In which I look at how little in the management philosophy of Ally McCoist seems to have changed over the last twelve months, even after all the upheaval there has been.
We travel by way of Napoleon’s soldiers failing to spike Wellington’s guns, Whittaker’s ball throwing and Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s prescience, from defeat in Malmo in August 2011 to a draw in Berwick in August 2012.
We also consider Mr McCoist’s attempts to build the biggest first team squad in Scottish football, and whether he is still trying to be an SPL manager in the rather different terrain of the SFL3.
When historians look back at the demise of the Rangers Football Club PLC over recent years, one wonders how much of an eye will be cast upon Ally McCoist’s role?
Now, unlike the owners, he did not engage in financial recklessness, or establish legally debatable tax reduction schemes (we do not know if he benefited from one), or even decide not to pay any tax at all. However, he has had a part to play, where different decisions, even minor ones, might have made a huge difference.
A book I would highly recommend is “The Hinge Factor or How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History” by Erik Durschmied. It is the Durschmied thesis that, rather than fateful events in history being caused by sweeping strategic plans and decisions, instead the “blame” lies at the door of what might seem trivial occurrences. These trivialities though changed history.
As the Amazon.co.uk review of the book said:-
“What if it hadn’t rained at Agincourt in 1415 and the French had, as expected, won the day? What if one of Napoleon’s most trusted commanders had spiked Wellington’s guns with a handful of nails at Waterloo in 1815, providing his emperor with victory? What if Hitler hadn’t paused for three vital days during his invasion of France in May 1940, allowing the British Expeditionary Force precious time to evacuate from Dunkirk?”
In the same way, what if Ally McCoist’s tactics had avoided defeat to Malmo in the Champions League qualifier last August? What if he had been able to instil enough discipline into his team to avoid Whittaker being red carded for throwing the ball at an opponent?
If Rangers had made the Champions League group stages, then there would have been a pot of European gold, and this could well have meant that administration would not have happened, or not when it did. It might even have generated enough money to fulfil whatever Mr Whyte’s mysterious plans actually were.
Rangers manager Ally McCoist says a lack of discipline cost his side a place in the Champions League following a 2-1 aggregate loss to Malmo. Steven Whittaker and Madjid Bougherra were both dismissed during a 1-1 second-leg away draw.
“The two sendings-off cost us dearly,” said McCoist. “I haven’t had a chance to look at the incidents but I think the fact that the lads gave the referee the opportunity to send them off was disappointing.”
“I really am disappointed,” added McCoist. “The majority of our boys were fantastic, I really could not have asked for any more than they gave me.
“I think indiscipline cost us the tie.”
Then comes the comment which I think resonates down over the last twelve months, and should cause concern for the fans of the Rangers FC.
Mr McCoist was quoted saying:-
“I don’t think we played particularly well in the first game. There may be legitimate reasons,” added McCoist. “Obviously the game coming early for us and Malmo being well into their season is a factor.”
Here we have a manager, at the fledgling stage, it is true, of his career as the boss, saying that there MAY be reasons for his team not playing well.
Bearing in mind that, as it now transpires, the defeat to Malmo can be seen as a “hinge” for the fate of Rangers, how important do the manager’s failures now appear?
Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s history of the debacle (although published so quickly it is actually “Modern Studies”) will be in all good bookshops from Friday 31st August. There is a link to more details about it here.
Phil is a firm believer in the “Hinge Factor”. Many months ago, long before Duff & Phelps took their place in Scottish football lore, he told me that the Malmo defeat, and Whittaker’s indiscipline, would have enormous consequences. He was, as he has been with many of his articles, spot on.
Looking wider though, the factor which can be identified clearly as an issue was picked up on by Mr McCoist, namely that the Malmo match came right at the start of the season. This has been a problem for Scottish clubs going back over a number of seasons.
One wonders therefore if, as the football calendar is known some time in advance, managers might come up with strategies to deal with the fact that the most lucrative match for the team might be played whilst the players are still unpacking from their holidays?
Mr McCoist, like many managers, failed to deal with a problem which he clearly saw in advance.
Mr McCoist concluded his analysis of the Malmo defeat, as described by the BBC, saying:-
McCoist says he will continue to be active in the transfer market as he looks to bolster his team before the 31 August deadline.
“We need to help the boys who are in the team. They’ve given myself and the management team everything.
“What we need to give them is help, and by that I mean bodies.”
Now we will fast forward over a turbulent year. Rangers did have a huge lead in the SPL, although this was not clawed back by Celtic only due to the upheaval at Ibrox. The tide had turned long before the 10-point penalty imposed for entering administration. I know Rangers supporters who blame Mr McCoist’s team selection and tactical naivety for the decline, although many still refuse to be critical of him.
As we know, the Rangers FC have started the SFL3 season not with a bang, but a whimper. One win and two draws would not have been predicted by many, if anyone. A triumphal procession through the SFL was anticipated for the Rangers FC, with talk from the camp of winning an unprecedented quadruple of League, Scottish Cup, Challenge Cup and League Cup, with some optimists wagering on them for the Boat Race and the Grand National too.
Such lofty goals might yet still be achieved. However, no matter how good Mr McCoist might be as a manager in the SPL, which remains under question, he seems not to have adjusted to the culture shock of life in the lower leagues.
I offer two examples.
ALLY MCCOIST says his side’s display in the 1-1 draw with Berwick was as poor as he can remember from a Rangers side.
The furious Light Blues boss admits the performances was unacceptable and couldn’t give pass marks to anybody in his side.
Speaking to RangersTV after the game he said: “I’m angry, I’m disappointed and I’m frustrated because that’s miles, miles short of what’s acceptable. I won’t accept it because that’s as poor a performance as I’ve ever seen.
“I can’t say where it comes from, I wish I could because I’d make sure it didn’t happen again.”
A year into the job, and the manager is still saying publicly that he does not know why there was such a poor performance. If not for the huge goodwill generated by his stance of “not walking away” then one suspects Mr McCoist might be carpeted by his directors, asking the simple question, “If you don’t know what is going wrong, why don’t we get someone in who does?”
If the Peterhead or Berwick matches had been Cup games, and it was SPL Rangers playing, rather than SFL3 matches, and the Rangers FC had come away with a draw in the manner of each game, then the manager’s position would of course be under threat.
John Barnes did not last long at Celtic after the “Super Caley” disaster, for example. At the time Inverness CT played in SFL1.
If things go well for a team, then usually the manager gets the credit. If they go wrong, the manager gets the blame – whether that is fair or not.
To say that he does not know why the performance was so poor, might suggest he will have difficulty in fixing it. After all, to answer a question, you need to know what the question is!
He does however have a solution, and this too might seem familiar from last year. Just to remind the reader (and I accept the circumstances were very different) after the Malmo defeat, Mr McCoist said, “What we need to give them is help, and by that I mean bodies.”
The solution last season lay in the transfer market, and as a run in the Europa League was anticipated, along with international calls, and the SPL, Scottish Cup and League Cup, there was a need, if possible, for a large squad of skilled players, to compete both domestically and in Europe.
What does Mr McCoist propose as the answer this season?
ALLY McCOIST is eager to add to his squad and that feeling has been added to following his side’s performance at Berwick.
The Rangers boss revealed he may still be without Lee Wallace, Dean Shiels and Kirk Broadfoot in forthcoming games and is keen to add bodies to his group.
He said: “I’ve never said I was happy with my squad, far from it. We need numbers in and that’s not just down to the poor performance today.
“We need players and I’ve said all along and we need to get them this week.
It might seem impertinent to ask, but does Mr McCoist not realise that his team’s circumstances are very different now? He does not need a squad for Europe. He has fewer League games to play, unless the Rangers FC ends up in the SFL3 playoffs of course.
Whilst he hopes to be competing against SPL clubs in the Scottish Cup and League Cup, with all due respect to the SFL3 teams, the standard of play is a great deal worse than in the SPL. That is why the teams are in the SFL3!
“There are no signings really imminent at the moment, but the wheels are in motion on three or four targets,” McCoist told the Rangers website.
Meanwhile, McCoist has played down speculation linking Birmingham’s Morgaro Gomis and Malmo’s Daniel Larsson with moves to Rangers.
He said: “We haven’t had any dealings with Gomis’ club. He’s a player that we like but it would be unfair of me to speak about individuals at the moment. Daniel is a good player and someone who played well against us last year in Europe. He’s somebody else’s player at the moment and although he’s a good player I wouldn’t like to comment on somebody else’s player.”
Former Bayern Munich goalkeeper Rouven Sattelmaier, ex-Siena striker Francesco Stella, released AEK Athens defender Anestis Argiriou and former Boca Juniors midfielder Francesco Celeste have all been training with McCoist’s squad.
“We’re still monitoring the trialists and they’ll be here for another three or four days most of them. There is probably one or two coming in over the weekend so we’re in a position where we’ll keep monitoring and if anyone impresses we’ll be in a position to offer them something.
“We’re hopeful that we can certainly get four or five anyway over the line before the window closes.“
Mr McCoist wants to sign four or five players because he is not happy with the quality of his squad. I am not sure how that would make me feel if I was one of the twenty-five members of the Rangers FC first team squad listed on the official website. The majority of the players have been capped at some level, or else are battle-hardened veterans of football elsewhere, such as Emilson, the Brazilian signing.
I suspect, but have not checked, that the Rangers FC has more capped players than the rest of SFL3 out together, and possibly more than the entire SFL added up!
Let’s look at the squad he has anyway.
There are 25 players in it. The SFL only allows 22 players to be registered aged 21 or over. Presently, of the 25 man first team squad (and ignoring the 17 players listed as reserves and youth team) 14 are over 21, 3 are 21 and 8 are under 21.
The players Mr McCoist is trialling and targeting are unlikely to be under 21 players. If he gets five more, then he would have 19 over-21s. Come January 1 2013 the three 21 year olds would count against the limit. The roster would be full.
So, if Mr McCoist’s plan works, he will have a first team squad of thirty players.
In Scottish football the squad lists are not always 100% reliable, but I did some research.
In SFL3, the largest first team squads, outside the Rangers FC, are at Annan Athletic and Queen’s Park, with 24 each. The average among the nine non-Rangers FC teams is 20.5 players.
In SFL2, the largest first team squads are at Alloa Athletic and Ayr United, with 24 each. The average is 20.2 players.
In SFL1, the largest first team squads are at Livingston, with 27 players and then at Morton and Hamilton, with 24 each. The average is 21 players.
In the SPL, the largest first team squad is at Celtic with 31 players and at Dundee and Kilmarnock, with 30 each. The average is 26.8 players.
Does Mr McCoist need a squad which in Scottish football is only surpassed in number by Celtic? Does he need 50% more players, and of a much higher quality, than the teams against which the Rangers FC will play 36 League games?
One of the things for which Graeme Souness deserved praise in his managerial spell at Rangers was the way that he bought enormous numbers of players, similar to how managers like Harry Redknapp and Sam Allardyce have acted since. The skill Souness had was that he was ruthless about letting players go if he thought they would not fill a need at the club. His tactics worked at Rangers, but did not do so well for him elsewhere in his managerial career.
It is the “easy” solution for a manger though – to get more and more players in, searching for the needle in a haystack. However, in the SFL3, I suspect that different managerial skills are needed from those required to succeed in European competition, for example.
Has Mr McCoist realised that? It does not look like it. Instead we have a manager with a player wage bill maybe 20 to 30 times as high as his competitors, who is insistent that he needs more players as his existing squad is not good enough for SFL3.
His loyalty to the team has made him even more of a hero than he was with the fans of the Rangers FC. How far will that go to saving him, in the event that there are a couple more poor results and he remains, in public at least, clueless as to the reasons?
I know that some might comment that he needs to build up his numbers as he will not be able to register new players after 31st August 2012 until 1st January 2014. However, as described, combining the first team squad and the reserves and youth teams gives him 42 players, before any of the new additions mentioned. And at least four of the squad would reach the age of 21 in 2013, thus counting against the 22-man limit as at 1st January 2014.
This only seems viable if the plan is to sell off players, either this week or at Christmas, to keep the doors open. Is that the plan? If so, saying that his squad is not good enough seems an odd way to generate interest and to motivate the players!
Posted by Paul McConville