Alex McLeish was the 11th permanent manager of Rangers since 1872 when he arrived from Hibs towards the end of 2001. Including Walter Smith’s two spells, and illustrating the ructions of recent years at Ibrox, Steven Gerrard is the 18th.
McLeish was 42, about to turn 43. Gerrard, who starts a four-year contract as Rangers manager today, turned 38 on Wednesday.
So McLeish was not much older than Gerrard is now when he took the reins at Ibrox 17 years ago. Crucially, he had already learned the ropes at Motherwell and Hibs, where he had done enough to convince owner David Murray he was capable of reigniting the Ibrox club’s fortunes.
Rangers had stagnated under Dick Advocaat and were underachieving despite bloated wages and a talented, experienced pool of players. “I was a young manager back in the day, but my goodness, I inherited a hugely talented squad,” reflected McLeish yesterday.
McLeish could brandish badges of honour in the shape of European trophies, every domestic title in the land and 77 national caps. It made things easier when required to coax established stars such as Ronald de Boer to greater performance levels.
“They were just a wee bit out of kilter. Some of them just needed an arm thrown around them. I got them playing again by using a wee bit of man-management. It worked for us. I mean, I couldn’t tell Arthur Numan what to do with a ball, I couldn’t coach Ronald de Boer and tell him what to do.
“These guys just needed a wee bit of a cuddle. That’s what I gave them.
“They were different days and while there are some similarities in the sense Steven will have to try to get more out of the players who are already there, I also believe he has to build a whole new team. That’s something I never had to do.”
Cuddling players, many of whom already demonstrated they are not good enough to take Rangers where they want to go, won’t suffice now.
Gerrard will indeed have to build a new team. Even though he only officially clocks on for work today, he has already started.
Scott Arfield has been recruited from Burnley, Allan McGregor has returned from Hull City and Rangers are being linked with a move for Brighton & Hove Albion defender Connor Goldson. Those there currently he wants to keep will also be given a boost by being led by such a world star.
“Man-management is still such a huge thing in football and I was good at that aspect,” said McLeish. “I think Gerrard will be too and his sheer presence in the place will command instant respect.
“He will be hoping that it drives up standards too. It is still not enough though, because you need the players to mount a challenge.
“I think Gerrard is a strong character and he should be able to deal with everything that’s thrown at him. But, of course, we will see what unfolds. I think being at a big club is huge help.”
“The larger the club, the more intense the pressure,” McLeish added.