Ally McCoist Rangers interview: Champions League memories of Malmo, Steven Gerrard's 'remarkable' European progress and why club is only '99 per cent' back to normal

Ally McCoist will never know just how different his experience as Rangers manager may have been had his team not lost their Champions League qualifier against Malmo a decade ago.

Ally McCoist encourages his Rangers team during the Champions League qualifier against Malmo at Ibrox in July 2011. (Photo by Bill Murray/SNS Group).

But he has no doubts that if Steven Gerrard guides the Ibrox club to the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition this season, then their recovery from the financial meltdown which undermined his tenure will be complete.

Fate has decreed that Malmo present the first hurdle for Rangers to clear again as they make their long-awaited return to Champions League action with the first leg of their third qualifying round tie in Sweden on Tuesday evening.

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Back in July 2011, McCoist suffered the disappointment of a 2-1 aggregate defeat at the hands of the Swedish champions at the same stage of the tournament.

The Rangers team which started the Ibrox club's last Champions League qualifier agains Malmo in 2011. Back row from left: Allan McGregor, Maurice Edu, Madjid Bougherra, Lee Wallace, David Weir and Lee McCulloch. Front row from left: Sasa Papac, Stevn Davis, Steven Naismith, Steven Whittaker, and Nikica Jelavic. (Photo by Bill Murray/SNS Group).

The consequences of that elimination, of course, were not confined to mere sporting disappointment. As Rangers subsequently also lost to Maribor in the play-off round of the Europa League, it would later emerge that their then owner and chairman Craig Whyte had banked on Champions League prize money to facilitate his fallacious and ultimately calamitous stewardship of the club.

Into the light

Along with every other Rangers supporter, McCoist endured many dark days in the aftermath of Whyte leading the club into insolvency in 2012. The club’s all-time record goalscorer feels Rangers will fully step back into the light again if Gerrard can follow up last season’s prized Premiership title win with Champions League success.

“It would mean everything for Rangers to get back to the group stages,” said McCoist.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard has his sights set on Champions League group stage football this season after three consecutive qualifications for the Europa League group stage since taking charge at the Ibrox club. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“To see the club back in the group stages of the Champions League, well that would be it for me. Rangers would be back.

“We are 99 percent back right now. All Rangers fans were greetin’ last year when we won the title. Let’s not kid ourselves, we were all in tears.

“It was an amazing experience, I had a wee chat with Walter Smith after the title was won and it meant so much to us all.

“But get us back into the Champions League and the good times will definitely be back. Of that, there is no doubt and for me that would complete the journey. I would be so pleased and proud to see the club back in the Champions League.”

Watching brief

McCoist has been a close observer of Rangers under Gerrard as a TV pundit and co-commentator, working at most of their Europa League matches over the past three years. With three consecutive group stage appearances and just six defeats in his 45 matches in charge so far, Gerrard has restored Rangers as a credible force in Europe.

“I have been so impressed with Rangers in Europe under Steven,” added McCoist. “It has been the foundation on which a lot of last season’s success was built.

“To make the group stages of the Europa League in each of his three seasons is remarkable.

“It’s remarkable progress given what had happened to the club in Europe just prior to him taking charge (losing to Progres Niederkorn of Luxembourg in the first qualifying round of the Europa League in 2017).

“The team is well prepared again. Last year in Europe, if you take away the Slavia Prague game at Ibrox in the last 16, Rangers were so impressive.

“Overall, they have to be delighted with their performances. It was a step up from the season before.

“I covered most of the games and I was well impressed. I was impressed with their quality on the ball and their work rate out of possession. They looked very comfortable at the level and now it’s time to kick on again.”

Costly mistakes

McCoist hopes that progression will be maintained against Malmo with a potential play-off round tie against Greek champions Olympiakos or Ludogorets Razgrad of Bulgaria to come.

Back in 2011, Rangers were at home in the first leg against Malmo and slipped to a 1-0 defeat at the start of McCoist’s first season as manager after he had succeeded Walter Smith in the role.

Rangers levelled the tie when, despite an 18th minute red card for full-back Steven Whittaker, a goal from Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic opened the scoring in the second leg in Sweden. But their task became even more difficult when they were reduced to nine men with the dismissal of defender Madjid Bougherra midway through the second half.

Although Malmo then also had a man sent off, they scored the clinching goal of the tie with 10 minutes remaining.

“Malmo were a very good side, probably not given the credit they were due at the time,” reflects McCoist.

“But both games were hugely frustrating and ultimately disappointing from my point of view.

“We lost our captain Davie Weir very early in the first leg to a hamstring injury. We had to change our system and shape.

“They obviously got their away goal but we scored first in Sweden. We then got two red cards which ultimately took the tie away from us. Whitts went first with a straight red and ill discipline cost us.

“It was a wake up call. We certainly hadn’t underestimated them, we would never do that.

“But their season was up and running and the difference in fitness levels was there for all to see. Like I say, they were a very capable side back then.

“But Scottish teams always have this issue coming up against teams whose season is already well underway. It was never more evident than on that occasion as far as I’m concerned. You could tell the team that had started its season.”

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