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Lee McCulloch, actually started off as a Central Midfielder?!


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Kenny Hodgart

Published on 29 Dec 2009

When the flak has flown over Walter Smith’s perceived tactical conservatism over the last couple of years, Lee McCulloch has rarely been spared as a target.

For those who had tired of “anti-football”, one man up front and a stuffy midfield, McCulloch was seen as being a major part of the problem, too workaday and utilitarian by half.

It is ironic, then, that of late the former Motherwell and Wigan man has found himself occupying the role of central pivot in a Rangers side that has seemingly been remoulded into an altogether more attacking and dynamic unit. There may not have been new faces and Smith’s options have been limited by injuries, but it is almost as though adversity has taught the Rangers manager live a little, to take a few risks. Nineteen goals scored in the club’s last five league games so far this month suggest he has been justified in that approach.

Since arriving at Rangers in July 2007, McCulloch has tended to be used wide on the left, although he has also variously slotted in as a striker and, in Europe, at centre-back. His shift into the middle of the park, alongside Steven Davis, has had the benefit of allowing freer rein to the flair and running of Kyle Lafferty and Nacho Novo on the wings, but the 31-year-old has needed little adjusting to his new role and has been a steadying, intelligent fulcrum.

Nothing has surprised Pat Nevin about any of that. The former Chelsea, Everton and Scotland winger played with McCulloch at Motherwell for two seasons at the end of his career and knows all about his versatility.

He’s someone who has maximised his potential . . . you can’t do any more than that as a player

Pat Nevin

“Lee actually started as a central midfielder when he was at Motherwell and had played there all through boys’ club level,” Nevin recalled. “But Billy Davies [then Motherwell manager] felt he needed a centre-forward who was a bit physical, so he stuck him up front. He did a really good job when he was moved up and I think he became a better goalscorer for it.

“He’s a player who has always been able to play in a lot of different positions. Billy Davies played him sometimes at left midfield, but usually centre-forward and sometimes, at centre- half. When he went down to Wigan he was used in the same position that Walter Smith has tended to use him up until recently, which was that track-the-back-post left-midfield sort of thing. He’s clearly not left-footed, but he was mostly used on the left both for Wigan and Scotland. He doesn’t seem to care either way whether he plays on the left or right. Walter has had him up front, centre- back a few times, as well, and in midfield. None of those positions has surprised me because I think he’s capable in any one of them.”

Nevin was full of praise for McCulloch’s application throughout his career, and in fact expressed surprise that he had not formed a consistent partnership in the middle with Barry Ferguson before the former Rangers captain left the club in the summer.

“I always thought when he arrived at Rangers that he and Barry Ferguson would have been a fantastic partnership, for a variety of reasons but none more so than that they were best mates and always had been,” he said. “To use a cliche, I thought they would be happy to be in the trenches together, but seemingly there was more call for him elsewhere on the park.

“He’s someone who has absolutely 100% maximised his potential and capabilities with the skills that he has . . . I don’t think you can do any more than that as a player. I have massive admiration for him. He’s not the most skilful player out there, but he’s got good enough skill and he’s a good, strong player. He’s maximised his strengths and, where he’s had weaknesses, he’s worked on them.

“If you look at Stephen Pearson, another player who came through at Motherwell in the same sort of period, Pearson possibly looked more likely to go further, because when you looked at Lee you could see what his limitations were. But Lee has managed to maximise his potential whereas Pearson hasn’t. He has developed superbly throughout his career.”

On taking over as Scotland manager last week, Craig Levein made it clear the door was open for Ferguson, Alan McGregor and Kris Boyd to return to the international fold. Like Boyd, McCulloch withdrew his services for Scotland under George Burley’s reign, albeit unlike Boyd he has reiterated he does not envisage a return at any stage. Nevin, however, believes that the 15-times capped player could still make a difference in a navy blue shirt.

“My one disappointment with him was when he said he no longer wanted to play for Scotland,” Nevin said. 
“I would have liked him to have carried on; I don’t know the reasons why he made thmparison e James Milner coe decision, there was some suggestion that there were personal reasons, but I do wish he was available. He’s a good, powerful player who can fit in in a number of areas, and he would definitely have another campaign in his legs.

“I would compare him to someone such as James Milner for England. He’s a player who can play three or four different positions and players like that are like gold dust.

“He’s happy to shift around and he’s getting better at reading the game as he gets older. We all know what someone such as James McFadden can do, but players like Lee are invaluable to any manager.”

http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/ra...evival-1.995085

I did laugh at the James Milner comparison but, in saying thatm every squad needs someone with a bit of versatility regardless of the quality.

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