Ally McCoist - death by a thousand cups
THE ties against Motherwell and Forres Mechanics could make or break the season for Rangers and Ally McCoist.
The credibility afforded to Ally McCoist’s efforts in managing Rangers the football team feels like it could yet suffer death by a thousand cups. The penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of Queen of the South in the Ramsdens Cup quarter-final last week made for a fifth sorry flooring in a fifth consecutive knock-out competition across his season-and-a-bit in charge. Subsequently, the Ibrox manager has stressed the importance of his team picking themselves up when they meet Montrose at home in the Third Division this afternoon. However, it is what happens to them in the two other encounters that lie in wait over the next week that will determine whether McCoist remembers his 50th birthday week – he celebrates the half-century tomorrow – for more than candles being blown out. For the sake of his reputation, he simply can’t afford to have the club’s entire cup prospects for the season extinguished following the League Cup tie at home to Motherwell on Wednesday and the Scottish Cup confrontation at the home of Highland League champions Forres Mechanics three days later. Not with a record as manager across the Champions League, Europa League, Scottish Cup, League Cup and Challenge Cup that thus far reads more like a charge sheet.
McCoist cites “getting out of SFL3” as the key objective of the season. That is not what he will be judged upon. Irrespective of Rangers’ faltering form and failure to win on the road, they are guaranteed to claim the Third Division title by a comfortable margin. Charles Green’s incarnation of the Ibrox club is not operating with an annual £5 million player wage bill for that purpose. One justification made by McCoist himself for recruiting SPL standard players on salaries no Scottish club other than Celtic could afford was that he wanted Rangers to be competitive in cups, even if drawn at Tannadice and Pittodrie. However, now confronted by a tough home tie with high-flying Motherwell, McCoist isn’t willing to talk up his team’s chances.
“I don’t think there is any doubt we are underdogs,” he says. “I would defy anyone to say we weren’t underdogs. Without stating the obvious, we are playing a team who are arguably the best team in the country at the moment. The season has only just started but they are sitting top of the SPL, so that and where we are…
“I have tremendous respect, hopes and plans for this team. It will change in the coming years but we’ve signed some good youngsters and good SPL players. I have to be careful because I don’t want to sound as if I’m turning on my own team. I’m the opposite, I’m 100 per cent with them, but there has to be a realisation of where we are at the moment. We have to get out of the SFL3. We have a cup tie against a team at the top of the SPL. We aren’t in the SPL. We have lost £35m worth of players and we haven’t replaced them. And another way of looking at our wage bill is that it’s three-fifths down on what it was. I’m not saying we can’t beat Motherwell. Come on, of course we can, absolutely. I don’t want to sound defeatist, all I want is a realisation of where we are as a group of players.
“We have to be competitive against Motherwell, of course we have. But there is another side to it that isn’t an attempt to cop-out from any criticism, because I’ll take that, of course I’ll take that. The opposition can see us in a transitional period. I think we’d all probably agree this is the best time to play Rangers in their history. No matter who you are. Again, this isn’t a criticism of my team but there are only two or three boys who know what it is like to play for Rangers on a consistent basis. Scottish football is absolutely filled to the brim with people who couldn’t play for Rangers; couldn’t handle the responsibility of being a Rangers player, because it is a big responsibility. With the greatest respect to other clubs, you can get away with four wins, three draws and a defeat. But with Rangers it is every game and it takes a different type of person to be able to do that.”
McCoist was that sort as a Rangers player. He claimed a record nine League Cup winners’ medals, for example. Yet, with the greatest respect to him, it takes a different type of person again to be a success in management. And though in the supporters’ eyes he has been a brilliant unifier and evangeliser during an extraordinary time, in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, his cup wounds pre-date the demise of the old Rangers. Indeed, they were central to the club’s financial collapse. He cautions that Rangers aren’t the same team as five years, two years, or even five months ago. Yet, the side that missed out on millions in failing to win any of their four European qualifiers last summer, notably flunking out at home against Malmo and Maribor, was the Rangers of Nikica Jelavic, Allan McGregor, Steven Naismith, Steven Davis, Steven Whittaker et al. All those players were in situ when Falkirk inflicted another first-time flop in the League Cup last August. And when Dundee United dismantled McCoist’s men at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup fifth round come the February of a brutal campaign – a week before the club plunged into administration – it made for the first time since 1950-51 that Rangers hadn’t made at least the quarter-finals in either of the major domestic cups in the same season.
The hard times won’t always continue, McCoist says. His message to his players is “get the rhino skin on and just get on with it”. As much as that, what his Ibrox team need to do is to get on a cup run. Thus far, Rangers’ longest under the current manager is the eight weeks they lasted in the Ramsdens Cup. Next Saturday’s trip to Forres is, McCoist acknowledges, “a howler”. He had better hope it doesn’t end with the Rangers fans who travel to the Highlands caterwauling in the direction of his team. And him.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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