ON THE day he was appointed Rangers manager, 11 weeks ago today, Stuart McCall was quick to outline what he regarded as his nightmare scenario.
Having to face his former club Motherwell in the Scottish Premiership play-off final, he declared, “would make me sick, it really would”.
Football’s unending capacity to throw up such circumstances now finds McCall in exactly the situation he was so keen to avoid.
Over the course of 180 minutes – or perhaps 210 minutes and even a penalty shootout – McCall will strain every sinew in an effort to lead Rangers back to the top flight of Scottish football at the expense of a club where he enjoyed four remarkably successful years in charge.
Ahead of tonight’s first leg at Ibrox, McCall insists his desire for success with Rangers is in no way diluted by his continuing affection for Motherwell. But he admits it will definitely temper his reaction at Fir Park on Sunday should his current team emerge victorious from the tie.
“I won’t be celebrating, regardless of which way it goes,” said McCall. “I’m not even going to think about it. There certainly won’t be anything from my point of view.
I won’t be celebrating, regardless of which way it goesStuart McCall
“I don’t really want to talk about that just now, though, because it’s like tempting fate a little bit.
“In years gone by, during my time as a player at Rangers, we would always have a big function back at Ibrox after a cup final or big game – win, lose or draw. But I know there won’t be one in the aftermath of Sunday,” added McCall. “When you see players refusing to celebrate when they score against former clubs, I can relate to that 100 per cent.
“I’m quite a loyal person. I signed as a player for Sheffield United when I was 38 and went back to my first club Bradford City.
“We won 5-0 and Dean Windass ran the length of the pitch after scoring one of the goals – shirt off, big belly out. And he was a bit of a favourite at Bradford, too. We went back the next year and I had the worst game I’ve ever played. I think my boots were on the wrong way. We beat them 2-1 and I scored but there were no celebrations from me. I was embarrassed to score.
“I’ll only think about my Motherwell connection in the aftermath. I won’t think about it at all until after the game on Sunday.
“I’m fully focused on what I have to do here. Whatever the outcome on Sunday, I think that’s when it will hit me.
“It’s football and ever since I was a kid all I’ve ever wanted to do was win. That doesn’t change just because it’s Motherwell.
“I had nearly four fantastic years at that club and I can’t speak highly enough of the players I had there. The staff, the supporters, were all incredible.
“It’s a year since I came back down on the bus from Aberdeen having clinched second place in the Premiership. As a manager, that’s the best feeling I’ve had in the game.
“That will never go away, neither will the respect I have for the club — that will always be there.
“It doesn’t feel like my nightmare scenario at the moment because I can’t allow the occasion and the game to affect me like that. But I know it will feel like that after Sunday.”
Having seen his players show clear signs of fatigue in the second leg of their play-off semi-final against Hibs at Easter Road last Saturday, McCall has no doubts they will have a renewed sense of purpose tonight.
“We weren’t great against Hibs but we did what we had to do,” he reflected.
“It was a defensive shape we played because the lads were quite low in terms of energy with the schedule of games they had.
“But the rest days they have had since the weekend has brought the spring back into their step. They are energised and the break has helped enormously.
“I’m fully focused on what we have to do and I know the players are all excited by the prospect of running out to a full house at Ibrox.
“When we first came in, we gave the players two objectives. One was to make sure we were involved in the final game on 31 May, and the second was to make sure we finish the job.
“As a player you just wanted to win and play in front of the biggest crowds, that doesn’t change when you’re a coach.
“We had some great times at Motherwell but, no matter the success we had, the crowd was always going to be what it was.
“We had a loyal support. But ,after my first two games here, if you said we’d be running out to a full house on our final game I wouldn’t have thought that would happen. That’s why I’m really excited by the game.”
McCall led Motherwell to Ibrox on four occasions, losing three and drawing one with an aggregate of 11-0 in Rangers’ favour.
That sequence simply added to the Lanarkshire club’s woeful record at a venue where they have not won since 1997.
“I was at Rangers but I didn’t play that day,” added McCall.
“I was in the stand, recovering from an Achilles operation.
“People talk about how long it has been since Motherwell won at Ibrox but as much as you can question mentality, you also have to remember Rangers have had a lot of good teams and good players in that time.
“If you don’t get off to a good start at Ibrox, it can be intimidating. That’s what we are hoping for on Thursday night, to make it as intimidating as possible for Motherwell.”