WITH the dysfunctional long since having become the norm when it comes to all things Rangers, it perhaps makes little sense to try to compare Ally McCoist’s current situation as manager to anything which has gone before.
But if football’s history can be relied upon to form a view of how the coming weeks and months are likely to pan out on the pitch for McCoist and the Ibrox club if he remains in the job, it is difficult to avoid a gloomy prognosis from Rangers’ perspective.
With yesterday’s meeting between the club’s power-brokers and McCoist having failed to progress his position beyond the 12-month notice period he triggered by tendering his resignation at the end of last week, the fallen Glasgow giants effectively have a lame duck manager.
As Scotland boss Gordon Strachan pointed out earlier this week, that is rarely a satisfying experience for any of the parties concerned.
Strachan encountered it during his last season in charge of Southampton, the 2003-04 campaign, when his decision to hand in his notice became public knowledge sooner than intended. The negative effect on the performance levels of the players under his command forced Strachan to leave the club in February 2004, before the end of the season.
No matter how well disposed players may be towards a manager, the knowledge that the clock is ticking on his time in charge appears to have an instinctively detrimental effect.
Having struggled to get the best out of his squad who have won just two of their last six games to fall nine points behind Championship leaders Hearts and slump out of the Petrofac Training Cup in humiliating fashion, McCoist now faces the prospect of seeking instant improvements from them after voluntarily placing a sell-by date on his tenure.
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While the circumstances surrounding McCoist’s position are very different to those of any of his predecessors at Ibrox, staying on after the decision to leave has been announced previously proved fateful for his mentor Walter Smith.
It was in October 1997 that Rangers declared Smith would be stepping down at the end of the season. The campaign duly ended in dismay and disappointment for Smith and the club as they missed out on what would have been a record-breaking tenth consecutive league title and also lost the Scottish Cup final against Hearts.
Sir David Murray, it seemed, had failed to heed the lessons of his own decisiveness six years earlier. On that occasion, when Graeme Souness declared he would be leaving Ibrox to become Liverpool manager in April 1991, Murray declined his request to stay in charge until the end of the season. Instead, Smith was promoted from the assistant’s position and was able to stabilise the team on the pitch in time to hold off a strong Aberdeen challenge and win the title on the final day of the campaign.
Whether subconsciously or otherwise, footballers do not tend to respond consistently and positively to a manager on borrowed time. Even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that his decision to announce his retirement in 2002, which he subsequently reversed, deprived his players of a crucial edge in performance levels and mentality as they lost out to a double-winning Arsenal side that season.
The first evidence of the Rangers players’ response to McCoist’s resignation, albeit before it had been officially confirmed, was hardly encouraging for him as they lost 2-0 to Queen of the South in Dumfries last Friday night.
Irrespective of any political machinations or off-field manoeuvrings involved in his stand-off with the Rangers’ board, the performances and results of his team have been sufficient to persuade increasing numbers of the club’s support that McCoist’s time is up as manager.
If he is to improbably salvage his position on a longer-term basis and reclaim the belief of those who doubt his managerial abilities, McCoist will need to immediately oversee a run of victories, starting with Saturday’s league meeting at Ibrox against bottom-of-the-table Livingston.
That is followed by a trip to face Hibs at Easter Road on 27 December, while a home clash with leaders Hearts also looms large on 16 January. For McCoist to credibly re-ignite Rangers’ challenge for the title and automatic promotion to the top flight, those are fixtures which simply must be won.
There are those who would contend that McCoist’s suitability or otherwise as manager is the least of Rangers’ problems, given the ongoing financial crisis at the club currently being addressed by Mike Ashley’s lieutenant Derek Llambias and which in itself has prevented the board from advocating the pay-off required to terminate his employment immediately.
But the combination of weary disenchantment among Rangers fans over the way their club is being run from the boardroom and exasperated disaffection with the manner of the team’s play under McCoist has led to attendances at Ibrox slumping dramatically since the start of the season.
As it stands, McCoist is scheduled to take his place in the technical area at Ibrox on Saturday and then return to the stadium on Monday to share a top table at the club’s annual general meeting with the men to whom he tendered his resignation. For both manager and board, you have to suspect it is a situation which cannot possibly end well.
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