HE DESERVES enormous credit for making the trip to Glasgow at all after playing for his Spanish side only 24 hours earlier, but Nacho Novo may well feel that he did himself more harm than good when turning out for Rangers Legends against Manchester United at Ibrox yesterday.
“I enjoyed it, but I would have enjoyed it more had I scored,” he conceded afterwards. The only currently “active” player on show until Marvin Andrews’ second-half appearance, Novo not only failed to score against a defence that included a pot-bellied David May, he was also guilty of missing several good chances. Perhaps he should have taken the advice of actor Christopher Walken, who once explained that he tended to decline party invitations, because he suspected he made a better impression when he wasn’t there.
In the same way, the memory of what Nacho Novo was once like as a player might have been more helpful to the striker yesterday than the reality, as he seeks to negotiate a return to Ibrox. His only hope is that manager Ally McCoist was too busy preening after his own typically opportunistic double to notice what proved an unhappy return for Novo – on the pitch at least. Off it, Novo lapped up the adulation that he can still rely on, despite having become an often bit-part player at Ibrox.
He was still in his grass-stained strip when he met with reporters an hour after the end of Rangers’ 4-1 victory, and much of his time since the final whistle had been spent signing autographs for supporters. Novo could yet be pulling on a Rangers shirt for real again, or at least this is what he dearly wants. His contract with present side Huesca is nearing an end, and a return “home” to Glasgow – and to Rangers – certainly appeals to Novo, who once, of course, said “no thanks” to Celtic, when the Parkhead tried to sign him from Dundee. Would he like to come back to Rangers? Oh yes, please.
As Novo explained, he has family as well as football ties to the city. His three-year-old son Javier and partner Donna have remained in Glasgow. If the manager wishes to re-sign him, Novo suggested he would not be hard to deal with. Currently playing in the second tier of Spanish football, he is more than willing to continue his career in the third tier of Scottish football, particularly if it means playing in front of more than 40,000 supporters every fortnight.
Even yesterday, a remarkable crowd of over 23,000 turned up at Ibrox. This number included Sir Alex Ferguson, who took a seat in the directors’ box for the occasion, which raised funds for the Rangers Charity Foundation and UNICEF.
“I like coming back,” said Novo, now 34. “The people here love football and I would always want to come back for a club like this whenever they do anything.”
Explaining his current situation, the player added: “At this moment in time I still have a contract with Huesca but it finishes at the end of the season, and I would not mind coming back here at all.
“I haven’t spoken to anybody about it but that will be the job of my agent. I think he will speak to Coisty and see what the situation is.” Novo is aware that the signing embargo currently in place at Rangers means that he would not be able to play until September, should he re-sign for the club. “I am still fit and I will keep fit, that doesn’t bother me,” he said.
“I would never say no to this team,” he added. “It is time now for some talking and we will see what happens.”
Admirable though Novo’s enthusiasm for the club is, Rangers might be better served by turning to Jorg Albertz if they want to convince a former legend to return. The German stepped back into the midfield and looked more than capable of handling the Scottish Second Division, where Rangers are due to play next season. He cancelled out Ronny Johnsen’s opening goal for Manchester United with a trademark zipper into the corner of Raimond van der Gouw’s net, and generally patrolled the midfield area like the Albertz of old.
And what can you say about McCoist? He played just over 40 minutes and scored twice, and truly did show Novo how it should be done. One of the manager’s goals was a sweetly hit free kick.
Indeed, it looked a little unfair on paper. Rangers were able to call upon the services of the fit-looking Brian Laudrup and Richard Gough, as well as Arthur Numan and Michael Mols. In contrast, this particular version of Manchester United Legends would surely have trouble satisfying the trade descriptions act.
Fine talent though he was, Peter Beardsley was barely a United player, never mind one who you would consider to be a legend. Further research confirmed he played a League Cup tie in 1982 for United against Bournemouth, between two spells at Vancouver Whitecaps. He was joined by the likes of Clayton Blackmore, Quinton Fortune and Henning Berg, while genuine Old Trafford great Bryan Robson was given a generous welcome when he appeared as a second-half substitute, as was Mickey Thomas, the arch-Scotland baiter.
Rather regrettably, Andy Goram was under-employed after Johnsen’s early opener, although he did roll back the years to give an impression of a flying pig when tipping away an effort by Dion Dublin. Alex Rae added a fourth in the dying minutes for Rangers.
“Easy”, sang the Rangers fans. Not for poor old Nacho, sadly. Man of the Match? Ally McCoist. ’Twas ever thus.