AS Rangers bid to clinch the SPFL League 1 championship tonight, Ally McCoist has calmly attempted to salvage his credibility as manager, asking critics not to be influenced by the club’s financial plight when assessing the health of his team.
The former striker came in for fierce criticism on Sunday evening after Rangers came within 15 minutes of their most ignominious result ever at Ibrox. In failing to acknowledge that a home draw with part-time Albion Rovers in a quarter-final of the Scottish Cup, where there remains a possibility of a £1 million cash injection, constituted embarrassment, he risked the criticism turning into derision.
However, the 51-year-old stood up for himself earlier today, talking of the “thick skin” he was told he would need when he first walked into Ibrox three decades ago, and insisting that he still had “the vast majority” of Rangers fans on his side. Tomorrow night, back on Edmiston Drive, a draw or a win against Airdrie will secure Rangers the League 1 title and McCoist would like reviews of his work to be spread across a season in which his team have lost only one match, to Forfar in the League Cup in August.
Dave King, the would-be leader of a move towards supporter ownership of Rangers who is due to arrive in the UK from South Africa today to begin talks, has spoken repeatedly of his fear that a cash-strapped Rangers would suffer untold damage to their reputation if modest investment left them vulnerable to unbecoming results in the coming years.
However, as McCoist acknowledged earlier today, he is in command of the second-biggest player wage bill in Scotland, and that is what has infuriated fans who expected Rangers’ passage to the business end of the cup to be a formality.
“It’s not a criticism and I might be wrong, but I just feel that some people – not everybody – are failing to distinguish between the club and the team at the moment,” said McCoist at the club’s Murray Park training ground yesterday.
“For example, if Albion Rovers had knocked us out, or even the draw against Albion Rovers, it’s an absolutely shocking result against the club. But as for the team…
“I’ve got to be very careful because there’s no way I am going to criticise those boys because those boys are doing a fantastic job for us. But the fact of the matter is those boys don’t contain a Gascoigne, a Laudrup, a John Greig, Willie Johnston, Colin Stein – we don’t have that.
“What we’ve got is a fantastic squad of boys that are learning about the club, they’re learning fast by the way – and we think, particularly in the league, they’re doing more than satisfactory.
“I just feel that sometimes people are finding it difficult to distinguish between the two entities, because they still see the team as the club, and at this moment in time, I don’t think that’s right because I think the team should still be given an opportunity to develop as a team, and then take the next step up.”
When reminded that his squad, however young, had been very expensively assembled with the aim of moving quickly through the leagues and winning knockout jackpots, McCoist claimed that rational fans were “intelligent enough” to see matches such as Sunday’s as mere bumps on the road to progress. “Rangers have always had a higher wage bill, along with Celtic, than all the other teams in the country. I think it’s too simplistic to look on it that way,” he said of the theory that money can guarantee success. “As I said before, Manchester City would be Champions League winners five years out of six [if richer teams always won]. And we’re looking at Manchester City losing at home to Wigan.
“The financial side of things is not that simple – it just doesn’t fit in that way. But I totally understand it’s been thrown at us, the second-highest wage bill, which I accept, because it is.
“I still feel I’ve got the backing of the majority of the fans. I promise you, the Rangers fans have been nothing other than supportive. Absolutely nothing other than supportive of the job we’re trying to do, of the players, where we are and where we’re attempting to get to.
“With the greatest respect, I don’t read internet forums and things because I’m far too busy, but when I do talk to the fans face to face, of course I get criticism but generally speaking they are 100 per cent supportive of both the club and the job we’re trying to do.
“Also, they’re intelligent enough to see where we are in the journey back.”