OF COURSE, he is looking at it from a different perspective now.
However, Ally McCoist believes that if there has to be a winter break, then it should be something from which everyone can reap the benefits rather than just an exclusive band of teams.
The mild conditions yesterday provided an opportunity to discuss the merits or otherwise of the mini shut-down, which is restricted to clubs in the Scottish Premier League. According to McCoist, it simply serves to illustrate the schism in the Scottish game as he slipped back into the role of spokesman for the Scottish Football League clubs.
While the Rangers manager made it clear that he did not wish to make a great deal out of it, he did offer a waspish comment early in a pre-match discussion ahead of this afternoon’s Third Division clash with Elgin City, when the Ibrox side will look to win a 12th successive match. “That’s Scottish football [for you], some people get a rest and others don’t,” he said. “But we’ll just get on with playing.”
He knows his team might not be best served by a break now as they continue to build-up momentum. But, according to him, it is just another flaw in the Scottish football make-up, one that intensifies the impression of them and us at a time when the game is trying to heal itself and encourage conciliation. As long as there remain two separate governing league bodes, then this will continue to prove difficult.
McCoist pointed out that he isn’t against the shutdown per se. Indeed, he is delighted at the prospect of a game on the first weekend of the new year, particularly given the benign weather conditions. However, he is not happy that the break further underlines the “one-rule-for-us, one-rule-for-them” ethos that he believes is helping damage Scottish football.
“That is what I am against more than anything,” he said. “If we want to have a winter break then Scottish football should have a winter break. Once again, we find we’re not singing from the same hymn sheet. That’s what I find a little strange.
“That is the thing I don’t understand,” he continued. “There are all these different things going on and we don’t seem to be united. It’s not a massive problem and I am not throwing the toys out of the pram, but I just find it strange that again we don’t seem to be doing the same thing. Hopefully, if there is going to be reconstruction that can be a major one that is reconstructed before anything.”
All this said, McCoist is of a generation where January has normally been a football month, even given the SPL’s on-off relationship with the shutdown. The Rangers manager gazed out at the window at the green, soft turf and, with the relish of a manager whose side are 17 points clear at the top, looked forward to the arrival of Elgin City.
“I’m delighted we’re playing and, touch wood, the pitch will be in fantastic condition tomorrow,” he said. “It is one of the best parks and stadiums in the country. Listen, if you ask our team and ask the Elgin boys what they would rather be doing, without a doubt they would rather be kicking off at Ibrox tomorrow.”
Asked how on earth he aims to ensure that Rangers maintain the current intensity levels, McCoist pointed to the healthy number of young players and Murray Park graduates in the Ibrox side at present. They provide the “eagerness and keenness” while the older players, such as Lee McCulloch, continue to offer the benefit of their experience. The skipper was absent on Tuesday, when Rangers collected win number 11 of their recent run, although he should return today, along with Dean Shiels. For McCoist, the accent is firmly on youth. As many as ten of the 16 on duty for last weekend’s victory over Queen’s Park came through the club’s own academy. He hopes this blooding process can stand the club in good stead if they progress through the leagues as planned.
“If we can continue to keep the nucleus of youngsters we have, you’d have to say, for them at the age of 20 or 21 to have 80, 90, a hundred games [behind them] would be fantastic, and it would definitely benefit the kids and the club.”
McCoist is full of envy as well as admiration for these youngsters, who have been granted such a platform on which to start their careers. Every fortnight, they can count on playing in front of crowds of 40,000, something the manager, who started his career with St Johnstone, could not. “I remember speaking to wee Walshy [Tom Walsh], who got five minutes against Stirling Albion and he was absolutely electric after the game,” he said. “You tend to forget that that’s a 16-year-old kid going out and playing in front of 50,000. It’s as big as it gets.
“It will definitely benefit them being able to handle a situation when they are expected to win in front of a big, big crowd.”
McCoist is alert to the on-going need to strengthen, and is sounding out targets ahead of September, when Rangers’ transfer embargo is lifted. “We’ve got an endless list of players whose contracts are up at the end of the season,” he said. “We’re definitely looking now.” A former target, Ryan McGowan, has left Hearts to join Shandong Luneng in China, although it has been suggested that the lucrative deal is only until the end of this year.
“From all the reports, I’d have gone myself,” said McCoist. “I don’t know the exact ins and outs of his contract but Ryan is a player we would have liked to have brought here and he’d have been a good one for us. I don’t know how Ryan will do or what our situation will be [in the future]. But you’d have to say he was a player we were interested in so we’ll continue to monitor him and wish him all the best.”