THE talk that has surrounded Mike Ashley effectively assuming control of Rangers with last week’s £2 million emergency loan has centred on the negative. The other day at Murray Park, Ally McCoist dared to consider possible benefits to the latest boardroom manoeuvrings.
In Lewis Macleod, Rangers have a 20-year-old who has taken on the seasoned mantle when it comes to engineering match-winning moments in crucial encounters – as he did with the smart headed goal that allowed Rangers to prevail against St Johnstone in the League Cup quarter-final on Tuesday. Macleod, of course, was the player that netted the clincher against Inverness Caledonian Thistle to secure his club that last eight tie in the first place.
There were reports that Rangers’ state of penury meant they were willing to consider bids for the midfielder on the final day of the summer transfer window. The further blossoming of Macleod in the months since could make the Ibrox club vulnerable come the January window. Except, McCoist would point out, that his club’s circumstances have changed.
Asked if there was the possibility of Macleod being sold then, McCoist said: “One would hope not. Time will tell. In the darker days of the last couple of years when the fans have been looking for something to grab hold of, Lewis Macleod is a shining star that we have all grabbed hold of.”
Time, and perhaps Ashley, will tell, the Rangers manager ventured. “Clubs might look at it the other way and look at the man that’s come in and think that we might not be financially vulnerable at all,” he said. “That would be great because we don’t want to lose our good players. Lewis is playing every week, enjoying his football and he is clearly developing and it goes without saying we want that to continue. I will be dictated to by the board and people who make decisions but certainly from a footballing point he is doing absolutely smashing and he is a key member of our squad.”
McCoist was willing to contemplate another potential upside to Ashley dictating Ibrox club policy while owning Newcastle United. When Vladimir Romanov essentially ran Hearts and Kaunas the player traffic between the clubs was like some sort of footballing rush hour.
The possibility that fringe players from St James’ Park could be farmed out to Rangers for experience, should the Ibrox club earn promotion to the top flight this season, certainly appealed to McCoist. All the more so after some of the Tyneside prospects helped their club oust Manchester City from the League Cup in midweek. Such a development has never been discussed by McCoist with anyone at Ibrox. The Rangers manager would “absolutely” like it to be.
“Listen, we’re in no position not to look at every avenue,” he said. “It depends on the financial situation. If we were allowed to go and buy players that would be ideal. But if we were not the next best thing would be looking at players you could potentially take on loan that would better your team and squad.”
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If Macleod is the symbol of the new Rangers, the club that emerged from the liquidation of the old Rangers two years ago, then the bridge between these two entities is undoubtedly Lee McCulloch. The 36-year-old is a man who knows what it is like to wear Rangers colours in a European final, in top-flight title-winning teams and in major cup triumphs.
McCoist does not downplay the importance of having such a grizzled figurehead as the Championship club made their way up from the Scottish fourth tier.
“He’s been fantastic,” he said. “Let’s be honest, in terms of leading us through on the park you could not have wished for anyone better. He’s run the dressing room, run our boys, he’s been a great leader for us in really tough times. I’d have hated to think if we didn’t have someone of his leadership qualities and playing qualities.”
Yet, the precarious nature of Rangers’ finances means that McCoist can’t know if McCulloch will be retained beyond the end of his present deal, which expires at the end of the season. The player is desperate to come full circle in Rangers’ colours, but under Ashley Rangers will have to square the circle when it comes to their wage bill.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to [talk to him about a contract extension],” McCoist said. “I hope to do that sooner rather than later.”
McCulloch is in no doubt he would be capable of playing in the top flight at 37, the age he will be before the start of what Rangers hope will be a first Premiership season come next August. He cites David Weir, who played in the Champions League for Rangers as a 40-year-old, as a role model.
“I hope moving back to central defence could help add a few years. This season I’ve played a couple of games in centre-midfield and felt I did well – I scored a couple of goals and got a couple of assists.
“I feel I could play anywhere but I’m quite enjoying it at the back. When you look at what David did, that’s some going. I’m well aware that when you get to over 30 people start asking questions about things like pace but I never had it. You look to look after your body and set an example for the younger ones.
“David looked after himself and obviously was a good player too. I think you need a bit of luck too.”
And a moneyman, which Ashley may, or may not, turn out to be.
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