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There has been several times last season and this season that I’ve found myself watching Rangers and seen Madjid Bougherra steaming forward and in effect being the most creative and driven Rangers player on the park.
I’ve often thought that Smith et al are probably standing at the sidelines with their hands to their heads and an internal monologue of “here we go again, lets just hope he doesn’t Amoruso“. More often than not however, he’s been our knight in shining armour though; it’s like there’s a switch in his head and once he’s had enough of what’s happening in front of him he just dashes off like a Viking marauding off to raid a village.
You only need to think about his goal against Stuttgart (“he’s-away-ach-he’s-not-going-to-is-he?pass!go-on-then-big-man-he-won’t-he-is-what-a-strike!GOAL!” were my exact words) and his cross for Miller last week as examples of him getting forward and enforcing his influence on the game.
Is this purely Mr Bougherra having enough of what he see’s infront of him and deciding that he is off to take matters into his own hands, or is it maybe a little more by tactical design of Walter Smith and in football in general?
I believe the latter.
The concept of Walter Smith being a tactical revolutionary or even to be keeping up with the José’s in modern football is something that will have many taking a sharp intake of breath. He’s been branded a dinosaur, a traditionalist and far too stuck in his ways to even think about playing the game the “modern way”. I like to think differently and the role of Madgid Bougherra at Rangers is the perfect example of why I think I am right.
Firstly, it’s important to discuss the current trends in the tactics of modern football. Tactical Svenghali, Jonathan Wilson identifies that even though there has been a general shift back to a general 4-4-2 shape; a lot of teams effectively still play with a singular (main) striker with what he has coined a “false nine” playing behind and alongside the main striker (Kenny Miller of late anyone?).
“Football is like an aeroplane. As velocities increase, so does air resistance, and so you have to make the head more stream-lined.” Viktor Maslov (Dynamo Kyiv manager and the tactical tactical revolutionary credited with inventing the 4-4-2 )
According to Wilson, what this quote means is that whilst the velocity of players increase (think Cristiano Ronaldo, Aiden McGreety) it becomes increasingly harder for them to find any space, so attacking players have to come from deeper positions on the park to force the space; thus making them harder to pick up and more importantly, pulling defenders out of position.
The success of Novo and DeMarcus Beasley of late from wide positions is also an example of this and not a coincidence. As our ‘false nine’ comes deep (Kenny Miller) it creates space for Novo and DMB to cut in from wide positions to bolster the attack. This is especially evident with the wide play of the likes of Lionel Messi who scored over 35 goals last season alone.
Essentially, the primary role of the striker has changed (as has Kris Boyd) from being just about scoring goals to be also about creating space for others.
This is where it gets interesting. Think about table football – if you get to a certain point, the key attacking players are the back two as you have much more time and space to line up a big ol’ spin for a shot and the opposing strikers essentially become blockers of this.
Part of this became evident (again in the football of Smith) when we had Alan Hutton and Steven Smith before him rampaging down the flanks as the most free and attacking players on the pitch. This has quelled in football a little as the wide forwards are now a little more defensive to close them down (think Steven Naismith tracking back).
This is where we are now. At least one forward dropping deeper to create space ( think Wayne Rooney/Zlatan Ibrahimovic/Kenny Miller), full backs getting forward (think Patrice Evra/Alan Hutton/Kirk Broadfoot) to be met by defensive minded wide attackers that like to attack from deep positions.
With the full backs freedom quashed somewhat, it is no longer them that have the most space on the pitch. It is the second centre half that is reaping the rewards of the most space on the pitch. This is starting to herald the return of the libero.
Sweeper/Libero: (Italian: free) is a more versatile type of centre back that, as the name suggests, “sweeps up” the ball if the opponent manages to breach the defensive line. Their position is rather more fluid than other defenders who mark their designated opponents. The catenaccio system of play, used in Italian football in the 1960s, notably employed a defensive libero.
Many centre-backs have the ability to bring the ball out of defence and begin counter-attacks for their own teams, thanks to tactical (game reading, anticipation, positioning, tackling) and technical (passing, vision on the pitch) capabilities.
What? The Wattenaccio?
The much vaunted and chastised system that Walter utilised to get us to our first European final since 1972? Homogenised players playing homogenised football. Stuffy-ness was the order of the day and being the damp squibs of Europe proved fruitful in the long run.
The system was fit for purpose. Contain teams and squeeze a goal wherever possible. Yet the system (and it’s name) obviously has it’s origins in the Italian system of Catenaccio and one of the most important players in that system was the libero. When we think of the libero we think Mattheus, Sammer and Beckenbauer.
Madjid “Libero” Bougherra is the perfect exponent of the tactic.
By the definition of the position above, a libero is the combination of tactical and technical capabilities. Reading further, the more detailed descriptions of each fit Bougherra perfectly: game reading, anticipation, positioning, tackling, passing and vision.
Yet it is obviouslly not only Bougherra that is taking advantage of this extra space and heralding the potential for a return of the libero.
Gerard Pique, is making great strides at Barcelona this season, Lucio did it to great effect at the Confederations Cup for Brazil, Pepe is performing a similar job for Portugal, Vermaelen is flourishing at Arsenal, Ignaschevich was very important for Russia in the side that beat England and Miranda is one of the most saught after defenders on the planet after capturing three Brazillian championships with São Paulo.
This list of course is nowhere near exhaustive as there are players cropping up everywhere that are playing in these kind of roles.
Tactics are in football to answer questions posed by other managers, teams, yet at the same time, importantly from changes in the rules of the game. By this notion they seem to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary in nature. Much as the latest incarnation of the offside rule brought about the insurgance of the poaching striker, the appearance of the ‘false nine’ has aided the resurgence of the libero.
It’s the chicken and egg debate on another level. Did Bougherra make the realisation that he had more space and could flaunt it or did Walter Smith make the realisation and give him the impotice to run into the space (perhaps since Lee McCulloch can drop a little deeper whenever he does go?).
Whether Walter Smith came upon this by accident or by design is further cause for debate and a question we won’t know the answer to.
However in my opinion the current trends in football tactics are very evident in the shapes, players and positions that Smith uses. It seems to all have came together in recent weeks for us. Football, whilst being at the cutting edge with primadonna footballers, bumper television contracts and astronomical debts is far more insular and introspective when it comes to tactics.
“To resurrect an old line, you don’t win games by scoring goals, you score goals by winning games: by playing the game where you want it to be played, thus maximising your team’s strengths and minimising those of your opponent” Jonathan Wilson.
Maximising your teams strengths and minimising those of your opponent. Walter Smith is the master.
Smith a tactical magician and revolutionary? What next? Kris ‘purely poaching’ Boyd being a rounded footballer under his tutelage? Kenny ‘Misser’ scoring goals for fun? Kirk ‘everyman’ Broadfoot being a marauding full back? Twitters DaMarcus Beasley being the most important footballer on the pitch in a Rangers jersey? Smith having a seventeen year old youngster that is ready to replace the possible outgoing libero Bougherra?
It could never happen….could it?
It’s a much discussed topic on football forums, social networking sites and in blogs by sad moaning wannabe writers like myself: Do footballers, managers and owners of football teams actually look at online supporter opinion?
I suppose the extension to that question is do they actually care? You’d think that in earning a four or five figure sum, having the adulation of millions, the cars, the holidays, the bling (especially if you’re a jeweller like DaMarcus Beasley), then you really wouldn’t be caring one jot just what some internet geek thinks of you.
However apparently it seems that increasingly they do.
The crossover of internet geekery into the mainstream, thanks to the exponential growth of social networking and fecundity of technological capabilities (any footballers reading now will have stopped doing so), has lead to people engaging with online content that would never of traditionally dreamed of doing so. There is a reciprocal relationship now – fans can now interact with players and celebrities at their will through sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Celebrity gossip rags and the blood thirsty west of Scotland media morons have circled upon this as a quick fix to get a story from no where. One only needs to look at the way in which the story of the racial slur on Maurice Edu was broken after his 140 character or less, micro-blogged Tweet; which obviously carefully detailed exactly what happened on that fateful night after the game against Gonorreah FC.
Wait, no, he said; “Not sure what hurt more: result last nite or being racially abused by couple of r own fans as I’m getting in my car…smh (shaking my head]…off to rehab”. Conculsive. There might of as well have ben HD video of it. Because he said it, it became fact. News of the Tweet filtered onto fans websites where it was then picked up by the lurking media morons and it was being reported on the radio and on news websites within the hour.
Essentially, the dynamic between player/celebrity and Joe Public has changed and will continue to change.
However this goes back to the original question – do players look at or care about online supporter opinion? The majority of the time these Facebook and Twitter pages are nothing more than one big backslapping mission from fanboys that want the recognition of one of their idols replying to something nice that they have said about them. But forums and blog posts are different. Whilst blogs tend to hold the opinion of an individual, it is forums that hold a broad spectrum of opinions, both positive and negative, on all things related to football clubs.
Today in the Guardian, a mountain has been made from a molehill on just this topic.
At the weekend Bobby Zamora scored a goal. I know, it’s been a while for the big man and I too was a little bit shocked to hear it. I’ve read this occurrence compared to the notion that even a blind hen sometimes pecks the odd piece of corn. Zamora suffers from Kenny Miller (or is it Kyle Lafferty) syndrome of looking pure dead busy and holding up the ball perfectly for strikers and advancing midfielders. “Harry them Kenny, Harry them!“. Before passing it the opposition.
Anyway, upon scoring, Zamora went radio rental and refused to celebrate with his team-mates, pushing them in a right old strop (in fairness I would push Gordon Ramsay lookalike Damien Duff given half the chance). Instead, he went running to the Fulham supporters furiously pumping his chest and spitting out an invite them to “shut their effin mouths“.
Subsequently, the Guardian today has ran with a story written by David Hytner with the lead “How The Bloggers Got The Better of Hot Headed Zamora“. The article explained Zamora’s behaviour somewhat. Essentially, there is an odd situation at Fulham that is different to that of Rangers, in that the club run a forum for supporters to talk about player and club issues. According to Hytner, the players at Fulham quite regularly check out what is being said on the forum and after the incident the effervescent Fulham boss Hodgkinson said; “Maybe he reads too many of these blogs that people write in to.”
So it does happen. Players are just as internet savvy as any other teenage or twenty something and the extra kudos that their footballing profile gives them on the internet means that anything that they do online will be scrutinised – just ask Ever Benega of Valencia about Webcams or Andrei Arshavin about his trip to the waxworks…
However, it surely isn’t widespread. Is it?
If the Rangers management read only a portion of some of the supporter opinion, then they would be surprised if not disgusted. The negative voice is more often than not the loudest voice and its for that reason that sometimes online supporter opinion is ignored or sadly pigeonholed as being the collective belief, when the truth is that opinion is usually much more divided and in the large part supportive. That is what keeps these forums going. If everyone agreed then what would the point be? Well, it’d be a collective backslapping like Maurice Edu’s Twitter page of course.
Articles like the one released about Graeme ‘TOSIT’ Duffy (or is that ‘TOAST’?) by Boss on RangersMedia pertaining to his business interests and information gathered from Companies House draws the attention of a wider audience. With national news agencies picking up the story and further interview questions paying particular reference to the exact title the article, it would be silly to not think tha Mr Duffy has been passed a copy of the article – never mind actually communicating with the site?
The ease at which people can remain anonymous whilst using football forums is always going to hinder a quantifiable understanding of whether Rangers staff use fan forums to garner opinions or to just plain be nosey. There’s not many people out there that would be silly enough to sign up to a website with an email address that gives away their identity (although you would be surprised).
One thing that is for certain is that the increased interaction would be welcomed by the masses. Edu’s aclimitisation to life in Scotland was in no doubt aided by the fact that the Rangers support could interact with and get to know him before he was even playing the first team. Also, Walter Smith said yesterday at the AGM that Rangers could adopt the European technique of hotelling and schooling youngsters which is an idea that was discussed and poured over in detail in the Setting The Standard Campaign.
So perhaps it might actually be a good idea for the club and the players to integrate themselves with the supporters via whatever means possible in this technological age. We’re certainly ready and waiting for them.
Where have all the real men gone?
Hard working men that don’t care what they look like when they’re working at their job. They return home smelling of blood, sweat, dirt and sometimes with a nip of whisky on their breath. Men who toil, scrape and work their hands to the bone, fighting for their very lives every time they set off to earn a crust – no matter what it is that they do.
A certain brand of man. Cast from the sturdy mould of the hard working and dogged men of days gone by. Men that used to spend more time beneath the ground in dark, damp mines. Men that worked in the smokey ship yards of Govan and men who risked life and particularly limb to work in the industrial age factories across the West coast of Scotland and up and down this fine country of ours.
This same mindset was filtered into the men-only world of football stadiums, smokers nights and secret handshakes.
The football stadiums across Britian were places of sanctuary from hard working British men for an hour and a half every second Saturday. The pictures of thousands of men filtering patiently into the great stadiums across this land with their flat caps and trenchcoats on was a sight to behold. Spotting a woman in their midst would be like studying a Where’s Wally for that red and white striped jumpered moron. Whatever paltry wage they may have been earning was at least in part taken up for their ticket, pie and bovril at their stadium of choice.
On the pitch, the football when compared to today was agricultural in the large part – a large exponent of the ploughed field surfaces that the British climate brings. The men playing the beautiful game were much more robust; athleticism was not a the correct vernacular to describe the majority of players. These men were troopers on the football field. Each and every one of them proud to be representing the club crest that was emblazoned across their chest. It meant a different life than most.
These committed and determined men that would fight tooth and nail with their chest puffed out proudly, more often than not trudging on through the pain barrier, seem to have left modern football in the large part. They most certainly have at Rangers Football Club.
Taking a cursory look through the first team squad at Rangers as we reach the teenage years of the twenty first century, we see a bunch of primadonnas and players that put simply, just don’t look like they care.
Ask yourself, how many of our first team would sweat blood for our club crest?
They may say all the right things when it is time to give vox pops to their pals in the media. Yet when it comes time to step onto the plush grass that has been lapped with whitewash, they seem to wilt under pressure like Chris Burke in the Aberdeen sunlight. There’s no leader in the midst. Not one man will grab the players around them by the scruff of their collar, dust them down and carry them back into battle. These kind of men were last seen gracing the pitch at Ibrox in the times of the band of brothers in the 1990′s – but that is too long ago.
There’s no cutting edge at Rangers. There’s no one willing to be the bad guy for the good of the cause. The fact that the only player there is in our squad that stirs the green and grey hatred from across the city is a 30 year old substitute and impact player in Nacho Novo speaks for itself.
We need players that will get in the faces of our opponents and be willing to die for the men that are around them.
There is one man that I’d love to see back in a Rangers shirt who could stir the hatred in our enemies and the pride in all of us. A real man on the pitch that would fight till the death or at least until the jersey he had on his back had to be torn from his body – and he now lives in Milan.
Rattling around the San Siro on a weekly basis these days is the worlds smallest ton on bricks, Gennaro Ivan “Rino” Gattuso.
Gattuso is the man that crashes through the wry, self-seductive confidence that is apparent in the Gucci wearing, cologne dripped and tailored trousers of the AC Milan squad. The best description I’ve read of the man is that he “looks like a gardener and plays like a gardener’s shovel”.
Off the pitch, Gattuso looks like the epitomy of a modern cosmopolitan man. He dons the sheer cut and expensive suits, poses in the finest magazines and moves with the calm assurance that he is a man in possetion of a World Cup winners medal. Even his ragged beard is kept that way with much preening.
On the pitch, he is a completely different animal. He adopts the gait and defiance of a rabid, snarling pitbull that has been backed into a corner. He always leaves an early impression on the shinguards of whatever opponest he plays against, regardless of reputation, to let them know that the next ninety minutes are not going to be easy.
There’s a manic elegance to his football. He smiles like a cheshire cat as he involves himself in battles across the pitch – like someone that gains energy from confrontation and a test of wits and strength of character – a footballing succubus. Football purists might say that his best days are behind him and that the brand of football he plays is hard to love, but there is no doubt that he commands respect and can be a man to inspire and exactly the kind of man you would want by your side in a footballing war that simply had to be won.
Sometimes we are asked whilst in our locals with our aquaintances, that if we were Chairman of the club we love and given a blank cheque, who would we sign to rid the club from its current ails. Well I’d weigh in with a hefty support for the cultured man that has grown from the wide-eyed boy I remember being introduced onto the pitch in front of the fans with a compatriot when we won nine in a row.
It is a much debated thought and one that is more ‘pie in the sky’ than ‘aye’, but Rino Gattuso would be the perfect kick of paprika in our Pasta Piccante. Gattuso is not being played at Milan under Leonardo, perhaps as he is returning from injury, but it may also be that the distinguished Brazillian football gentleman just doesn’t see a battle hardened, Wolverine faced warrior as part of his plans.
Let me be straight. I am not suggesting for one second that I think Rino Gattuso will play for Rangers Football Club again. However, some of the veins that pump through his Roman arteries, servicing his adrenelane craving heart will forever be tied to the city of Glasgow and our club. We as supporters are forever tied to him too as he has once worn the royal blue of the mighty Rangers.
In a time where modern footballers are far too often concerned with Bentleys, broads, bank accounts, buffed up egos and bumper contracts, Rino Gattuso is a real man. I for one woul’d love it if he would once again become our man.
Gritted teeth, gnarled expressions on the faces, knuckles whitened wrapped around the royal blue jersey of the interlocular, fists clenched at the ready, threatening ominously to be unleashed in a flurry of blows. Words of venom and frozen breath are being spat at each other through sheets of Friday morning rain and cold, blustery, sheets of wind.
Two men stand toe to toe ready to take out an anger that must have been brewing with words of venom being spewed at one another. An Edinburgh lilt chews out words of distain to be met by the broken words of anger flowing in an anglo-gallic, French Algerian accent.
Both men willing yet pensive that the other will throw the first punch and the training ground set-too will spill over into a full on brawl on the watered, maintained grass of Murray Park.
Then it happened.
According to reports in the press and rumours circulating internet forums and messageboards the fight happened. More than verbal volleys were exchanged as a blur of arms and legs were tangled in a spurt of apoplectic rage. It was over as soon as it started and described as “handbags at 50 paces” by the manager – but can we read a little more into it?
Training ground clashes are what makes a team; yet of course it can also break a team. Walter Smith is particularly known for trying to encourage the players comprising his teams to train as hard as they play – something that was lost in the time of Paul LeGuen where contact at training was outlawed (just ask Phil Bardsley).
There is always flair ups in training at professional football clubs. Our manager in waiting Ally McCoist was an excellent proponent of this as his bright and breezy joker persona outside the club was a mask for a fiercely competitive and very hard trainer. Coisty revelled in tussles with Bomber Brown and Gough on a daily basis on makeshift training grounds which often continued onto the minibus on the way home. It’s a mark of respect that the players care that much.
Should the swirling rumours of the Scottish media and West of Scotland Chinese whispers that ensues everytime some Old firm gossip surfaces been reporting this story about any two other players then there is a chance that this tete-a-tete could be dismissed as two players who care so much about the club, the team and each other that their desire bleeds out onto their will to win training games; but it wasn’t.
It was Madjid Bougherra and Kenny Miller.
The fact that it was this pair is relevent as it was this pair that seemed to be having a throwaway “war of words” in the press last week. As we all know, Bougherra was late (again) in returning for duty with Rangers after Algeria’s success in getting to the World Cup in South Africa. Smith dealt with Bougherra in-house and then left him on the bench for Rangers’ European tie with Stuttgart. Meanwhile, Miller was pulled in after training as the rent-a-quote for the day in the media room at Murray Park.
Naturally, the media was going to ask the questions that the players didn’t really want to answer and the hot topic was of course the late return and potential dropping of arguably Rangers’ best player before a critical Champions League tie. Miller was probed on the issue and his comments were not really all that provocative;
“We want our best players out there,” Miller said. “Obviously I don’t know what’s gone on with Madjid not coming back but it’s something the manager will sort out I’m sure.“
Miller continued and was a little bit more specific, “I don’t see any reason why he would want to stay away. Obviously this week’s circumstances with qualification for the World Cup is maybe a little bit more understandable than other times but still no excuse.”
Those comments are hardly a call to arms and a slap in the face for Bougherra; who at least on the park seems to get offended if even the slightest thing goes wrong. Yet, as ever, the Scottish media sensationalised the story and churned out the usual vernacular such as “blasted” and tone of reporting that will serve demonise both Miller and Bougherra.
Is this what served as the impetus and trigger to the fight that has been splashed all across the newspaper back pages of the sports sections today?
One can only imagine what might have been said between the two and who it was that might have started it:
In the red corner, wearing the green and white shorts, weighing in at something or other pounds, hailing from parts unknown……..Madjid ” The Sandman” Bougherra. In the blue corner, also wearing the green and white shorts, hailing from the wrong side of Scotland……..”Kenny “The Perma-tan Punisher” Miller. The verbals begin the bout…
The Sandman – “What is zhis you err sayeeing about moi dans le newspapeyay monsoir Meeloor?”
The Perma-tan Punisher – “Nuthin Boogie eh”
The Sandman – “Yoo dizrespect me in le papeeyay monsoir”
The Perma-tan Punisher – “Ah just said that you wur late comin back fae doon in ‘efrica, didnta eh?”
The Sandman – “For thees dizrespect…..I keel you”
(Bougherra comes flashing in with punches and kicks like a catherine wheel that’s flown off its upright and Miller replys by trying to spray some tanning product into Madjids eyes)
This is more than likely not what happened (you can pop that jaw closed now at that revelation I know). Although I’d say that I’d imagine Bougherra had been told about the newspaper article(s) second hand and had decided to confront Miller on what had been said. Of course this is conjecture and there is every chance that it might have just been two players clashing over an agressive tackle too far – but I just can’t buy it.
Now there’s two reasons why.
Firstly, I think that its fairly obvious that there is simply not that kind of fight on the pitch anytime we have all watched Rangers, Miller and Bougherra this season. Bougherra is the unflappable centre half who has only made about three mistakes in his whole tenure with Rangers.
He’s more likely to look personally offended at a bad challenge or a sending off against him than to fly into an unstoppable rage. Miller for all his endeavour and tenacity (is ‘headlesschickenness’ a word?) is not known as a hot head either.
It’s rather uncharacteristic of both – so there must have been something pretty major to set both these players off against each other.
It has to be the newspaper stories. Differences in culture? Misrepresentation in the press? Issues with translation and players hearing things second hand? The second reason I think that I think there is more to it is that there has been further rumour of Bougherra clashing with another team mate at the Rangers christmas night out in Manchester over the weekend.
Again, that is purely conjecture and could perhaps be put down to weekend Chinese whispers and stories being changed as they are passed from one person to another. But if there is a more than a shread of truth in it then it does seem that Mr Bougherra has issue with a couple of players or the converse; some of the players have issue with Bougherra.
Since this is an in-house matter and it should remain so, we will not know the full truth. Walter has said his piece and brushed off any discussion of there being dressing room unrest. The coming weeks will perhaps tell it’s own tale of what happened. Will we see Bougherra back in the starting eleven sooner rather than later? I’d predict so. Even if he had shat in Millers’ shoe he’d still get a game at Rangers until at least the transfer window.
We can only hope that a dressing room bubble of discontent will be the making of this side.
I always like to try and remain positive about our club and our team. I want to believe Smith that this was nothing more than a short disagreement that was over before it started – but I just can’t get my head around it. There is too much of a back story and too much that can be read into it for it to just have been born out of over zealousness in training.
I sincerely hope that rather than this discontent and distaste in the dressing room continuing and potentially fracturing the side, that this fight can be the full stop over the issue that possibly exists or existed between the two. A clearing of the air and two men that now respect each other for standing up for what they believe in. We’ve had a divided dressing room before that was highly counterprodutive to our aspirations as a team. Lets all pray that this is not the case.
Hey, who knows? Maybe Miller was just jealous of the natural tan that Madjid sports?
So Walter Smith is back to being the worst manager in the world again after some of his strongest critics being somewhat quiet of late.
What’s changed? Is it a case of the voice shouting the loudest is often the only one that’s heard? When we have been playing well of late, no one seems to have been quite as vociferous in their support and praise of the manager. Is this because it is the minimum that we are Rangers supporters have came to expect?
Before I start this discourse on the current state of tenure of Walter Smith, I feel like I should make one thing clear. Last night against Stuttgart was not acceptable. Our European distraction this season has not been acceptable. The managers decisions were not up to scratch for me, however more importantly, the performance of the majority of the players was beyond reproach. We have crashed from Europe with nothing but a whimper – a team that has as much potency and commands as much respect in Europe as Herman van Rompuy.
But can all the blame simply be laid at the door of Walter Smith, Ally McCoist and Kenny McDowell?
Sadly, this time there is a very strong argument that Walter Smith has simply gotten it wrong in Europe this year. The defeats at home this season have been nothing short of embarrassing. An embarrassment we’ve not felt since some of the European forays Smith made towards the end of his first term at the helm of Rangers.
I wrote an blog yesterday saying that second guessing Walter Smith in Europe was as frivolous as trying to spell out words by poking a chopstick into a tin of alphabet spaghetti – something that was proven yet again as Smith deployed a very left-field formation (with Miller on “supporting wide” as I had predicted).
News of the tactical shape was leaked to the papers an hour or so prior to kick off with many dismissing it as tabloid rumour. However the rumours were true, Walter was going to shoehorn his squad into what sounded a very attacking 3-4-3 formation. On seeing it on the park though, it clearly wasn’t that.
In practice it was more like five at the back; quite possibly the most defensively that Walter has asked his troops to play since he came back to the club. Yes, much like the debate that 4-3-3/4-5-1 are actually the same thing – one is the shape when attacking, one when defending – the same is true for 3-4-3 and 5-3-2. Similar to the 4-3-3, the shape changed based on game-circumstance, where the wingers dropped into midfield, the two wide players from the four man midfield ended up dropping back into full back positions.
This drew pressure and allowed territory and space to Stuttgart too deep in our own half.
Our three man defence of Wilson, Weir and McCulloch was not up to the task of playing together in that formation. Despite the experience of Weir, he couldn’t help McCulloch through the ordeal and it seemed that Wilson was the most mature head at the back in many occasions. It was the kind of formation that Basile Boli would have revelled in.
We didn’t really challenge Stuttgart at all.
In all fairness they cruised it and had it not been for the inspired form of Allan McGregor we could have faced a much heftier deficit. McGregor, Wilson and Davis being the only players to come out from the debacle with pass marks. Boyd didn’t have as bad a game as many will have you believe. Yes, he missed that chance, but his all round game up front pretty much as a lone Ranger was passable. He didn’t set the heather on fire but he was not the worst player on the park. He would deserve to play against the Spaniards in the final game based on his performance in my opinion.
But I am talking about the players here. Not the manager. Who is to ‘blame’ for the European misadventure? Walter? The players?
If everything is considered with a sensible head then it’s a combination of both. Walter may have judged his tactics wrong last night, but the players didn’t show the fight and desire to win for Rangers that we have the right to demand from our players. We are not European no-marks like Gonnoreah Urziceni. Not one player pulled themselves and the players around him up over the precipice.
As much as the players all seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet within the squad, there is not the level of commitment that is required to play well and win in Europe. Maybe the players in our squad are simply not good enough to compete and perform at that level? However that is a path that leads back to the manager. It was him that signed them and it’s him and his assistants that train them to mould them into the players that they are now.
So I suppose for me there is no direct blame for our European failure, it is a collective failing and everyone associated with the club has recognised that.
Players and management have been quoted last night and today saying that it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t, they recognise that and we recognise that. But for me, the doom and gloom merchants need to get a grip of reality. We may have slipped out of Europe, but two of the sides in our group are filled with magnificent players – some of the best of in the world, especially in the case of Sevilla. We are leading the league and are still on course for the other two domestic cups.
Look at it this way. The money in Europe is from the Champions League; we’ve played in the Champions League, we will receive the money. We are all disappointed to not be in the Champions League after the New Year but let’s face it, our squad is not good enough to be there. Apart from the last sixteen, the best we could have hoped for was a Europa Cup campaign which could have stretched our squad to it’s limits.
The league this year is our bread and butter. Simply, we have to win the league this year. Failure is not an option for the future of Rangers (without intervention from a new buyer). We must ensure Champions League football next season for our debt to be better managed. I know I sound like a bit of a drama queen here, but I genuinely believe that it is that important and I think that belief can be backed up when the figures from the latest financial reports are considered. It’s not the case that the club will cease to exist immediately or vanish like Gretna, but everything that we have came to expect and love could potentially begin to be stripped away.
Put quite plainly, if failure to reach the last sixteen of the Champions League or gain entry to the Europa cup means that our players are galvanised and we can go on to win the league then I’d very happily take that. Not every year, but this year I’d take it. Walter Smith knows that he won’t be the manager of Rangers for the next five years, he knows his time at the helm is coming to an end. Without a new owner there will be no fresh exciting young manager to come in. Who else would offer to work on without a contract as Walter has? He is what a lot of what Rangers should always be – proud, loyal, honest and a Trojan of a worker for the interests of the club. People should remember that before castigating him.
There wasn’t a bad word said in his name when he broke the news that the bank were severely influencing the club. He was lauded for protecting the clubs interests and for making the fans aware of a situation that we needed to know about. So let’s maybe cut him some slack.
Last night was a complete shambles, but we always need to look to the positives in life. This season is by no means over yet. We still have some of the most important months in Rangers history ahead of us. What the club, players and management need right now is us to be behind them in what they are doing. I may not like some of the decisions made by management and some of the performances and attitudes of the players, but I will continue to lend them my unwavering support – this season more importantly than most we need to be a collective unit, fighting for the same cause for the best of the institution that means more than anything to us all.
We might have whimpered out of the battle for Europe but the much more important and telling war is yet to be won.
The international break came at the perfect time for Rangers.
Just before the break began were starting to change around some of our stuttering form and coming out from the financial panic that ensued from the revelations instigated by our gaffer. After the break we found we had a rested and focussed squad (apart from Mjad Madjid of course) and it clearly showed against Kilmarnock at the weekend.
For the first time this season, the collective unit looked like a Rangers team.
During the first half we passed our way around Kilmarnock with relative ease; showing exactly the reason why we are the reigning Scottish champions. Goals from Miller, Boyd and Whittaker eased us to a three nil lead by the half and the game was dead – Kilmarnock had no chance of coming back. The players looked more confident and much more balanced across the pitch.
It was the perfect tonic ahead of Stuttgart tonight. The second half was at an eased pace and we continued to dominate proceedings, allowing our players much needed gametime at a lessened pace and with less pressure. Confidence will no doubt be soaring after the weekend too, something that will have been heightened on seeing Stuttgart’s continued struggle in the Bundesliga.
I’m confident of a victory tonight.
One of the main plus points from the weekend was the continued resurgance in form from our Mr Goals, Kris Boyd. Although that moniker will perhaps need to be reassesssed soon as Boyd’s game seems to be going through a bit of a metamorphosis. It’s almost like he’s finally realised that he has to work his posterior a bit more in games. Dare I say it, but it looks like he is becoming more of a rounded (that’s not a pun on his weight) striker. He scores with both feet with deadly accuracy – just look at his goal against Killie – and has a knack of scoring with his head; but it is his growing confidence and willingness to take the ball into his feet with his back to goal, challenge for the ball in the air and chase down shadows that is quite rightly earning him plaudits.
Call me a cynic, but isn’t Mr Boyd’s contract running out at the end of the season? Now there’s two ways to look at it, either he’s working himself into the shop window for a new club come January or the summer or he is trying his best to prove to the Ibrox hieracrchy that he is worthy of a new deal at Rangers. Of course, everyone hopes that he is fighting for a secured future at Rangers but circumstance may dictate otherwise.
Last eight month of contract super player pills seem to be ditched out to Boyd and it has happened over and over again at Rangers, with Lovenkrands and Burke being two prime examples. These are players that seemed to play to their full potential whenever it is their own career that is resting on it and sadly not when it is for the better of the team and the club. I believe that every player now on the books at Rangers is playing for the club and for the manager and importantly the squad seems to all be pulling in the same direction for the first time in years. I am not one to slag players though and I have faith in Boyd’s intentions. He’s worn his heart on his sleeve and dug his heels in for the betterment of his Rangers career before.
Is he worthy of his start tonight?
I think he’s long overdue a chance to prove his worth in the big games – he’s been working hard enough of late. The nature of the beast is that Rangers simply need to win. Smith has been berated for his tactics but even he must see that playing with only Miller furrowing alone up front is leaving too much to chance. That being said, second guessing what Walter Smith will do in a big game is like poking a chopstick into a tin of alphabet spaghetti in the hope of coming out with the letters K-U-Z-N-E-T-Z-O-V hanging off the end. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see Miller playing on the left hand side of a “three-pronged” attack and Bougherra coming on in the second half to play in midfield.
Tonight will see the continuing bond being developed between Wilson and Weir at the centre of defence. There has been a lot said about the youngster since he has came into the fold and quite rightly so. He is the most comfortable and composed defender we have on the ball and he can spot a pass and a run from midfield or up top, with elegance and ease. We all rightly so have big hopes for the young man, but we need to keep our heads and realise that he will need to drop out of the team, even for a few games to rest at some time. No doubt this will be further example to many supporters that Smith has no idea what he is doing. But I believe dropping Wilson sometime soon, after Bougherra has sweated a little, will be better for his career.
It is however starting to get fairly obvious that Bougherra is going to leave Glasgow Rangers Football Club.
When is the only matter. I believe we will most likely hang onto him in the January transfer window in order to capitalise on the inflated fee a good showing in the African Nations Cup could bring before the World Cup and the transfer merry go round that will doubtlessly ensue. If the bank are no longer (were the ever?) demanding money immediately to service our debts, then it is in the best interests of Rangers to hold onto him for longer than the next month or so. That requires a slightly longer-term outlook from the board and the bank though, so who knows that will happen there.
Yet one thing is for sure, Bougherra will leave. Weir will retire at the end of the season or at least head back down south. We seem to have a real talent in Wilson coming through, but who will be his partner? Will Papac slot into the centre leaving Smith or Wylde on the left? Will McCulloch drop into defence permenently? I’m growing more to the outlook that the player that could fit into the void is none other than Andy Webster.
Webster has struggled with Prodanitis since he signed from Hearts via Wigan. But what we have to remember is that Webster was an established Scotland international who had Premiership clubs interested in signing him at one point. I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything – Stephen Crainey was a Scotland international once and Don Cowie is one now – but there is no doubt that he is a good footballer. It’s good to see him back playing for Dundee United and playing well. It could potentially prove to be a masterstroke of Smiths if Webster comes back from a full season of football with a good footballing side ready to slot into his plans at Ibrox.
Elsewhere, Rangers were tenuously linked with Aberdeen born USA internationalist Stuart Holden over the weekend. Holden’s contract is up in January and he seems keen to move to Europe if first team football can be guaranteed ahead of the World Cup in the summer. Word has it that Mo Johnston, the man that identified Maurice Edu as a signing target, alerted McCoist to the contractial situation of ten time capped Holden.
Rumour has it that Ewen Chester (our whole scouting network) has watched him on several occasions with a view to a potential signing in the transfer window. Holden has been interesting several clubs down south and Aberdeen are also keen to have themselves linked. Should this be true and a transfer sanctioned, Holden may be a very astute buy.
RangersMedia’s man in the know when it comes to the qualities of footballers, Muff, ran the rule over the player and intimated his knowledge of him;
“I remember Alex McLeish showed a bit of interest in him when with the national team, unfortunately for Scotland, he now plays for the US. Sunderland had high hopes for him when he was younger, but I think injury or something halted his progress?
One of the star players in the MLS, IMO – that might not seem much to some, but there are a number of cracking players in that league, and he’s proving on the international stage, that he can play football!
From what I have seen of him, he’s an attacking minded player. I have seen him play on the left, right, and center for both the US and Houston. Clever player, with a good bit of pace. I particularly like his ability to play with both feet, his range of passing and his impressive deliver of a ball. He can also strike a ball, which is something we miss from our midfielders, and he seems to like to ghost into the back post – for not being that tall, he’s quite good in the air, and with his head.
Could be the next Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey, Brad Friedel, Brian McBride….in a sense, that he could come over to Britain, and perform to a high standard on a consistant platform.
I hope there is something in this, because he’s the type of player we need at the club; out of contract, wages would not be a problem, exciting international player with a bit of quality….who could make us a good bit of money in the future.
So when do we hear that the likes of Hull, Bolton, Fulham….are interested in him”
The greatest Rangers goalkeeper of all time, the flying pig, the original tabloid lothario, the goalie; Andy Goram. My footballing idol.
It’s been 5 years since the goalie hung up his gloves for good after a long and medal laden career spanning different clubs that he had a special relationship with and reason for loving.
Oldham, his hometown team, where he first realised small town celebrity and dipped his toe into party excess. Hibernian, where his auld man Lewis had played as a keeper during his career before it was curtailed early with a broken leg. Rangers, his dad’s team and the place where he found a band of brothers, adulation and abhorration across Glasgow and beyond. Manchester United, the team he supported as a boy and Clyde, where a nine in a row brotherhood was solidified.
The Goalie is the first player in Scottish football history to have won all domestic honours available in the country. He completed this feat in 2002 when he won the Challenge Cup with Queen of the South – this is a statistic that can never be taken away from my hero, although I’m sure he would exchange them all just to be back playing with his nine in a row brothers and maybe to have been in Jim Leightons gloves in France, against Brazil.
Forty three Scotland caps in a thirteen year period with the national team is decidedly low for a man with the talent and legendary status that Goram has. This is a man that Alan Hodgkinson lauded as the best technical goalkeeper he has ever worked with – and that is from a man who has worked with some of the most famous and celebrated goalkeepers in history.
But of course it was between the sticks of the mighty Rangers that Goram made his name.
The first time I saw Goram play was in a season review video that I had from the 1988/89 season when he was still playing for Hibs. It was a game against Rangers and he was simply unstoppable. He’d have stopped mulitple footballs being rapped at him from all angles that day. I can’t remember the score or much else about the game other than the highlights of the game basically consisted of Goram saving everything that was thrown at him. Until this point, I had been in awe of Chris Woods, he had ignited a fire in my belly to become a goalkeeper, but Andy Goram, even when at Hibs had poured petrol onto it to make the fire burn bright.
During his tenure at Rangers there wasn’t much in the game of football that he didn’t achieve. From reading his book, there are obvious regrets about his career and things he could have approached differently, but Goram never seemed to be a man that would dwell on his mistakes. He always came across to me as a man who had the courage of his convictions and strength of character to stand by every decision and action he made. And of course he did make some bad decisions; the press got out their social highlighter and marked Goram’s failings for the nation to see.
But we have the memories of him making the kind of saves that really shouldn’t have been possible for a man of his stature. I asked him just how he was always there to make saves that he really just shouldn’t have been getting to and he reverted back to heaping praise onto his goalkeeping svengali, the man he still calls his guru, Alan Hodgkinson.
Apparently Hodgie had always showed Goram angles that wouldn’t have worked for other goalkeepers. Instead of trying to minimise the areas available for the striker to score when they were lining up, Goram was taught to position himself so as there was only one possible position of the goal that he wouldn’t be able to reach and if the player scored then it was bully to them for finding it.
I’ve just finished reading his book and I’ve now had the honour of spending time with my idol to interview him and I can honestly say that the man is in fact an absolute gentleman off the park too. He speaks so intelligently about football and so passionately about what is his after all, his second club, Rangers.
My one hope for Goram is that in the future he’ll not only be a go-to for a quote every time Rangers look to sign or sell a goalkeeper or every time a player steps out of line and into the front pages of the Scottish media. I hope he fulfils what I’m sure is the burning desire inside him, to pass on his knowledge to other young goalkeepers just as his dad and his guru did for him.
We all used to hear the song “two Andy Gorams” being sung by thousands in Ibrox and beyond, but for me, there will always only be one Andy Goram.
I didn’t write the following, bu it is a great idea, so I thought I’d share…
Over the years we have looked at the possibility of emulating the Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid by having a B side play in a lower league. As much as we would all love to see this happen with Rangers I can’t see it being accepted by the lower league clubs or the powers that be.
What I am suggesting is that we create a team in the lower levels of Scottish football that takes 2 youth players from each SPL side. All players would be Scottish and would be under 21 years old. The team would be managed by a Scottish coach and would be placed in the 3rd division with the ability to gain promotion up the the 1st division. The team would be allowed to enter in all cup competitions and should they play an SPL team they would not field that teams players.
Any teams who did not wish to participate would have there places offered up to the other SPL sides. These places could also be filled by Scottish youth players playing in England.
The benefits of it would be that we could have our top young players playing alongside each other in a competitive environment where they would have the ability to express themselves. They would be made to play fast attacking football instead of rotting away in youth games or bounce matches. Each manager would have the ability to watch how there players cope with senior football and could help them improve as a player.
During the season there would be the ability to change the players due to injury or simply down to a player having a poor attitude. The SPL teams would continue to pay the wages of these players to keep costs down and up and coming coaches and managers would be given the chance to work with the young players to gain valuable coaching experience themselves.
The team would ground share with another Scottish team and would play there games on a Sunday to allow fans of all SPL clubs to watch there team on a Saturday while still being able to watch there future stars play. Ticket prices would be kept low and kids would get in free with an adult to help encourage more fans back into football.
In Scotland we seem to be scared to use young players to the point that they loose there hunger for the game. We keep young players on the bench purely so we have enough players under the age of 21 in the squad. Far too often players think they have made it before they have shown there true worth. We have good under 19 and 21 teams yet we rarely see these players making a name for themselves and I believe our current league structure has something to do with this.
Rory Loy for example is a regular in the Scotland under 21 team and yet struggled at Dunfermline on loan. Loy had shown great promise as a youngster and was rated very highly by Kilmarnock yet the years of playing reserve football seem to have wasted him as a player. Had he been given a chance at the age of 17 or 18 to play on a regular basis then perhaps we would be seeing a lot more from this once great prospect.
If this team was to play against Rangers or Celtic in a cup competition it would be of real interest to all Scottish fans and would give these young players the sort of experience that you simply cant find in a reserve game. Its time to make use of our national pride and bring more casual fans into football by giving them a true Scottish team to support every week.
I know that there is very little chance of this happening, however I believe that it would be a very exciting idea that would help youth development and would keep the lower leagues fresh and exciting for fans. If the idea was to work then there is a possibility that we could see a Rangers B and Celtic B fighting it out in the lower leagues.
Comments and suggestions are welcome
What do Kirk Broadfoot, Steve Davis, Steven Naismith, Lee McCulloch, John Fleck and Kyle Lafferty all have in common?
This isn’t the makings of a joke, although sadly many of our own support look on some of these players as being just that.
Granted they all play for Rangers. But that’s not what I’m thinking about. You could pour over their stats, looking for something in common about the percentage of missed passes they make, how long they’ve been out injured in the last season or two, their previous clubs or some other tenuous linkage between them all, but the one thing that is true about them all is that they are good footballers – and they suffer, both at the hands of our support and in their own careers because of it.
Now that last statement shouldn’t make any sense, but stick with me on this.
It happens all across football and has done from the time when a bunch of burly lads who were all rowers decided to throw a team together. Football players that have some solid footballing talent are “shoe-horned” into positions and asked to “do a job”. This is rather than playing in their natural positions that they have played a lot of their formative footballing years in; the positions that they are most comfortable and at ease playing in. This is a product of the fact that they are just naturally good footballers; players that a manager would rather have in the team even if it is in their “wrong” position.
In some essence I suppose I am advocating that some players are just too good to not be used when there is a position within the team needing filled.
Football is littered with examples of this. Sometimes it can be a product of a manager with a strong will to change the use the player has for the team. Like Wenger developing a niche for Thierry Henry after his poor spell on the left wing for Juventus or sometimes, it can be like Sandro Salvioni, who played then striker, Patrice Evra, at left back as a stop gap measure before inadvertently realising his awesome potential in the position.
Obviously, not every player that is played out of position is going to be a revelation like an Evra or even a Papac, who has been a good conversion by Smith. It’s this second usage of players by managers that seem to end up with both the manager and the player on the receiving end of (in my opinion) unfair stick.
It’s certainly a contentious view to take, as Walter Smith has been vociferously accused of stuffing square pegs in round holes for as long as I’ve been conscious of football and Rangers. When I was eleven years old I can remember Dave McPherson getting a torrent of abuse for doing a job for Rangers at right back when he was always a centre half. That was in a Rangers team that got within a newts bullock-hair away from the (inaugural) Champions League Final.
McPherson was never an elegant, continental footballer, but he was a very good professional with enough talent for him to have two spells with Rangers – the second of which being part of one of the best Rangers sides ever, in the early ’90s. He was not given the praise for the job he did there that he deserved.
The current team is littered with players that seem to suffer with the fans purely because they are good enough to play in more than one position. Steven Naismith is never a wide midfielder, Lafferty is never a left midfielder and Broadfoot is never a marauding modern full back, but the fact that they are capable footballers means that he can play there for Rangers and do the job asked of them without questioning the manager.
The same goes for big Lee in my opinion. He’s never going to be a long term solution to Rangers’ defensive problems, but he is a big lad, who can win the ball in the air, can make a pass, can tackle and will give his all in the royal blue of Rangers.
What more can we ask for?
Walter Smith, Kenny McDowell and Ally McCoist see the players every day for training – we don’t. Even if many of us did then I’m afraid we need to bow to the fact that between them, that trio have more days experience of professional football than the majority of the support have had cans of Tennants.
There will no doubt be supporters that use an argument of the emergence of Danny Wilson for a reason to castigate Walter and Lee for his playing in defence – saying that if we don’t play him then we’ll never know. Well sadly I come from the school of thought that if the management thought he was ready, then they would play him. He might very well be ready now though, so in my eyes Wilson has been handled impeccably so far – the same is true for Fleck in my opinion.
I know many of you will be thinking that I’m being overly optimistic and trusting of the manager, something that is somewhat thin on the ground these days. Nevertheless, the one thing that I will say against the manager with regard to this is that it was him who went out and bought the players to assemble the squad. For every success, like a Davis on the right hand side, there has been a frustration, like a Lafferty on the left hand side.
The squad that he has put together since he came back has been stretched to its limits. From the numerous games and travelling that comes with playing in Europe and domestically, combined with our ongoing financial woes, we will need to force square pegs into round holes in the coming months. I just hope that the supporters are more understanding that the players want to play wherever they are asked and that the manager just wants to have good players playing in every position.
Why can’t it just be that simple?