ADVOCAAT JUMPS SHIP

Dick Advocaat sensationally quits as Rangers boss. Alex McLeish takes over.


 

ADVOCAAT - FOOTBALL'S SONNY LISTON

Five trophies and a failure. That is the harsh, but accurate assessment of Dick Advocaat's reign at Rangers. Winning the treble in his first season as manager, then the double the next gave the Dutchman an aura of invincibility. But his trophies were won against feeble opposition. The moment an effective challenger arrived on the scene (in the shape of Martin O'Neill) Advocaat was not just beaten, he was humiliated. A 21 point lead over Celtic in 2000 became a fifteen point deficit last season. With Rangers already twelve behind their rivals before the halfway mark, Advocaat's decision to relinquish the reins is a tacit admission that the title race is over.

And this from a man whom no one thought was a quitter. That's why we say he is football's Sonny Liston. Back in the 1960s Liston was the heavyweight champion of the world. Undisputed, undefeated, he routed a succession of poor opponents. Until a new challenger emerged by name of Cassius Clay. Liston quit on his stool in their first fight and took a controversial KO in their second. The big bad bully had met his match.

Yet, just like Liston, Advocaat can't understand - or accept - what has gone wrong at Ibrox. Nor can he admit that he has any part to play in being eclipsed by Celtic in a matter of months

His apologists say he had to alter an ageing side. That was true in 1998 and may have served as an excuse then, but not now. Only four of the playing staff at Ibrox - Vidmar, Moore, Amoruso and Barry Ferguson played under Walter Smith and none of them were first team regulars. Of the current players only Ferguson and Amoruso played in Advocaat's first match in charge.

This is Advocaat's team and has been for some time. He has spent in excess of £80M (£50M net) and ended up with a side that is no better (and arguably worse) than when he took over. In under a season O'Neill outwitted and outsmarted the Dutchman but the proud Advocaat will still not accept he has been a failure.

He boasts about Rangers reaching the last 16 of the UEFA Cup. And their penalty-kicks victory over PSG was a superb achievement. But like any penalty shoot-out it could just as easily have been lost. So after four years and £50M Dick Advocaat has produced a Rangers team that can reach the same level in Europe as Slovan Liberec and Hapoel Tel Aviv. Given the Advocaat rate of progress it's a pity he didn't stay on as manager. For Rangers are on track to win a European trophy around about 2018.

Nor do his reasons for quitting/moving upstairs ring true. Advocaat says a manager grows stale after four years. So he quits six months early! Arsene Wenger has just signed a new contract at Arsenal after five years at Highbury. Alex Ferguson has just passed the fifteen years mark at Old Trafford.

As for the 'Director of Football' task he has taken on, how meaningful a role can that be? David Murray assures us that new boss Alex McLeish will have full control of first team matters. So, unless Advocaat has managerial and executive skills hitherto overlooked by his legion of sycophants, it looks like he'll be a superannuated scout for the new boss. An arrangement unlikely to last for long. Only a fool would bet on both Advocaat and McLeish being in the same jobs twelve months from now.

But Advocaat has remained arrogant to the end. Demanding loyalty from Rangers in return for the loyalty he supposedly showed them when, he alleges, he was pursued by top clubs two years ago. What a funny world it is when someone simply honours a contract, clearly doesn't deserve to have it renewed but demands a new job anyway because he saw the contract out!

Advocaat has also complained that top players don't want to stay at Rangers - preferring the lusher pastures of the Premiership. Supporters of other Scottish clubs are entitled to have a good laugh at the idea of poor little Rangers seeing their best players snapped up by the real giants of the game like...er... Sunderland ? (Reyna) and Blackburn? (Tugay). But here's the rub. While Reyna wanted away, Tugay didn't. Nor did fans favourite Jorg Albertz. It is the so-called disciplinarian Advocaat's failure to control his dressing room allied to his poor man-management that was responsible for their exits.

Advocaat's arrogance was shown at its worst in his pronouncements surrounding the appointment of Alex McLeish (for our view see opposite). He says it was a joint decision by both himself and David Murray. So Advocaat sees himself as Murray's equal at Ibrox. This man makes Graeme Souness look modest!

Forget all the talk about Advocaat being responsible for a Rangers revival in Europe. His legacy is this: a divided dressing-room, £50M wasted and the biggest gap between Rangers and Celtic in a generation. Yet he's still in a job! Clearly, the man's a genius.

 

QUICK THINKING

ScottishAppointments.com displayed a sense of humour in placing an advert above the Rangers v Hibs match report on scottishfootball.com. Barely half an hour after the game between Alex McLeish's new and old teams ended in a 1-1 draw, the banner headlines ran:

You take the wrong job. You're unhappy. You start drinking too much. Of anything.

McLeish - the new Stein? Or Davie White MkII?

Well, it was definitely a surprise. Absolutely no one predicted that Alex McLeish would end up as Rangers boss. Not until it had been injudiciously leaked, that is.

For Hibs directors and supporters it gives a salutary lesson. When the Old Firm come calling, you might as well give up. Those fans will be feeling hurt right now. And who can blame them? They've already seen some of their best talent (Miller, Latapy) walk out of Easter Road for Ibrox and must fear that more (Ulrik Laursen?) will now follow.

The most obvious comparison being made in the media is with Tommy Burns who walked out on Kilmarnock in 1994 to take over as Celtic boss. I disagree. Burns had only two years management experience. McLeish has almost a decade under his belt. Burns had to work under Fergus 'not one thin dime' McCann. Whatever problems McLeish will face at Ibrox, players wages won't be one of them. And even though Rangers have acted just as underhandedly as Celtic did in poaching Burns, they have settled the matter quickly. Rows over compensation won't overshadow McLeish at Ibrox. And in terms of international experience, Burns was a novice. McLeish has 77 Scotland caps to his credit and has coached sides in European competition.

Nevertheless it is a strange decision. It appeared that Rangers were wedded to continental coaching. Not so, but those who hope that McLeish's appointment will result in a fresh wave of homegrown talent on parade at Ibrox may be disappointed. At Easter Road, McLeish's most high-profile signings were the likes of De La Cruz, Sauzee and Laursen.

So let us consider why this move has been made. David Murray says Rangers have acquired the best young coach in Scotland. That's debatable on several counts. While this writer freely admits that he's a couple of years ahead of Big Eck in the queue for a bus pass, 42 is hardly young. Alex Ferguson had picked up a League title and the Cup-Winners Cup by that age. Jock Stein was still in his thirties when he won the Cup with Dunfermline. And that's the company McLeish must aspire to join if he is to be a success at Ibrox.

There are doubts too about his actual achievements. He took over a Motherwell side that was already a strong one under Tommy McLean and the Fir Park fans weren't exactly distraught when he left. At Easter Road, he has presided over a relegation then renaissance. But he leaves at a time when Hibs haven't won a game for ages and have dropped alarmingly down the table. On current form they are the worst team in the SPL. So maybe Eck is a lucky manager. Whatever, he is now about to be tested as never before. For years he has carried this title of 'up and coming manager.' Now the gloves are off, he will have to deliver - and soon.

The Rangers support are bewildered by the move and while they will give him their encouragement at the start, they will want to see signs that he knows how to challenge Celtic's supremacy. To be fair to David Murray, the last time he made a move that left the fans as unsettled was when he appointed Walter Smith upon the departure of Graeme Souness. Smith was untried as a manager but ended up delivering more league titles than anyone in the past 60 years bar Jock Stein.

And perhaps Stein is a more valid comparison than Burns. He too was Hibernian manager when he received the Parkhead call. Regarded as forward-thinking and progressive. And he had to face a Rangers dominance that had lasted for over a generation. Within a year Stein had smashed Rangers superiority ( Like O'Neill did last term) and set Celts off on their greatest era. If McLeish can perform a mirror image of Stein's achievements then he will be hailed as a hero by the supporters.

But Stein's success also prompted changes at Ibrox. Rangers dismissed their long-serving boss Scot Symon (while unbeaten and at the top of the League!) and appointed the man they considered to be the best young manager of the day - Davie White. Like McLeish he had taken a team not long in the top flight (in this case Clyde) to third place in the League. Like McLeish he was struggling to repeat his success the following season. At Ibrox he embarked on a policy of signing big names of the day (Alex Ferguson was one, Scotland's first £100,000 player Colin Stein was another,bought, ironically, from Hibs). And two fruitless years later he was sacked. Although White later managed Dundee, he never regained his reputation as a manager and left the game prematurely.

Of course Advocaat's continuing role is supposed to avoid the White scenario by providing an experienced old head around the place. But what happens when McLeish starts to offload some of Dick's duds? That's when the fun will start? A generation ago Jock Stein proved himself equal to the challenge and dragged Scottish football into a new era. Davie White was overwhelmed by the demands of the job. Which path will McLeish follow? We are about to find out.

 

Thought for the day

Robbie Fowler expressed an interest in joining Rangers. It turns out he was available for less than it cost to sign Tore Andre Flo. Maybe Advocaat thought it was Pauline Fowler who wanted to join the Gers? Or did he reckon that in Ricksen and Konterman Rangers have enough foulers already? He surely didn't think that Flo's a better player than Fowler?

 

 

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