The take Alex McLeish has on the possibility of Rangers’ talks with Steven Gerrard concluding with a stellar name in the game taking the job at Ibrox has a certain resonance for the Scotland manager’s own experiences in the post.
McLeish believes that Gerrard “won’t have all the answers” but that in “knowing the game inside out” he could have “great” man-management abilities. These elements speak of the wildly differing fortunes that the 59-year-old encountered in Celtic and Rangers games across his near four years in charge of the Ibrox club from late 2001.
McLeish practically grimaces at the thought of being in Graeme Murty’s shoes this Sunday. Then the soon-to-be outgoing Rangers manager will take his team to Celtic Park for a potential title-clincher and on the back of a ten-game winless run in the fixture.
McLeish reflects that with eight wins, four draws and 13 defeats in the derby – which helped him to a treble and Scottish Cup final win over the club’s great adversaries – he had “not a bad record” during a period when Celtic were a powerhouse under Martin O’Neill. McLeish had bitter experience of that. Between 2003 and 2004, the Irishman led his team to seven straight victories in this joust – the longest winning run in the history of it.
Yet, if Murty is looking for a straw to clutch, just when Celtic seemed to have a hex on their city rivals McLeish then hauled his team off the canvas to defeat them in both the League Cup and league at Ibrox inside 11 days across November 2004.
The latter victory proved crucial to Rangers snatching the title on the final day of the 2004-05 season. “It shows that some good can come out of something bad,” said McLeish. “It tells you that it is possible to come back from a defeat.”
The present Rangers side do not appear to have the capacity for such a turnaround on Sunday within them. It would be difficult for them to perform as abjectly as they did in their 4-0 defeat in the Scottish Cup semi-final a fortnight ago. However, even when playing well in the league game at Ibrox last month, they still could not hold off a ten-man Celtic in going down 3-2 despite twice leading.
“It is a tough match to lose,” said McLeish, who joked he only remembers the ones he won. “That’s why I could feel for Graeme Murty after the loss at Hampden. He has bounced back with a victory against Hearts. So maybe he will be thinking about adopting totally different plans and tactics for Sunday.
“It is hard to explain the highs and the lows. If you get really high when you win a cup or the league then it is the total opposite if you lose one of those games.
“You just want to be in a dark room for five days and let somebody else take training. It was hard because the expectation levels at Rangers are so high. You feel that it would be embarrassing to talk to somebody about it.
“[Yet] there is no harm in that. There is certainly no harm in getting help from colleagues in the game because you’ve got another chance in the next game. [But] this is a tough one for Rangers to go to on the back of the semi-final defeat. Especially with the fact that Celtic can win the league.”