Graeme Murty has consistently stated his belief that his coaching CV will not be damaged by his unexpected stint as Rangers caretaker manager, irrespective of the results he oversees.
Even he would have to recognise, however, that it wouldn’t do his reputation any harm at all if he could conjure up a shock in the east end of Glasgow tomorrow and inflict a first domestic defeat of the season on Brendan Rodgers’ thus far all-conquering Celtic side.
In truth, even a draw at Celtic Park would be regarded as an upset of significant proportions in a campaign which sees the Scottish champions going into the match with an unprecedented 33-point lead over a Rangers outfit who have floundered desperately at times on their return to the top flight.
The gulf between the traditional rivals has inevitably seen Rangers subjected to some lacerating criticism in the build-up to the fourth Old Firm game of the season. Former Celtic striker Frank McAvennie has even predicted a 7-0 or 8-0 win for his old club, while his ex-strike partner Andy Walker branded Rangers as “weak, timid and lacking heart”.
Before he hands over control of that team to prospective new manager Pedro Caixinha next week, Murty will eagerly adopt the well-established motivational ploy of pinning up those damning headlines on the dressing room wall.
“They’ve done my job for me,” said Murty when asked about the comments from McAvennie and Walker. “I don’t have to motivate the team. If I just pick up all the headlines of all the experts outside of our group who don’t really know the players, who don’t know the personalities within the group, but have made these sweeping statements, I’ll just pin them up and say ‘that’s what the world thinks about you.’
“Then it’s ‘What do you think about yourselves, what are you going to do about it?’ Go and put it into effect on Sunday. Because that’s the bottom line. People can think what they like about this group of players. But this group has a fantastic opportunity on Sunday to change everyone’s mind.
“I’ve always liked going to a stadium where you had no chance. Throughout my playing career it was kind of like that as I played for small clubs. At Rangers, we are behind at the moment. People are throwing things at the players. I’ve said to the players that no one expects them to go and win. So they have got a fantastic opportunity to get off properly on the right foot with the new manager and make a statement about where you want to be and where you want the football club to be. The opportunity is there for you to be successful.”
For Murty, that opportunity brings the possibility of becoming the first caretaker manager to win an Old Firm match. Only two men have previously been in temporary charge of Rangers against Celtic. Tommy McLean suffered a 2-1 defeat in November 1983 after stepping in for John Greig, then Kenny McDowall was at the helm for the 2-0 League Cup semi-final loss two years ago after Ally McCoist’s departure.
Frank Connor is credited by many for Celtic’s upset 2-1 win at Ibrox in October 1993 but while he picked the team for that game as his spell as interim boss came to an end, Lou Macari was in the dugout as the new manager. Murty is poised to have full control tomorrow.
“It is going to be a unique moment in my life,” he said. “I can’t say I’m looking forward to enjoying the game, because I won’t. But when I look back on it, and reflect on it, I will have a little smile and think I’m a very, very fortunate person to get that opportunity. Because there aren’t many people who can say they’ve stood on the sidelines at an Old Firm game. It’s really going to be one stellar experience for me.
“I have no doubt it’s going to be difficult, I’ve got no doubt it’s going to be hard. Celtic are going to win the league, fair play to them, they’ve been really good. But for me, standing there with the team, I can’t wait to see what everything is about.
“I’ve been looking at this game since I was a kid. I started with the footballer’s mindset of ‘I wonder what it’s like to play in?’ I’d talk to people in Scotland squads about it and they’d rave about it.
“Now I have the opportunity to experience it first-hand. It will be awe-inspiring, it will be a massive watershed moment in my career. I’m going to try and be very careful that I’m not blown away by it. I need to focus on giving the players what they need. We’ve got to play a very important football match and make sure we represent ourselves and the club in the right manner. If we do that and stick together then we can get a positive outcome.”