AS RECENTLY appointed captain, it is appropriate Lee Wallace should deliver what sounds like a club manifesto on the eve of Rangers’ Petrofac Training Cup trip to Ayr United
“This competition will not be any different to any cup game or league game in the way we approach the game,” Wallace promised yesterday. “No matter the surface, no matter where it is, no matter the opposition, we will approach the game with our own game plan, and try and be the best Rangers team we can be.”
Wallace was replying to a query about Rangers’ record in this particular trophy, and whether, with the league title now a more critical aspiration than ever before, the Petrofac Training Cup has to be regarded as a lesser priority. Of course, Rangers already have history with a tournament they only became acquainted with three years ago, most of it bitter.
“It has been a huge disappointment that in three attempts we have not won the trophy,” agreed Wallace, who is set to lead Rangers out at Somerset Park tonight after taking the armband for the first time as official club captain against Alloa on Sunday. “Being beaten by Raith is the closest we have come and it is not a great stat. Certainly we are going to try and approach every single game one at a time, and chalk the teams off as they come.”
With Rangers having now passed the 33,000 season tickets total, optimism is high again at Ibrox. Wallace is proud to have taken possession of the armband at such a time of renewed hope. He mentioned names such as David Weir, Steven Davis and Lee McCulloch when asked what it means to follow in such a rich tradition.
“I know in the last five to ten years, and beyond that there are some top names,” he said. Wallace will endeavour to lead by example rather than by fear.
“I think the days of that are long gone where you have a captain that is ranting and raving on the pitch or in the dressing room,” he said.
There were reports last season, amid Rangers’ struggles under Ally McCoist and then Kenny McDowall, that Wallace might leave if the side failed to return to the Premiership, as happened. The full-back now rejects that this was ever a possibility and is relishing his new responsibilities on and off the pitch under the new managerial team of Mark Warburton and Weir.
“I was very aware that in the worst-case scenario, if it happened, I would still be standing fully by the club and want to do my best to rectify a poor season and reward the fans,” he said.
“My mindset in the last few weeks, or certainly since the new manager and Davie have come in, has been to forget last season and focus on the positive. The break has been shorter and I think we were all itching to get back when we heard the new announcement.
“From the first moment we heard the manager speak, to now, it is so intriguing. The level of detail the two of them work in is incredible. They are fantastic on the football pitch, great in meeting rooms, great with analysis and great as men, which is even better.”
Wallace is taking everything he can on board since it is helping him in his other life on the other side of the white line with Tynecastle FC. He has been inspired enough by Warburton to employ his favoured 4-3-3 formation at the East of Scotland League side he helps coach in his Edinburgh hometown, having begun his coaching education with Heriot Vale several years ago.
Now 28, it seems clear his coaching interests have helped turn him into a more mature, thoughtful person. They have certainly helped Wallace become Rangers captain material and Warburton is eager to encourage his extracurricular coaching commitments in Edinburgh.
Wallace gets to Tynecastle games when he can and is more often than not present at training on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Tonight’s game is therefore handily scheduled.
“I must stress Rangers are my No 1 priority, which we all expect anyway,” pointed out Wallace. “But I think it is a good thing I am doing it and am loving it. I have been involved in it for five, going on six, years now.
“It is an easy transition from the stuff we are learning here and then taking it into a smaller scale and trying to show the lads at Tynecastle the way we feel the game should be played,” he explained. “We are learning from a first-class coach and manager here and so I am able to go and try my best for those lads [at Tynecastle].”
He wouldn’t say whether he would countenance rainbow flicks if attempted by one of his players at Tynecastle but fully supports Nathan Oduwa’s tricks in a Rangers shirt. The on-loan winger’s dazzling entrance against Alloa has become one of the main talking points so far this season. According to Wallace, excitement is the very least Rangers supporters should expect after trying recent experiences.
“That’s what the Rangers fans deserve,” he said. “We’ve let them down, more so last year, and they’ve been starved of trophies, proper trophies, for a number of years now.
“But the message now is to send them home happy, so they are talking about us, talking about how much they enjoyed this moment, that moment, that goal, that passage of play.
“If we can get that every time we take to the field then we’re doing well,” he added.