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Rangers Rescued


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A year is a long time in football, as all connected with Rangers will testify.

Last January, the Ibrox club were coping with the turbulence of Paul le Guen's shock departure, amid clashes with Barry Ferguson.

A French revolution was in the air, but the former Lyon boss failed to take flight in Scotland, much to the surprise of many observers.

The Glasgow club were disjointed, low in confidence and lacking purpose when Le Guen left, and chairman Sir David Murray - not a man to hesitate in a crisis - sent for his old friend, Walter Smith.

Having enjoyed a successful spell with Scotland, Smith clearly saw the attraction of coming to Rangers rescue.

And he appeared immune to any risks, as the man who made his reputation in leading the Light Blues to a golden nine-in-a-row era previously.

From inheriting a mess at international level from Berti Vogts, the task facing him at Ibrox was of a similar magnitude.

It was a move generally welcomed, for Smith's knowledge of the club, from his first spell in charge between 1991-1998, in addition to an upbringing steeped in Rangers' traditions, ensured that a sense of stability would become his priority.

Walter's Way

Scottish Premier League: P34 W24 D5 L5

CIS Cup: P2 W2

In Europe: P14 W6 D3 L5

Total: P50 W31 D8 L10

The new boss, and assistant, legendary striker Ally McCoist, returned to the top of the Ibrox marble staircase on 10 January.

And the Scot swung into action with decisive effect, as results improved immediately, Dundee United the first to be accounted for in a 5-0 hammering.

Celtic had cast a 17 point Scottish Premier League shadow over their old rivals and, with Rangers in danger of missing out on second place they eventually, however, took the runners-up spot with some ease.

Major surgery has taken place in all areas, and the capture of players such as Jean-Claude Darcheville, DaMarcus Beasley and Daniel Cousin were imaginative.

But Smith's number one priority was to reshape the defence, which was particularly brittle under Le Guen, who had been accused of underestimating the physical nature of Scottish football.

Julien Rodriguez and Karl Svensson left, and the acquisition of the experienced David Weir proved to be a masterstroke.

Since his arrival from Everton, the Scotland international has enjoyed an Indian summer, bringing some organisation to the rearguard.

Weir's partnership with Spaniard Carlos Cuellar has a composed look to it overall, despite their exposure by the Lyon attack in the disappointing 3-0 home defeat which killed off the Light Blues' Champions League ambitions in December.

Indeed, Smith's experience of the blue riband competition ended in disillusionment, the limp exit to the French outfit the most notable failure of his twelve months in charge.

It was all the more disappointing, given that Rangers were in pole position to qualify for the last-16.

Furthermore, the presence of Celtic when the Champions League resumes will have done little to douse the frustration of Rangers supporters, and an upcoming Uefa Cup tie against Panathinaikos will be a hollow consolation.

That said, the capture of the Scottish Premier League title remains the key objective for Smith this season.

And Rangers started 2008 in good form, beating Dundee United at Ibrox.

Intriguingly, the first goal, supplied by the rejuvenated Chris Burke - who has relished his top team recall - and executed by Steven Naismith, hints at a bright new era, with the two young Scots rewarding Smith's faith in their ability.

So far, the manager's reshaping of Rangers has cost £10m, with Smith himself admitting his surprise at being able to spend so much in a relative era of downsizing at Ibrox.

Rangers fans have witnessed more cosmopolitan squads over the years, but since taking over, the manager has placed his trust on a mainly Scottish core.

The veteran Weir is the exception to a crop of young talent, with Naismith, Burke, Kevin Thomson, Alan Hutton, Steven Smith, Lee McCulloch, Steven Whittaker and Kris Boyd augmenting the vital presence of captain Ferguson.

While there appears to be question marks regarding the prolific Boyd's long term future, Smith was undoubtedly boosted by Hutton's decision to reject a lucrative move to Tottenham Hotspur.

Although the £9m on offer could have helped fund a January transfer spree, the Scotland full-back's loyalty to his club's title chase is to be admired.

Smith has yet to taste defeat against the green and white half of Glasgow, and there is no doubt that record will be put to the test when Rangers visit Celtic Park on 23 January.

For his second coming to be considered a success, this most shrewd of operators must deliver the SPL title - which would be the first trophy in the Ibrox cabinet since 2005.

With a watershed 60th birthday approaching and his reputation under scrutiny, Smith must ensure Rangers' new year elevation to the top of the table will be the shape of things to come.


My apologies if this has been posted already.

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