Ten years at Ibrox and David Weir faces biggest challenge

Ten years after he first walked through the front doors at Ibrox to sign for Rangers, David Weir finds himself in territory which manages to be both familiar and vastly altered.

David Weir is unveiled at Rangers after joining from Everton in 2007. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

Back in January 2007, the then 36-year-old defender answered a call from Walter Smith, pictured below, to help shore up a team which was trailing Celtic by 17 points at the top of the Scottish Premier League. “I remember walking into a Rangers side which was shipping goals and getting slaughtered because they were basically hopeless and couldn’t defend,” says Weir with a wry smile, before adding: “Pretty much the same situation as now!”

Weir’s initial short-term recruitment as a player, of course, turned into a remarkable Indian summer to his career which saw him captain Rangers to eight major trophies and a Uefa Cup final appearance as Smith revitalised their fortunes during his second stint as manager.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Restoring the club’s status in the current era, where they are now 19 points adrift of a dominant Celtic in the Scottish Premiership, poses an even greater challenge for Weir in his role as assistant to manager Mark Warburton.

A second-placed finish in the club’s first season back in the top flight has been identified as a minimum requirement by chairman Dave King, while Rangers will also bid to secure major silverware for the first time since 2011 as they open their Scottish Cup campaign with a home tie against Motherwell on Saturday.

Achieving either of those goals would also take Rangers back into European football next season with a place in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League. Sunday’s 4-0 friendly defeat in Germany against Bundesliga title challengers RB Leipzig offered a stark indication of how far Rangers remain from becoming competitive at continental level again. But the backing they received from an 8,000-strong travelling support was a reminder for Weir of the demands being placed upon the current management to take the club back to the levels it enjoyed when he was playing.

“I remember the goal that first season I came in was just to finish second,” he said. “But finishing second then allowed you to qualify for the Champions League. That was a massive incentive and we managed to do it.

“Walter had come back and changed a few things. Then the club invested a lot of money in the summer, spending around £12 million and bringing in a lot of good players. The next season we challenged again.

“We were successful in Europe. We didn’t end up winning the league but we had a good go at it. Rangers were competitive, the league was competitive and there were two teams competing in Europe. That’s where you want Scottish football to be, with two, three or four teams in Europe.

“The past doesn’t worry me. It’s gone, you can’t affect it. I just think about how we get back to where we need to be and how we improve and get better and give these lads the chance to experience winning trophies and give the 8,000 fans who travelled to Germany an opportunity to be involved in winning trophies again.

“We need to get into Europe next season, Rangers as a football club have to back involved in Europe, it’s fundamental to the football club, it always has been.

“Sunday was a tough lesson because Leipzig are a good football side, they are playing at a great level. Obviously we’re not there yet but it gives everyone a benchmark. It gives the fans an opportunity to enjoy a European trip which they obviously did in their numbers and we, as a group of staff and players, learnt a lot about ourselves.

“Even coming back on Sunday, at the airport fans were patting you on the back and yet we’ve been beaten 4-0. They’ve had a great weekend and they are desperate for you to do well, so you just want to try and satisfy that need they’ve got. It puts pressure on you but it’s a good pressure, it makes you want to be successful and makes you want to reward their loyalty and reward their support.

“You’ve got to enjoy the challenge. Everybody talks about pressure being a bad thing but pressure is a good thing because it heightens your senses, in the way that you know every decision, every game matters.

“You can’t go away to that game and know the performance isn’t going to get noticed, the result’s not going to get noticed, you know you’ve got to go away and try to do the right things, try to be competitive.

“It’s not like you’re going to come back and nobody’s going to notice and you’re just going to carry on with your work.

“It’s the reality of playing at Rangers. That’s a great challenge, but it’s a good challenge and the pressure is a good pressure.

“You’ve got to enjoy it and the players fundamentally have got to learn as we go. We’ve got to try and heighten that and speed it up as much as we can but you can’t manufacture it, we’ve got to go through the process.”

Weir is determined to go one better in the Scottish Cup this season, having lost out 3-2 to Hibs in last season’s dramatic final.

“Rangers are built on winning trophies,” he added. “We had the opportunity last season. We won the Championship and Petrofac Training Cup and got to the Scottish Cup final. If we’d won it, then it would have been a really successful season, but, ultimately, the campaign ended on a disappointment.

“This season we wanted to do as well as possible in the league, qualify for Europe and have a successful run in the cups. Winning trophies is what you’re judged on at Ibrox regardless of whether you’re a player or manager. We’re only concerned with what we’re doing and building and winning trophies is the most important thing.”

l David Weir was speaking at Ibrox where he has become the latest former Rangers player to have a brick panel named in his honour as part of the Stadium Bricks project which helps fund the Rangers Youth Development Company. Further 
information is available at www.rydc.co.uk