FOR the best part of almost two decades, Kenny McDowall enjoyed the kind of relative anonymity afforded to few of those who ply their trade in the Old Firm goldfish bowl.
Going under the radar as a highly successful Celtic reserve team coach from 1997 to 2007 was followed by four years as the third man in Rangers’ senior management team behind Walter Smith and Ally McCoist. Even when promoted to assistant manager under McCoist in 2011, McDowall remained largely in the background.
That all changed just four weeks ago when the 51-year-old found himself catapulted on to centre stage at Rangers, handed the position of caretaker manager when McCoist was placed on gardening leave.
For McDowall, it has proved to be a tipping point. It was announced this week that he had tendered his resignation, triggering a 12-month notice period, although he revealed yesterday he actually handed in his notice on the eve of last Friday’s abandoned fixture against Hearts.
Speaking for the first time about his decision, McDowall admitted he has simply become worn down by the constant turmoil which has enveloped Rangers since they were purchased by Craig Whyte in 2011 and subsequently careered into financial meltdown and boardroom chaos.
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“To be quite frank, the last four years have been tough,” said McDowall. “That aside, I have been nearly 18 years working at the Old Firm now and it takes its toll on you.
“It was a really tough decision but I made it last Wednesday and the club received a letter on the Thursday. In terms of making the decision, after having discussions with my family I felt it was the right thing to do at this point in my career. When Ally was put on gardening leave last month and I was appointed as the caretaker manager, I was happy to do it. Assistant managers do it all the time – it’s nothing new.
“But once the dust settled a wee bit and I had time to think it through, this is what I have come up with. It’s maybe time I had a break. I’m not complaining because you can’t be involved in clubs like these and not have stress – it’s all part and parcel of the job.
“I was surprised to be appointed as caretaker manager. I’m not going to say I had my boots all polished and I was ready to step in. Of course it was a big task but I was probably as experienced as anybody out there, given what I have learned over my career.
“But it’s absolutely a daunting task. You have to get on with it. It’s a great opportunity and a massive honour for me to be the caretaker manager for the team I supported as a boy. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be leading the team out on a Saturday and that’s why it was such a difficult decision to resign.
“I saw Barry Ferguson quoted this week as saying it’s still an incredible job and who wouldn’t want to manage Rangers with all of the potential there is? I’m not any different, but unfortunately the circumstances at the club are what they are at the moment. The job is totally different from when I first came to the club eight years ago. The staff has been diluted. I’ve made my decision for myself and my family.”
It remains to be seen whether Rangers will place McDowall on gardening leave or allow him to continue in charge at least until the end of this season, as was their initial intention when he was named caretaker manager.
“That’s not for me to decide,” added McDowall. “I’m comfortable doing my job, it’s whether other people are comfortable with me doing it. I just told the club I’m happy to honour my contract for the next 12 months and then step aside. The board were a bit surprised. But I told (chief executive) Derek Llambias my reasons and he accepted them.
“I have had fantastic times here but I just feel I will do my 12 months then step aside, take a break and see where it takes me. I expect to be here for the next 12 months unless I’m told otherwise.”
With McDowall following McCoist in tendering his resignation, he admits it adds a further layer of uncertainty for the Rangers players which could affect their approach to forthcoming fixtures, including the League Cup semi-final against Celtic at Hampden next weekend. “I wouldn’t disagree with that,” said McDowall. “I absolutely hope the preparations for that game will be okay – but can I guarantee it? I’ve told the boys they have my respect and I expect it back. They’ve worked very hard this week and we look forward to the game at Cowdenbeath first of all.
“When the news came out that I’d resigned, I had to get the boys in the next morning and explain my situation.
“There are a lot of boys out of contract in the summer. I told them they have to look after their own futures.
“They have taken a lot knocks for the way they have played from day one when we got put down to the bottom league. We have won both divisions so far at a canter. It was difficult but the points don’t lie, it was a canter.
“So they have been knocked constantly. People talk about them being on high wages, but you see cup shocks all the time and we are playing cup finals every weekend. That’s what happens when you are a Rangers player I suppose but you still deserve a bit of credit as well.”