High Stakes Poker at the Rangers Casino.
Ally McCoist has suffered his first real crisis as Rangers manager. Memories of Kaunas are still fresh in the minds of a demanding support and we all remember the financial consequences of our last Champions League failure against modest opposition. It’s easy, and natural, to be angry after a result which puts us out of the Champions League but giving it a proper context should leave fans fearful of what we can expect from Craig Whyte's new dawn at Ibrox.McCoist was never my idea of a Rangers manager; relatively unexposed beyond Rangers as a player; absolutely unexposed as a coach away from the security of Walter Smith and untried as a manager at any level. There will be calls for us to admit that McCoist was a mistake – a leap of faith designed to keep loyal supporters onside by rewarding one of our own – and yet the problems at Ibrox go far deeper than jumping to calls to sack the manager. Fans were promised change: a departure from the dark days of David Murray and the brave new future of a club run professionally with respect for our traditions. Whyte's takeover bid was difficult and he encountered not only problems with the deal itself but also outright hostility from figures within the club. The warnings of Alastair Johnston may have hinted that our new owner should be expected to earn out trust but the support were all too happy with the end of the Murray era to ask the really searching questions. It suits Craig Whyte to milk the popularity of McCoist's appointment but like the best poker players, we still have no idea if this is an elaborate bluff or if he really has a hand hidden away that he'll show when the time comes.Whyte deserves plenty of criticism for a less than ideal start to his time as custodian. For all of the positives – and appointing a director of football with the experience and connections of Gordon Smith was undoubtedly a move that may yet prove visionary – he has still failed to answer any serious questions about his direction for Rangers. We were told that McCoist would be given transfer funds. We were told that Whyte could front-load the funding if it became apparent that McCoist needed re-enforcements. The David Goodwillie saga must surely blow those notions completely out of the water. Godwillie was obviously McCoist's main target this summer to add depth to our forward options. It doesn't trouble me that we couldn't ultimately secure his services – the deal itself doesn't represent value for money in my opinion – but that's secondary to the way we tried to do our business. For the duration of the summer, Rangers have tried to conduct transfer business through the media. It’s normal during the silly season for journalists to allow their imaginations to run rampant (did Crespo ever make that move Mr Cully?) but it’s genuinely worrying when the majority of the rumours are being driven by the club itself. When rumours become stories of failed bids and difficult negotiations, worry becomes terror. That we made at least five official bids for David Goodwillie speaks volumes about our ability to conduct meaningful transfer negotiations. Even the most hopeful of fans must harbour doubts – doubts about our financial means and doubts about the way we've identified our transfer targets.And for all of the protection that some fans will want to afford Ally McCoist – the claims of broken promises and empty transfer chests – it comes down to the manager, his director of football and his scouting staff to identify targets for the club. Goodwillie was plan A, plan B, plan C and pretty much every other plan that you're likely to find in a bag of scrabble tiles. When you or I don't get the deal we want, we'll take our business elsewhere – to another showroom, another service provider or another tradesman. When Rangers can’t get the deal the club wants? We're sadly in no position to move to target B. We can’t move from Goodwillie to another target because we're simply too disorganised to have those players identified and approached.The same can be said of McCoist's day to day performance as manager. Our pre-season tour of Germany was less than encouraging but many fans were happy to write it off as a series of meaningless games that would help us build our conditioning. A sound scoreline against Linfield and a masterclass from Steven Davis against Blackpool even gave some fans hope for the opening games of the campaign. Sadly the same problems that were so brutally exposed in Sweden on Wednesday night were there for all to see. A lack of physical conditioning became apparent against Hearts and Malmo at Ibrox. A lack of tactical discipline and organisation was all too clear. McCoist showed little desire to change Smith's tried and tested formula and a basic inability to deviate from it when it became obvious that things weren't working. So far we've seen a left-back play on the left side of midfield and two of the least compatible players trying to form a partnership in the heart of our side that simply cannot work. Every manager can make mistakes and good ones are blessed with the ability to both recognise and rectify them but whilst Malmo were dominating a decidedly one-sided game at Ibrox, McCoist was staring at the park like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a rapidly approaching car. In the return leg, McCoist watched as Rangers gradually allowed our discipline and self control slip to the point where at least three more players could have joined Bougherra and Whittaker in the showers long before the final whistle. The lack of discipline and disorganisation of the players must surely reflect the disorganisation and lack of discipline of our management team? The performances on the park are down in no small part to the work that the manager and coaches put in during training sessions. If players can’t control themselves and are poorly organised on the pitch then it’s no more than a reflection of the management team that have prepared them.The biggest problem we face as a club right now is that we have so many problems to address. Craig Whyte may indeed have money available but right now we've yet to see any in significant quantity. That in itself isn't an issue if we can subscribe to a longer term vision for the club that that's still to show itself any meaningful way. We have an inexperienced manager who has been let down by the people around him whom he should be able to trust – senior players who indulge their petty outbursts at the cost of the team and coaches who cannot develop even the most basic of skills and organisation amongst our squad. McCoist has done himself few favours with some of his decisions – questionable tactics, poor performances and shoddy squad management are all accusations that can reasonably be made of our manager. Young Greg Wylde may have a genuine grievance at his ongoing treatment and fans can justifiably ask why new contracts were given to Salim Kerkar and David Healy if neither is even remotely close to featuring for Rangers in any meaningful way. We have so many questions that still need answers and a relatively short period in which to address them. With the transfer window closing in less than a month, pressure will be growing to address the weaknesses in our squad. The imminent departure of Bougherra and the injury to new signing Goian may pose more immediate problems and so too will the risk of repeating Celtic's European performances of last season with the consolation of the Thursday cup offering little to satisfy our demands.Do Rangers really hold any meaningful cards? Will Whyte, Smith and McCoist prove to be a trio of aces with the chance of hitting a full house in what remains of the transfer window? Or are Rangers still a busted flush – full of bluster, hinting at strength but falling short time after time? One thing is for certain: it’s time to shuffle the deck and to deal us the football club that our fans deserve.
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