AS Ryan McGuffie’s deliciously struck penalty crashed into the net in front of the Broomloan Road Stand on Tuesday night, there were two distinct, yet very different sounds booming around Ibrox. One was the din of the Queen of the South support hailing their team as they progressed to the semi-final of the Ramsdens Cup; the other was the simmering noise of discontent as the home fans directed whistles and jeers at the Rangers players and their manager.
These are difficult times for Ally McCoist. For any Rangers manager, an indifferent series of results is met with a certain level of anxiety, but the recent form under McCoist – draws with Berwick Rangers and Annan Athletic, the defeat to Queen of the South – has become something of a mini-crisis. Tuesday night’s result was surprising, but there was actually very little shocking about it.
Since taking over from Walter Smith, McCoist has never before been under such scrutiny. Many question his tactical acumen; some wonder that if the club had not entered administration, he would no longer be employed as Rangers manager. It has become fashionable in recent weeks to deride McCoist, but it is very difficult to mitigate in his defence. The resources at his disposal vastly outstrip every other club in the SFL and for his side to fail to beat such modest opposition – opposition whose combined weekly wages would just about make up half of Ian Black’s – is unacceptable.
Indeed, it is McCoist’s signings which have been the most beguiling aspect of Rangers’ season so far. With the club’s transfer embargo set to end on 31 August 2013, the manager has recruited players from across the globe with the intent of making a swift return to the SPL; amongst others, Emilson Cribari, Sebastien Faure, Anestis Argyriou and Francesco Stella have been signed on attractive terms to ensure this.
Inevitably, some have compared Rangers’ recent transfer dealings to that of Gretna’s eight years ago. Both clubs threw vulgar sums of money at players with the aim of charging through the divisions, but this is where the similarities end. At Gretna, the management team of Rowan Alexander and Davie Irons had spent the majority of their playing careers in the SFL and knew the specific requirements to succeed in the lower leagues. At Rangers, McCoist’s knowledge of the Third Division is at best, acutely limited, and at worst, non-existent. Gretna’s famous side of 2004-05 were replete with hardened, experienced professionals; the current Rangers side is far less than the sum of its parts.
Granted, Alexander and Irons might have had more time to plan and execute a coherent recruitment strategy, but although Rangers were uncertain if they were playing in the SPL or the Third Division until July, contingency plans should have been put in place for both scenarios. For the “worst case scenario”, McCoist and his staff should have identified players with the requisite quality and experience of the SFL and then made moves to sign them. The financial rewards – as well as the lure of playing for Rangers – would surely have convinced most to join; and yet in dispatches, not a single SFL player was linked with the club.
McCoist recruited exotic imports from Brazil, Greece and Australia in his aim of quickly returning to the top tier instead. Beyond their lucrative contracts, is not unreasonable to wonder why these players would want to play in the basement of Scottish football. In footballing parlance, the word “mercenary” is a highly derisory term associated with footballers who have little interest beyond their own objectives, yet this is exactly the kind of player McCoist has brought into the club.
A cannier manager with a solid knowledge of Scottish football could have recruited some of the outstanding and experienced talent from the lower divisions, even if they were already under contract – if Rangers could afford £800,000 to sign David Templeton from Heart of Midlothian, they could easily pay the £30,000 or £40,000 to secure the SFL’s better players. They could have been signed on shorter contracts and then quietly discarded when the club no longer had any use for them as they progressed further through the leagues.
For example, why sign a centre-back like Cribari when players like Stenhousemuir’s Ross McMillan or Cowdenbeath’s John Armstrong could have been brought in instead? Both defenders would have commanded relatively meagre fees and modest wages, and both would have adapted to the division far better than the Brazilian. Why throw £5000 a week at Francisco Sandaza when an attempt could have been made to sign Rory McAllister of Peterhead instead? McAllister is widely considered to be one of the most complete forwards in the SFL and would have offered far more than Sandaza has in his six apathetic appearances for the club.
Rangers will still win the Third Division. Although the side are toiling presently, their foreign recruits should eventually harden to environs like Links Park and Broadwood and come February and March, their superior fitness will be too much for the league’s part-time sides. Perhaps the “novelty factor” of facing Rangers will also diminish – having already played them, opposition clubs might not attack at Rangers with the same levels of zeal and gusto and the gimmick may eventually wear thin.
The question of whether or not Ally McCoist will still be at Rangers to see this, however, remains to be seen.