Philippe Clement dismisses Rangers statue treatment and tells 'good guy' that he has every faith against Celtic

Rangers manager not interested in immortality as he plots landmark win

It is possible for legendary status in football to be lightly attained. Numbers are retired, songs are composed for deeds that don’t always stand the test of time.

But when it comes to statues, there’s a very high bar. Just consider some of those in place in Scotland alone. Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean stand proudly outside Pittodrie and Tannadice, tributes to men who changed the face of football in the country in the 1980s. And now Rangers have announced that Walter Smith has been cast in bronze and will be erected on a plinth outside Ibrox, where he will join the already immortalised John Greig for eternity. There are few more fitting recipients. The work, by sculptor Douglas Jennings, will be unveiled on the morning of the Scottish Cup final between Rangers and Celtic, a fortnight on Saturday.

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There's barely enough time to put invitations to the ceremony in the post. But it's still plenty long enough for the reputation of one of Smith’s successors at Ibrox to be burnished. It's also abundant time for this reputation to be damaged, perhaps fatally. Indeed, either of these outcomes could occur within 90 minutes – or, more accurately, 90-plus minutes – today, as Clement targets a first win over Celtic at the third attempt.

Rangers manager Philippe Clement - on the cusp of an unlikely treble? (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)Rangers manager Philippe Clement - on the cusp of an unlikely treble? (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Rangers manager Philippe Clement - on the cusp of an unlikely treble? (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

The amount of time that is added on at the end of Saturday’s final Old Firm league clash of the season is one of several potentially significant, possibly deciding, factors. It was during these extra minutes that the hosts managed to score a thrilling equaliser through Rabbi Matondo the last time the teams met, at Ibrox last month. With a single swish of the winger’s boot most observers concluded that the title initiative had swung back towards Govan.

Well, we all know what happened next. Rangers dropped four points in four days in Dingwall and Dundee, which means they must now prevail in what is an ultimate D-day at Parkhead or kiss goodbye to their chances of dethroning Celtic. The omens do not look good. The last time Rangers won a league game at Celtic Park where fans were allowed in and then went on to close out a championship was under Smith, in 2010. It is difficult to escape the feeling that if Clement can inspire a victory, ideally by a margin of several goals, then he would fully deserve the statue treatment. Indeed, a makeshift one would likely be in place by the time the team returned to Ibrox from the east side of town.

There would, of course, still be some work to be done for Rangers to wrest the title from Celtic. A win only puts them level on points with two games left, with goal difference currently sitting at five in the champions' favour. Clement would need to overturn this and perhaps even win a Scottish Cup to qualify for proper statue consideration. Even then, he dismissed the notion. “I am not here for a statue,” he said, on the eve of one of the biggest Old Firm derbies in recent memory. “I love to see the happiness of other people, that’s how I get my enjoyment – and they don’t get that looking at a statue of me!”

“I have a really, really, really, really, really, really, really ….long way to go,” he added, with reference to being cast in bronze. “That I know. All credit to Walter Smith who has been one of most influential managers in Europe. He did an immense job here and won so many trophies and was loved by everybody. It shows again how big a family this club is. It is a reminder of people who are really important to the club and that they give them the right honour. I think it is a strong side of this club. I have seen it with some players coming back, once a hero always a hero. So tomorrow is another good opportunity for the players in the Colosseum to become heroes.”

A lot has changed for Rangers since Rabbi Matondo's late equaliser agianst Celtic near the start of the April  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)A lot has changed for Rangers since Rabbi Matondo's late equaliser agianst Celtic near the start of the April  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
A lot has changed for Rangers since Rabbi Matondo's late equaliser agianst Celtic near the start of the April (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Clement gushed about what lay in front of his players. Rather than be cowed by the enormity of the challenge, they had to be exhilarated. Why be a footballer if this doesn't push your buttons or tighten your studs? There was some wistfulness discernible as he set it all out. It was clear he would have relished the opportunity. Indeed, he later stressed there has never been a happier time for him personally than his playing days. He did add that he was not wishing he was out on the Parkhead pitch. “For Rangers it is better that I stay off the pitch – they have more of a chance to win,” smiled someone whose last professional appearance was in 2011.

One centre-half who has played 90 minutes more recently, though only just, is Ben Davies. The Englishman has been thrust suddenly into the spotlight following concerns over Leon Balogun, who suffered a muscle injury in last weekend's 4-1 win over Kilmarnock. It sums up Rangers’ predicament to note that their hopes are partly pinned on the return of a 35-year-old defender. Davies will step in should Balogun fail to make it, which seems likely. The last time the former Liverpool defender started a game was last year. "He's one of the good guys and I have every faith in him, there's no doubts about Ben whatsoever," said goalkeeper Jack Butland, who could see two changes in front of him from last weekend. Clement will have to decide between Borna Barisic and Ridvan Yilmaz at left-back.The manager gave little away on Friday. “I cannot give my starting XI, that would be too easy,” he said, when pressed on whether Davies and Yilmaz would start.

There are certain items a reporter needs before going into a press conference where the stakes in the game being previewed are so high. It helps to have a recording device of some sort, a pen, some paper and a bull-you-know-what detector. Clement was sure to avoid using a phrase such as “must-win” in the knowledge that he would be required to perform a reverse manoeuvre if things do not go to plan this afternoon.

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A point, he suggested, would not be the end of the world. “You can still become champion,” he said. Despite the apparent absurdity, he did not break into a smile. Rather, his expression remained admirably fixed, like on the statue that might one day grace Ibrox.



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