Ferguson out to inflict misery on former mentor Advocaat

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The Independent Online

Barry Ferguson will strain every sinew tomorrow to try to achieve something that he seldom, if ever, managed to do with Rangers. The Scotland captain wants to disappoint Dick Advocaat.

Advocaat not only rescued Ferguson from a regular berth on the bench early in his three-and-a-half-year reign at Ibrox, but also handed him the captaincy. Ferguson's idea of repaying him is to lead Scotland to victory over his Netherlands side in the first leg of their Euro 2004 play-off at Hampden Park, a result that could hasten the end of the Dutchman's managerial career.

"I was at the crossroads with Rangers," said Ferguson, now 25 and playing for Blackburn Rovers, as he recalled the spring of 1998. "I didn't know whether I had a future there and I was angry with Walter Smith [for not picking him regularly]. But before Dick took over, he phoned to say that he was desperate to keep me and tell me I'd be his main man in midfield.

"I don't blame Walter now," he continued, "because when I look back I can see the severe pressures he was under towards the end of the nine-in-a-row years. Even so, it was a massive thing for me to be made captain of the club I had supported as a boy. Dick did everything for me. But I would love to disappoint him on Saturday."

Taking his cue from the Scotland manager, Berti Vogts, Ferguson stressed that the Netherlands, invariably an uneasy coalition of warring egos and wondrous talents, have it all to lose. Advocaat has promised to quit if the Dutch are out after next Wednesday's return in Amsterdam, and his former ally was only keen to turn up the heat.

"Dick's under a lot of pressure to get them through, which can only help us," Ferguson said. "There's none on us, though we're desperate to qualify. We should go out to enjoy it and aim to win. There's been a definite progression. I think we're getting there."

Not that Ferguson will underestimate either Advocaat or his team. The manager, he recalled, had excellent "tactical awareness" and exuded "calm". Asked about the mentality of the Dutch, whose modest record in winning or even reaching major tournaments belies their reputation, he added: "They think they're the best. I like their attitude."

Ferguson comes into the 20th match of a stop-start international career more confident of his own form than when Scotland booked their play-off spot last month, the £7.5m signing having helped Blackburn to a much-needed win over Everton on Monday. "It was always going to take time to settle. Now I'm getting to know the players and how the team plays, I'm much happier.

"I wasn't as fit as I thought and, believe it or not, I've had to lose some weight. There's a dietician who comes in every day and gives us these funny drinks that don't taste very nice." There is also a manager, Graeme Souness, who takes his squad away to Gleneagles for drinks that taste rather better. "A bit of bonding," Ferguson admitted. "We needed it."

Unity is an attribute which Scotland, unlike the Netherlands, have in abundance. Ferguson's responsibility is to ensure - at Advocaat's expense if necessary - that spirit is not all they have to offer.

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