Saturday 25 March 2017

No going back for Smith

Walter Smith. Photo: PA
Walter Smith. Photo: PA

Rangers manager Walter Smith insists he has no intention of following in the footsteps of Sir Alex Ferguson by having a change of heart over retiring at the end of the season.

The 62-year-old revealed in the summer this would be his final year in football, before making way for his assistant Ally McCoist to replace him in the Ibrox hot-seat.

However, speaking ahead of Rangers' highly anticipated Champions League clash with Manchester United, Ferguson urged his close friend and former colleague to have a rethink, claiming he still has too much to offer the game.

"It was nice of him to mention it but I've made my decision," said Smith. "I'm leaving at the end of the year and that's it."

Ferguson himself almost retired in 2002 but subsequently changed his mind. Then, in April this year, he dismissed rumours he was set to quit at the end of this season.

"It doesn't surprise me," said Smith of Ferguson's determination to prolong his managerial career.

"I think at one stage, when he was probably around the same age I am at the present moment, he maybe felt he had enough.

"Then he got the second wind and decided to stay on. I'm sure everybody at Manchester United will be delighted he made that decision. I think the level of player that he is working with is also keeping him going.

"My own situation was completely different. I had no intention of staying even this length of time when I first came back to Rangers.

"The two situations are both on a parallel but I think every manager needs a level of motivation as well and I think Manchester United motivates Sir Alex as much as the other way around."

The last meeting between the two clubs in 2003 resulted in a 4-0 aggregate win for United - before Smith's return for a second spell at Ibrox - and the Barclays Premier League giants are overwhelming favourites once again.

But, regardless of the outcome at Old Trafford tomorrow night, the relationship between the two managers is unlikely to be affected in any way.

Smith said: "On the two occasions that I worked with Sir Alex, we always had a decent relationship.

"In terms of football and any aspect of his job, yes, he is intense. Outside of that, no. He enjoys a laugh as much as anyone else, he likes a glass of red wine, and he's good company.

"If I was a selecting a number of people I would like to come to a dinner party I would invite him.

"He's good company but he has not achieved what he has achieved in his career by being somebody who accepts whatever is coming his way easily. I've been fortunate enough to know him for many years."

He added: "The first game in the Champions League is always a big game for everybody. The first game always brings an added excitement but especially when you come to play at a venue like Old Trafford.

"It is nice to come back but I don't think coming back or my friendship with Sir Alex will determine anything that is going to happen in the game.

"We will look to do well. We had a reasonable level of form away from home in last year's Champions League but our home form let us down. Hopefully we can continue our decent run of away form and improve our home form."

However, Smith is realistic about the size of task which faces his players.

He said: "Damage limitation? I think that will probably be a necessary perception from my point of view.

"If you could tell me of any team in the world who will come here with a solely attacking intent then I would be very surprised.

"Every team has to look at being compact defensively. There are few teams, if any, who come here and don't give the proper footballing view to defending.

"We have managed to win so far this season but there have been little bits in our performances that haven't been up to the standards we have set in recent seasons - but hopefully the importance of this game will bring a proper focus."

This summer saw Smith able to purchase new players for the first time since August 2008, albeit €4.8m signing Nikica Jelavic is ineligible for the Champions League as a result of former club Rapid Vienna's progression to the Europa League group stage.

Rangers' debt last season was reported to be around €36m and the transfer kitty, which also allowed the capture of James Beattie from Stoke and the loan signing of Manchester City's Vladimir Weiss, was largely down to winning automatic entry to the Champions League again this season.

"I couldn't believe Walter when he told me what the debt was," said Ferguson.

"I find it really surprising he can't get the players he needs to keep Rangers at the very top end of the Premier League in Scotland. Celtic have spent quite a lot so it is a challenge for him to do it with more or less the same players.

"You have to look at the Scottish teams a bit more deeply. The key element is what you have coming through.

"I don't know what the foundations are like. Rangers have quite a good base of Scottish players but I am not sure of their ages. It will be a question for them all. Hibs work really hard on young players. It is a healthy attitude by them."

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