Football: Hendry up for the challenge

Rangers' influential centre-back is relishing the biggest week of his career.
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AS OF this week, when Colin Hendry is asked how "the move" is working out, he will no longer assume that the question refers to his pounds 4m switch from Blackburn to Rangers last summer.

Relocating to Ibrox was quite an upheaval for a player who had become part of the furniture at Ewood Park. But it was stress-free compared with moving into a new home, as the Scotland captain, his wife and three children have just done.

As luck would have it, the property became theirs just as the Scottish leaders were gearing up for what Hendry describes as "a massive week". On Tuesday, Parma come to Glasgow in the Uefa Cup, while a week tomorrow Rangers meet St Johnstone in the League Cup final.

And today, to set the ball rolling, there is the small matter of an Old Firm derby against Celtic. "It's possibly the biggest week of my career," reflected Hendry, surrounded by unpacked boxes. "The only comparable ones were when Blackburn beat Newcastle and then lost at Liverpool but still won the title, or when I led Scotland out against Brazil in the opening match of the World Cup."

Victory this afternoon would take Rangers 13 points clear of Celtic, but Hendry knows from experience that such a lead can be clawed back. "One season, Manchester United were about 16 points clear around Christmas and Blackburn got to within a couple of points of them. The media are saying that if we beat Celtic, that's the championship. I wouldn't think that way in March, let alone November."

Hendry also sets little store by the champions' troubled start under Dr Jo Venglos' management, knowing that the vast majority of the 60,000 crowd at Celtic Park will be against Rangers. "We'll get a few boos, that's for sure, but we'll just have to concentrate all the harder and remember that 25,000 of our fans are watching on the big screen back at Ibrox.

"We haven't even thought about any problems Celtic may have or a possible backlash. All we've been concerned about is that Rangers make themselves hard to beat. That's what they did when they drew 0-0 at our place in September. This time, I expect we'll be under more pressure than them, so it's up to us to approach the game properly."

Ten months after keeping Michael Owen goalless at Anfield, Hendry is likely to face for the first time the 18-year-old being hailed as his Scottish equivalent. As a patriot he hopes that Mark Burchill lives up to the hype; as an opponent he is quietly determined to interrupt his progress.

Rangers also have a fresh face at the helm, Dick Advocaat having replaced Walter Smith during the summer, and might have been expected to take longer to adjust to the departure of mainstays like Laudrup, Gascoigne, Goram, McCoist and McCall. But Hendry is struck by the "hunger" for success of the players brought in by the Dutchman.

"I'm fortunate enough to have a championship medal from England - I think it's in shoe-box right now - and I came here because I wanted to achieve something in my homeland too. But a few of the lads don't have one from any country, and that's a big incentive.

"Some people reckon Scottish medals are easily come by, but they should come up here and try it. Rangers are like Manchester United - the pressure is intense every week."

Despite a staccato start at Ibrox, in which he missed several games through injury and saw the captaincy he had been promised remain with Lorenzo Amoruso, Hendry is happy with his form. He was in his element in Rangers' backs-to-the-wall win at Bayer Leverkusen, yet is also adapting well to Advocaat's emphasis on distributing carefully from the back.

"At Blackburn we had Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton who thrived on balls played into channels. Here we're encouraged to play it into midfield and only hit it longer if they give it back and some space has opened up. It's a good team, blossoming and maturing with every game."

Had he stayed in Lancashire, Hendry would have been in his testimonial year. He still has many friends there and hopes that by the time he visits them, Rovers' fortunes will have improved to the extent that they can tell him they did not need him anyway.

"The real Blackburn fans have been fantastic," he said. "I've had hundreds of letters thanking me for my service to the club." What's more, there is probably a box in the Hendrys' new hallway to prove it.

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