GREAT player, bad manager? In the case of Ally McCoist, no-one can dispute the first of those descriptions of his service to Rangers.
But when it comes to the on-going assessment of his qualities in the latter role, which has reached something approaching fever pitch this week, a growing number of those supporters who idolised him when he was on the pitch have reached the firm view he simply cannot cut it in the technical area.
Monday night’s 3-1 home defeat by Hibs was a tipping point for many of them who bombarded the hotlines and message-boards in condemnation of McCoist.
In yet another measure of the dysfunctional world Rangers have operated in for the past three years, much of their discussion has focused not on whether McCoist should be dismissed by the Ibrox board of directors. It has centred instead on whether he could be paid off, given the club’s still parlous financial condition.
With pundits also lining up to lay into McCoist, among them former Scotland midfielder Michael Stewart who claimed the Rangers manager is not training his players properly, some might have expected the 52-year-old to wear a haunted and beleaguered look at his weekly media conference ahead of today’s visit to Livingston.
But McCoist is nothing if not endlessly resilient, one quality which is serving him as usefully now as it did when he was a player.
In defiant but measured tones, he responded to the barrage of criticism which has come his way and reiterated his determination to guide Rangers back to the top flight of Scottish football, even if it has to be through the play-offs rather than by winning the Championship title.
He is adamant his level of remuneration – around £400,000 a year after he took a 50 per cent wage cut last year – offers no protection to his position. He shrugged off Stewart’s comments and insisted no-one can yet make a proper judgement of his managerial abilities because of the unprecedented circumstances in which he has done the job following Rangers’ financial collapse.
“When you say great player, bad manager, I like the first part of that,” smiled McCoist. “But I think there is still an unknown there [with the second part]. Nobody knows.
“But I can guarantee that if we hadn’t won the league we were in the year before or last season, then it would have been right [to say bad manager] and I wouldn’t have been here now.
“But no-one knows if winning the Third Division by 24 points was good. No-one knows if going through League One undefeated and winning it by 39 points was good.
“What we do know is that it wasn’t bad. Most people would think it was acceptable, at the very worst. But it’s not for me to pre-empt opinions on how good or indifferent it was.
“It’s extremely difficult to say, even for ourselves, because it has never been done before. It’s never had to be done before. So even in 15 or 20 years’ time, we probably still won’t know whether it was good, bad or indifferent.
“I don’t think anyone is bombproof as manager I wouldn’t sit here for a minute and say I’m bombproof. I’m still wearing the flak jacket but nobody is bombproof.
“I don’t find that insulting at all that people say the club can’t afford to sack me. I don’t necessarily agree with it. I don’t think there has ever been a manager who hasn’t been sackable.
“So I don’t think about that and it doesn’t annoy me that people have said it. I’ve got far too much on my mind, concentrating on the positives and moving forward.
“I wouldn’t comment on individual remarks made about me this week. All I would say is that you are going to get criticism like that. You are also going to get other people saying ‘that’s good’.
“It’s an opinion. I don’t necessarily agree with it. And, at the same time, if someone is really positive, I’m not going to get carried away. People have varying opinions and that’s what makes the game so interesting.
“It’s important for us, and for me in particular, not to lose focus at all – especially through criticism which is inevitable. Whether you agree or disagree, people are entitled to their opinions.
“So when people are saying they are unhappy with the tactics or saying ‘they can’t sack him’, it’s just someone’s opinion that I don’t give any thought to at all.
“The most important thing in here is that we know what our jobs are, how to do our jobs and we are successful at our jobs. Then we will be fairly happy.
“I am not going to sit here and tell you it’s enjoyable when you are getting stick. Of course it’s not. But I have a real acceptance that it goes with the territory. If great managers like Walter Smith can get dog’s abuse, then it is fair to say that I will get my fair share of criticism. It ain’t great, but it goes with the territory and it will happen to the next manager who comes in and the next one after him and the next one after him. It is very much a fact of life at Rangers.”
As dismayed as he was by his team’s performance against Hibs on Monday, McCoist believes a sense of perspective has to be maintained in a Championship season just seven games old.
“Listen, four years ago we lost 3-0 at home to Hibs with a team including nine players who had played for us in the 2008 Uefa Cup final,” he said. “So just as I don’t get too carried away when we have good results, I’m not going to get overly upset after losing 3-1 to Hibs. It’s important to keep a level of sanity here after a poor result.
“There is nothing that’s happened so far this season which has shocked us. We knew right from the word go it was a step up. It was a major surprise Hibs coming down and you could argue Hearts were more like a top six side at the end of last season before they came down. So we knew it was going to be tough.
“Having also played Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Queen of the South before in cup competitions, we knew it would be an extremely difficult league for everybody, including ourselves. So as disappointing as the two defeats have been in the league, they haven’t shocked us.
“Relying on the play-offs is not out of the question because getting out of the division is the most important thing. We will take whatever we can to get out of this division because it is so important for the club to get back into the top flight as soon as possible.”
Asked about Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley increasing his stake in Rangers this week, McCoist stated he would welcome fresh funds from any source. “For us to get back to competing in the top flight again, we need investment,” he said. “When you lose around £40 million worth of players and replace them with free transfers, of course there is going to be a gap.