A few days ago, Graeme Murty was contentedly continuing with preparations for last night’s Under-20s game with Liverpool, amused by the thought of standing on the touchline next to Steven Gerrard.
He never did get the chance to go toe-to-toe with Gerrard, his opposite number at Liverpool. Instead he has been charged with leading a wounded Rangers side against Hearts at a rugby stadium in Edinburgh this afternoon.
It is just the latest chapter in the surreal, head-over-heels life of Murty, whose reputation was enhanced during a similar caretaker spell in charge in spring. He even managed to go viral when he was photographed doing a headstand on the touchline against Dundee at Dens Park, one of six games he oversaw.
It says everything about the state of Rangers that he has been asked to step into the breach again by the end of the same year. The circumstances are slightly different this time – and, he claims, more challenging. Murty, by his own admission, knows far less about the current squad melded together at considerable expense by Pedro Caixinha, who was sacked on Thursday morning after just 231 days in charge.
“There are players I haven’t actually worked with in the group, so I’ll be trying to get about them more than I had to last time,” he said yesterday.
“The last time I had more of a relationship with them, so it’s my job now to get them to understand me so that they can give their best.”
Murty’s first task is to mend a divided dressing room. “It’s important that the players feel together,” he said. He aims to deal with recent unhelpful quarrels, where players such as Kenny Miller and Lee Wallace have been told to stay away from first-team games. “When we have the opportunity to address that particular issue, the players will be welcome and will be included,” he said.
Miller was even sent to play for the Under-20s, where Murty had no complaints about his application.
“It was easy for me because I said to the players, watch this guy’s attitude when he trains and plays,” said Murty. The veteran striker has now been restored to the first-team squad after a month in exile.
“If the players know anything from [yesterday’s] training session, it’s that I want their input,” added Murty. “They have to have a voice within the training session, within the dressing room, within the match prep. They have to have a voice because it is about them.”
Such has been the extent of his own responsibilities Murty has barely had time to check the first-team’s progress, or lack of it. Rangers’ Under-20s programme has changed after being granted a year’s sabbatical from the development league to play sides from elsewhere, hence last night’s clash with Liverpool.
“I was ready to go and give a team-talk to a team that was going to play Liverpool at Ibrox,” he said. “I was, potentially, going to be standing on the sideline with Steven Gerrard.
“Now I have a different challenge and that is the reality. It is now just something that I have to go and deal with and someone else has that other opportunity.”
It’s strange how rugby always seems to feature in situations when Murty suddenly comes to the fore. He was watching Glasgow Warriors play at Scotstoun when he was asked to take interim charge after Mark Warburton’s departure in February. Now he has been handed the task of preparing Rangers to play at BT Murrayfield in this afternoon’s televised clash against Hearts.
“I’ve never been there before,” he said. “I’ve seen some footage of it. The technical area looks [so big] I’ll need to have a drinks station half way down it!
“Other than that, the pitch is going to be the same so the players have to go and deal with the atmosphere. I’m in no doubt it’s going to be good as we’ve sold loads of tickets.
“The fans are travelling in their thousands so we need to make sure when the players walk on to the pitch they give them a right good performance.”
It isn’t a case of Murty welcoming a situation where Caixinha has been axed, providing him with the opportunity to impress once more. They got on well. However, Murty didn’t rule himself out of the running to replace the Portuguese.
“When I catch a breath I’ll let you know,” he said.
He was genuinely saddened by Caixinha’s swift downfall.
“I saw him every day and talked with him every day about football, his beliefs, his concepts and how he saw the game,” said Murty.
“For us, as an academy, he was fantastic because he integrated players with the first-team every day. Jamie Barjonas, Ross McCrorie, Ryan Hardie. Those guys saw the first team train or were in with the first-team training all the time.
“It was really good for us actually for him to let the guys experience that. He was very inclusive in that manner.
“I saw him yesterday as he left,” he added. “He wished me and the staff all the best as I did to him and his staff.
“It’s sad that he’s gone because no one likes to see anyone lose their job. But the realities of football are this team needs to go and play a game tomorrow.
“Personal feelings almost have to go to the side to make sure you go and prep properly.”