Why Graeme Murty deserves both sympathy and criticism after Rangers exit
Then, when he showed that he wasn’t actually the right man for the gig after losing to Hamilton, Dundee and St Johnstone in the space of nine games, they gave him the job anyway. This was after they spent what seemed like an eternity chasing another manager, one Murty had twice bettered in the immediate days leading up to Derek McInnes deciding to stay at Aberdeen.
Fast forward a few months and a crucial Scottish Cup semi-final with rivals Celtic. Victory and a possible trophy would have represented a satisfying conclusion to what was otherwise another disappointing campaign for the Ibrox faithful. Having narrowly lost to their rivals just a few weeks prior, confidence would obviously have been low. So, for whatever reason, chairman Dave King decided it was the right time to cast doubt on his manager’s future in an address to prospective season-ticket holders, saying: “whoever is appointed must be able to meet the unique challenges of managing Rangers and ensuring immediate success.”
It was therefore hardly a surprise when the Light Blues imploded at Hampden, both on and off the park, as they exited with a limp 4-0 defeat to their rivals.
Skip a further two weeks and we get a similar situation. The club’s board believe it’s the ideal time to recruit themselves a new manager and sound out Steven Gerrard. They even hold talks with the Liverpool legend, if reports are to be believed. Having dragged their heels over getting a long-term replacement for Pedro Caixinha for six months now, it was baffling to see them decide the week before a trip to Celtic Park, where their rivals could win the league against them, that they suddenly needed to spring into action.
A manager already undermined was on a hiding to nothing as his team lost 5-0. It was a result which flattered the visitors, who looked beaten before the match started.
So yes, Graeme Murty deserves our sympathy. However, that doesn’t mean he should be exempt from criticism. He’s been dealt a tough hand, but to say he’s been given “no chance” is incredibly generous to the man and ignorant of his failings in the Ibrox dugout.
He may not have asked to be put in the position initially, but Murty said he wanted the job. He wasn’t bound and gagged, propped up in the manager’s office with some henchman occasionally checking in to replenish his food and water and maybe get the tactics for the weekend’s visit of Kilmarnock. He wanted to be the football manager of Rangers. With that comes criticism when it’s merited.
There also seems to be a bit of recency bias with regards to the “impossible job” given to him. If it was indeed impossible then how come so many were behind his stewardship just a couple of months back? Was he working a near miracle to have Rangers on the fringe of maybe challenging Celtic prior to the league defeat at Ibrox? Was it something special to beat the likes of St Johnstone, Hamilton, Ross County and Hearts (while still losing to Hibs) with the second most expensively assembled squad in the country?
The Celtic defeats haven’t occurred in a vacuum. After the 3-2 loss in which Brendan Rodgers visibly outsmarted him tactically despite having a man disadvantage due to Jozo Simunovic’s red card, Murty and Rangers followed it up by netting only one point over the next two matches against Kilmarnock and Motherwell. Then there’s the aforementioned defeats prior to the “caretaker” tag dropping from his job title. All of this goes into judging the man. You can’t just disregard it because he was supposed to be interim. He’s the one leading the team, setting out the tactics, motivating the players. The evidence is there.
Of course, there’s the squad mutiny of recent weeks, with Andy Halliday and Daniel Candeias so brazenly undermining his authority before Kenny Miller and Lee Wallace (allegedly) did something similar in the dressing room. Now, it is almost impossible for a manager to do a decent job if he loses the dressing room. And, again, he does deserve a little bit of sympathy for this. Those players should have been more professional and are not exempt from criticism.
However, keeping the dressing room onside is what helps make you a good manager. Yes the board played their part, but when Rangers were winning matches there wasn’t any trouble from the players. It only started when they recognised what the fans did - he wasn’t the man for the job. It’s not a stretch to suggest they’d have revolted with or without King’s untimely intervention.
As manager of Rangers you are scrutinised for every decision made. And over the course Murty’s didn’t stand up. He never fixed the defensive issues. Nor did he find a central midfield unit which worked for more than a match or two at a time. He didn’t know what to do with Jason Cummings. And, ironically given the Halliday tantrum, he was often too hesitant to make substitutions when things weren’t going well.
Murty was not the man to lead Rangers, not at this moment in time and, after what’s happened, quite likely never. The way things were headed, the Ibrox side were going to finish the season in fourth place, which would have forced the supporters into the embarrassing situation of having to endure the Scottish Cup final knowing they’d need a Celtic treble triumph to get them into Europe. Yes there have been extenuating circumstances. Yes he hasn’t been treated fairly. But even with this Rangers squad, and it’s obvious flaws, he should have been doing better. He’s rightly paid the price for failing to do so.