Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Walter Smith - A Tribute

And so, the man who has guided Glasgow Rangers through some of the stormiest weathers in the clubs history has left but will he never be forgotten.

Though there will always be those who disparage achievements in Scotland, even his most po-faced critic must concede that Smith’s record transcends this rather narrow minded outlook. Although second to the great Bill Struth in terms of trophies won, Smith’s tally of 10 league championships, 5 Scottish Cups, 6 League Cups and a European final in around 12 seasons of management is no mean feat.

In 1986, when he first arrived at Rangers it was as Graeme Souness’ assistant. Souness, who had not lived in the country since the 70’s, needed someone who could provide an in depth insight into the game in Scotland, so Smith was a natural appointment. As able an assistant he was, you always felt that he was destined for more.
He didn’t have to wait long as Souness, offered a chance to manage his former club Liverpool, headed down south in April of the 1990/91 season. Chairman David Murray made the decision to maintain the continuity and offered Smith his dream job.

Later that year, Rangers won the league by one point, beating 2nd placed Aberdeen on the last day of the season.  Two goals from Mark Hateley secured the title and, many say, Smith’s career at Rangers.

The 1992 season saw Rangers famously despatch Leeds Utd, Eric Cantona et al, in the qualifying stages of the inaugural Champions League. Rangers would exit the tournament finishing second in their group behind eventual winners Marseille.

After enjoying nine years of complete dominance of Scottish Football, Smith announced that the 1997/98 season would be his last at Ibrox. The idea being, he would secure a record breaking tenth successive league title as a parting gift. As it transpired, an ageing Rangers side could only manage second place and in the Scottish Cup final, missed their shot at redemption by losing 2-1 to Hearts.

Smith’s first stint as Rangers boss had ended on a slightly sour note. Dick Advocaat and more investment would follow and Smith’s contribution, it seemed, was harshly and immediately forgotten.

Smith would go on to manage Everton for four largely unspectacular years and looked to have slipped quietly into retirement when he left Goodison Park 2002.

However, in 2004, Smith was offered the chance to replace outgoing Scotland boss, and unmitigated disaster and laughing stock, Berti Vogts. This seemed like the ideal role for someone in semi-retirement with the rigours of international football significantly less than the day-to-day running of a club.
To continue the ‘picking up the pieces’ theme, in 2007, Smith was offered a chance to return to Rangers following the brave but ultimately flawed appointment of Paul Le Guen.

Smith returned to a very different Rangers than he’d left nine years previously.

Le Guen had fallen out with club captain Barry Ferguson and lost the faith of the players and backroom staff that he’d inherited. On top of that, the signings that the Frenchman had made left a lot to be desired.
Le Guen was dismissed left by mutual consent by December and David Murray once again turned to the reliable Walter Smith as the man to save the club. The rest of this season was a write off. Playing for pride and restructuring the squad was all there was.
In the following season, after more re-structuring, Walter Smith led Rangers to their first European final in 36 years. Although soundly beaten in the final by Zenit St. Petersburg, this was an admirable effort and did much to re-establish Rangers reputation after several years of sub-standard European performances.
Partially as a result of this elongated European campaign and the re-scheduling of fixtures, Rangers, again, finished second in the league behind champions Celtic but only by 3 points (it was 14 the previous season!). As a consolation, the League Cup and Scottish Cup were added to the trophy cabinet to bring a successful end to a frustrating season.

In the next three seasons, Smith would lead Rangers to a hat-trick of titles against a backdrop of severe financial restraints which almost bankrupt the club.

This last season was one that was endured rather than enjoyed. Mired in accusation, excuses and ‘blame culture’, the dignity and professionalism that Smith conducted himself with has been a testament to the man.

Magnanimous, honest and open, after 45 years in Scottish football, his are the authoritative words of a man who has a full understanding of the micro and macro issues surrounding the shameful religious bigotry that poisons the atmosphere of an already overly passionate footballing environment.
Now, he is visibly tired of it all and has even said as much. Smith has nothing to prove at Rangers and, thankfully, as opposed to the denouement to his first spell at the club, he has left as a winner. In doing so, he has brought a far more fitting conclusion to the career of the greatest manager Ibrox has ever seen.

Thanks Walter. For everything.