BACK on 22 February 2011, when Rangers formally confirmed Ally McCoist would replace his mentor Walter Smith as manager of the club at the end of that season, he expressed his delight in typically effusive fashion.
McCoist described his appointment as “an absolute dream and a privilege”. Almost four years on, it has instead proved to be a nightmare and a burden.
The strain of that burden finally told on McCoist yesterday when he tendered his resignation, leaving the latest configuration of directors in the ever-changing Ibrox boardroom to consider how best to handle the financial implications of his departure.
In assessing McCoist’s tenure, it is unreasonable to wholly separate any considered analysis of his managerial ability from the completely unprecedented circumstances amid which he was forced to carry out his duties.
When it comes to apportioning blame for the ongoing crisis at Rangers, he should certainly be a long way down the list of those identified as the biggest culprits. From the moment Sir David Murray signed the document which handed the club to Craig Whyte for £1 in May 2011, before McCoist had even taken charge of the team for the first time, his prospects of succeeding as manager had been holed below the waterline.
That said, many of Rangers’ performances under McCoist before the club was financially ransacked by Whyte merited criticism. There was a horrendous European campaign, knocked out of both the Champions League and Europa League by Malmö and Maribor, and a League Cup elimination at the first hurdle against Falkirk.
Despite forging a 15-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League at one stage, albeit having played two games more than Celtic at the time, Rangers were overhauled at the summit by Neil Lennon’s team before the turn of the year. Even then, when he was just six months in the job, many Rangers supporters were already seriously questioning McCoist’s suitability as a manager.
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But the parameters within which he could be judged were reset dramatically in February 2012 when Whyte placed Rangers into administration, triggering the extraordinary chain of events which have convulsed the club and continue to unravel to this day.From the moment McCoist drove out of the Murray Park training ground, wound down his car window and uttered the words “We don’t do walking away”, his position at the club changed irrevocably.
No longer was he simply the team manager. Suddenly, he was the public face of Rangers’ desperate battle to survive. He was a rallying point for supporters in need of someone they could trust to fight for their interests. This was no longer a privilege for McCoist. It was an onerous duty, one which his deep-rooted love for Rangers left him committed to carrying out.
It meant his focus could never be trained solely on the team under his command. Instead, McCoist was constantly involved in meetings with administrators, the football authorities and would-be purchasers of the club.
Consecutive title wins in the fourth and third tiers of Scottish football were achieved with ease but little panache. Criticism of Rangers’ style of play under McCoist was constant, with further embarrassments in cup competitions adding considerable validity to those who maintained he simply was not up to the task.
This season, as Rangers have fallen well behind Hearts in the Championship and also suffered another humiliation in the Challenge Cup when losing 3-2 to Alloa after leading 2-0, the condemnation of McCoist from his increasing number of detractors has reached fever pitch.
It is certainly not difficult to form the view that, like John Greig, the man who signed him for Rangers back in 1983, McCoist falls into the category of truly great players who turn out to be poor managers.
That, however, must remain a matter of opinion. What is a matter of fact is that McCoist was not afforded the kind of stable environment and level playing field which any manager might reasonably expect in order to prove himself.
Instead, he had to deal with a bewildering turnover of chairmen, chief executives and financial directors as Rangers lurched chaotically from one calamity to the next off the field. McCoist’s strength of character allowed him to cope with Charles Green & Co, but his resilience has its limits.
It appears the latest developments at the club, with cost-cutting measures being imposed by Mike Ashley’s lieutenant Derek Llambias resulting in long-serving non-football staff members losing their job, prompted the timing of McCoist’s resignation offer yesterday, rather than any wavering in his own belief that he is still capable of leading Rangers to success on the field.
McCoist has been well remunerated for his trouble over the past three years and would neither seek nor welcome any sympathy for his situation. For his own well-being and that of his family, however, taking his leave of the Rangers soap opera is the right decision.
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