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Le Gaffer says Aur Revoir


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Never before has a year started so torrentially for Rangers.

2007 will be remembered as the year which began with the sensational news that manager Paul Le Guen had dropped club captain Barry Ferguson and stripped him of his status entirely. Fans all over the globe were astonished at events, and the fallout was as dramatic as anything witnessed in past years.

However, just when it seemed like nothing else could top this, the staggering revelation plastered over the official website on the 4th that Paul Le Guen had left Rangers filtered through.

Words cannot begin to express the gravity of events over the turn of the year.

The tumultuous nature of the New Year has been quite incredible, and Rangers fans might be wondering if they are dreaming at this point. Never in recent history have such gigantic events occurred at Ibrox in such quick succession.

Looking back, however, it is pretty clear things did not work in any way for Le Gaffer.

It is more than safe to say Paul Le Guen’s brief stay in the Rangers hot seat did not reap the anticipated domestic dominance expected of it. Indeed, the moniker of ‘French Revolution’ so keenly recycled in the red top tabloids was conspicuous by its absence, and the presumed overturning of the slide suffered the previous season simply did not transpire.

Reflecting back, however, reveals that signs were there even in the irrelevant pre-season of a side which was not going to turn into world beaters overnight. Unconvincing victories over the likes of Linfield and Jomo Cosmos followed by a comprehensive defeat to Mamelodi Sundowns were dismissed as part of the ‘bedding in’ period, with hope it would click in on resumption of SPL business.

Cue Fir Park, the opening game of the season, and the dawn of a new era, with high hopes of energetic, flowing football akin to ‘Le Gaffer’s’ mentor Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. Witness some decent football with a pungent spark about it, before Libor Sionko’s fortunate opener, which owed more to gritty persistence than classy finishing, put the side in the lead. At this point, there appeared to be a real possibility of the new regime hitting the ground running, and all appeared to be operating smoothly until O’Donnell spoiled the party on 52 minutes with a goal to even proceedings up. The fragility of the Rangers 11 began to emerge at an alarming rate as Motherwell dominated, and the previous fast, pulsing football produced by the men from Govan became but a mere memory. The game turned into a hard-fought battle. 7 minutes later Prso headed home from a corner, before the game was anything but played out as the Fir Park side hunted astutely for an equaliser.

They did not gain it.

This match, ultimately, set the tone for the season up till Christmas.

Rangers under Le Guen were a sporadic team at best and downright atrocious at worst.

Present-day status places them 2nd in the league, but at an embarrassing distance of 16 points behind their ancient neighbours Celtic.

Fans has been constantly frustrated by the lack of parity displayed by their side, especially justified anger when one witnesses the convincing performances and defeats of Hearts, Hibs, and European endeavours like Livorno and Maccabi Haifa. Unfortunately, analysis then consequently must follow of the frighteningly abject shows against Aberdeen, Inverness Caley Thistle, St Johnstone and Motherwell at Ibrox and pretty shoddy displays on their travels at Falkirk, Parkhead, Molde, and Easter Road.

It is this split nature of their team which equally split the fans, with some of the most stark displays like St Johnstone leading to protests against the new management, while more heartening results like the recent destruction of Hibs fill fans with real hope.

And what of the manager during all this; his press handling left much to be desired, with prickly interviews ranging from sheer despair to overt arrogance being the order of the day. Recent media relations had improved, admittedly, and it had been left to other teams to experience the conflict with Scottish journalists and reporters.

Then again, presumably fans would not care if he blasphemed excessively and belched down the microphone at the likes of Chick Young as long as his on-pitch management and tactics, not to mention formations, suited the Scottish Premier League. Regrettably his stewardship was beset with some staggering selections and formations, with fans forgiving Alex McLeish’s curious choices in light of this Frenchman’s thoroughly bizarre decisions.

Specific examples of surreal management include dropping fans’ favourite Alan McGregor, while in excellent form, in favour of personal signing Lionel Letizi who subsequently proceeded to gift ICT the winner on his return. That one was so scripted it was comical. Other examples would be the sporadic appearances of Kris Boyd, who until his unfortunate injury picked up in Falkirk had been settling in the side following being in and out at Le Guen’s behest. Plus there was preference of the arguably mediocre Alan Hutton over the promising Phil Bardsley on the basis of apparent personal squabbles.

Ultimately though, one can only scrutinise the season by focusing on results, which is the end product of the business. As elaborated on earlier, some of the outcomes had been scandalous. Yes, promising football had been present in fits and starts, but overall competence had been absent.

And what of his signings; with a criminally limited budget the players brought in have, by and large failed to shine. The big signings (Comparatively) such as Karl Svensson, Libor Sionko and Filip Sebo had not produced the kind of impact signings from yesteryear could effect. Indeed, Sebo, as the big-money acquisition, had categorically failed to deliver and while no one would question his character, his ability appears to leave a lot to be desired. Another capture from Austria Vienna, Sasa Papac, had a promising start and in fact looked to have gained credibility as the best defender at the club. His ineligibility for Europe was a massive problem though, and during the time when the rotation by Le Guen was at its most notorious, the Serb was in and out of the side almost as chronically as Boyd. A dip in form was inevitable, and when the consistently reliable left back Smith was injured, Papac took his place and produced possibly the worst individual performance this season from any Rangers player.

A lack of money, a lack apparent foresight and perhaps underestimation of Scottish league business has led to the import of a lot of players who do little more than take up the wage bill. It would be unfair to suggest they all scrape the barrel of mediocrity;

Sionko has been injured but also shown shades of what he can do, Svensson has slowly improved, and Clement has been regarded as the best signing of the lot, but overall the investments have not truly been worth it. The fact the only consistent starter is Clement (With Svensson recently joining him) tells it all.

Unfortunately for Le Guen, he has paid for a massive combination of all of the above, and perhaps his own desire to escape Scotland and court Paris Saint Germain’s alleged interest in him.

Le Guen’s reign is now consigned to history, with Sir David Murray apparently solving the potential catastrophe. He sanctioned action, and swift action at that. Time will tell if the two parties severing ties was the right move, but not even the most pessimistic Rangers fan could conceive of things degrading further from here on in.

Le Guen was a glorious failure in Scotland. It was an honest appointment, and a hugely exciting prospect, but it just failed to deliver on any counts, and it has come to a starkly abrupt end.

Indeed, the man lost a great deal of credibility in his own position when caught apparently lying red-handed. He famously dismissed the role of the captain as unimportant, then, when dropping Ferguson from that status, stated the exact opposite.

All the fans can hope for is a radical shake up and improvement now, with an overhaul of the side in prospect. Quite who will be in charge to oversee it is anyone’s guess at this point, although McCoist has been strongly linked along with Walter Smith.

It is time to move on.


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