consequence of which he has been almost invariably exposed as guilty of unsound judgment (if not outright mischief-making), it is hardly surprising that he should be the most divisive figure at Ibrox.
His unparalleled success as a striker ensures an imperishable esteem in one area, while his eccentricities since succeeding Walter Smith as manager have raised serious concerns among many of the club’s followers over his suitability for the job. Some of his most ill-advised utterances and actions clearly sprang from an urge to play the populist card, but were so flimsily-based and hastily-executed that they backfired.
His notorious demand for the publication of the names of the members of the SFA judicial panel that reviewed Rangers’ case in the early days of administration and liquidation (“we want to know the names of these people, Rangers fans want to know the names of these people”) became deeply embarrassing when it was revealed that he knew their identities from the start.
His inflammatory language was widely thought to have been a factor when committee members were threatened by agitated Rangers fans. Similarly, when he demanded to know why Rangers had been fined over their financial irregularities, while Hearts and Dunfermline (comparable cases) were not, the SFA sighed and let it be known what McCoist already knew: Rangers were fined because they asked for a financial penalty to avoid the alternative.
But, on legal grounds, McCoist’s most prejudicial reaction to press probing was his denouncement of the torching of the garage that housed Rangers’ new £500,000 luxury coach, his unambiguous implication that the arson had been deliberately carried out by fans of a rival club. It was a speculation that was revealed by police investigators to be utterly without foundation.
McCoist, of course, is not the first football manager to have demonstrated a penchant for idiosyncratic behaviour. Players in the charge of the late Brian Clough, for instance, would testify that he was “daft as a brush”, but knew how to get results.
For anyone attempting to assess McCoist’s capabilities as a manger, however, there is the unavoidable impression of fickleness, a willingness seemingly to indulge in whimsy without a moment’s thought and, probably least promising of all, a consistent failure to apply proper appraisal and consideration to the most momentous issues to come within his scope.
This inability to recognise imperatives and take appropriate steps to accommodate them may prove to be most damaging to himself and his club in the area of manager/board relationships. Innumerable members of McCoist’s profession have discovered (or been advised of) an ancient maxim: the first thing any new manager should do is make the owner, chairman, chief executive or controller of the corporate purse his best friend.
The late Tommy Burns, an extraordinary man in every other way, failed lamentably to heed the counsel, even though his was whispered by none other than that giant of Celtic lore, Billy McNeill. The former captain and manager told Burns on his first day in the job that he should ensure a sound and productive relationship with Fergus McCann.
McNeill recognised that the old dictum was even more important in the case of McCann, since he was one of a new breed of boss, the owner/managing director, a hands-on executive who was looking after his own money. Inevitably, the collision of personalities was irretrievable and there could be only one winner. In such an event at Ibrox, it won’t be Ally McCoist ascending the podium.