The Scottish Cup semi-final success over Celtic last Sunday has the potential to change everything for Rangers. Captain Lee Wallace is well aware of that. Simply because the 28-year-old is well aware of the worth of himself and his club.
Nominated for the PFA Scotland Championship player of the year this week, having claimed the accolade in League Two and League One, Wallace talked candidly of believing he had the “quality” to claim such prizes, and the required objective was being in line for them at the top level.
Next season provides the chance for him to do that as Rangers pitch up at the Premiership following four years without an Ibrox side in Scotland’s upper strata. This season, meanwhile, now finds Mark Warburton’s Championship title winners in the box seat to join the set-up as Scottish Cup winners and Europa League qualifier entrants.
If they beat Hibernian on 21 May following a last-four cup win over Glasgow rivals with three times their budget, it means this campaign would end with Rangers entirely transformed. Wallace acknowledges that there was, and should have been, an expectation they would “bounce back” under Warburton and David Weir and put right the failings in the Championship of the previous season. A major trophy success was different, though.
“If you go back to St Johnstone [in the League Cup in October], at that point I think we had eleven out of eleven in the league and a couple Petrofac games,” he said. “When we lost that game, automatically the doubts were there that we couldn’t step up against Premiership opposition.
“People said this style can’t work in the top flight, Wallace and [James] Tavernier can’t maraud forward against such opposition. We responded and in every defeat we’ve always responded well.
“It will certainly be an enjoyable one if we can exceed expectations because back at the St Johnstone game I don’t think many would have seen us go on to lift the Scottish Cup. Certainly the League and the Petrofac, but not the Scottish Cup. So it would be nice to answer those questions again.”
The fact is that, for all Rangers have a football spend in excess of all but Celtic, their period in the major honour wilderness seemed potentially career-wrecking for Wallace. It is why his decision to remain a Rangers player when so many other valuable assets refused to TUPE their contracts over to the newco after liquidation of the old club in 2012 has earned him legendary status in the eyes of the support. The thoughtful full-back wants to be held in such esteem for what he believes he can give to Rangers more than what he has given.
“As much as I appreciate that people say it about me I don’t think I’m anywhere near being a legend at the club,” he said. “I’ve got miles to go to be associated with the great names we have at the club. I would never disrespect those comments. It has been great I stayed and I wanted to make a contribution to getting the club back.
“We’ve done that and I hope we can put all the bad times behind us. Now I hope that, not just me, but anyone in the dressing room and any new signings can be remembered for the top reasons: at Rangers that’s winning Premierships, Scottish Cup and getting into European competitions. They are the moments that would really please me as an individual. I would rather they remembered me more for doing well in these competitions at the top level.”
Even if it is considered that Wallace’s stay with a lower-league Rangers has cost him international recognition, the player considers it has not been at the expense of self-improvement. He considers he has developed from when he signed from Hearts in the summer of 2011. Wallace still draws confidence from the fact he was “bought in the hope that I’d better and help the then SPL champions”.
The arrival of Warburton and Weir appears unquestionably to have been to the defender’s betterment, with the captaincy quickly following. “It can sometimes be a weight on the shoulders, especially at a club like Rangers. Thankfully I’ve accepted it well and I have relished the responsibility,” Wallace said.
“There’s no point being nervous about it, anxious, worrying or changing your personality. I think I’ve always had the character where I’ve purely been tied in with the manager’s style. There’s no shouting and screaming, it’s all about trying to help and dissecting the potential problems, helping people and talking our way through things. I think that’s how I’d like to think others would see me as a captain.
“I’ve learned in my years of being there that we’ve had great captains. You have Davie, who is now on the coaching staff, so there’s no easier guy to go to if I’ve ever got any issues. Davie was exactly how I’ve just described, as he is as a coach now. He’ll always be thoughtful, he’ll always think things through and not have any shouting matches. It’s always well processed.
“Of course you have Lee McCulloch, who I’ve learnt from in the past few years. He deserves full recognition because without Jig’s contribution as a player and a captain we probably wouldn’t be where we are now. There has to be a lot of thanks go to Lee McCulloch. I think the captaincy has helped and it has been that extra bit of responsibility that I feel I’ve taken on and enjoyed.” Wallace has been a central pillar in the Rangers experience being one for the club’s followers to enjoy again.