- 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
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.
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.
- 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,
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
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
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?