Advocaat stays calm before Sturm

Phil Gordon finds Rangers are in long-term planning mode
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The Independent Online

Stockpiling has now become commonplace in France, but Dick Advocaat beat the blockade when he turned up at the Stade Louis II in Monaco on Tuesday evening.

Stockpiling has now become commonplace in France, but Dick Advocaat beat the blockade when he turned up at the Stade Louis II in Monaco on Tuesday evening.

Most people thought the Rangers manager would have been watching Sturm Graz, whom his side face first in the Champions' League and who were playing that night in Austria, but Advocaat laid a false trail. Now it appears that his decision to watch the French champions lose 2-0 at home to Marseille may have been a timely one, given the problems across the Channel.

Advocaat will hoard the information he gained in Monte Carlo and embark this week on what he hopes will be a far longer journey than last season. Then, Valencia and Bayern Munich erected the barrier which kept the Scottish champions out of the second phase of the competition.

By Tuesday night, Rangers could have three valuable Group D points in the tank if they overcome Sturm in the same manner that Manchester United did when the Austrians came to Old Trafford last winter. Yet, Advocaat - chastened by that 6-2 humiliation from Celtic - resists flexing his muscles too much at the thoughtof the Austrians from the quaintly named Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium.

"Sturm Graz beat Feyenoord in the qualifying round to reach this stage," reminded the Dutchman. "Rotterdam is a difficult place to win and any team that can do that must be good. This is their third season in the Champions' League, so they have a pedigree."

Indeed, Sturm defeated Marseille and Croatia Zagreb last term after succumbing twice to United, but Advocaat's caution is tinged with belief that a group which also embraces Monaco and Galatasaray offers better prospects of advancement than a year ago.

Certainly, the opening night is markedly easier. Last September, they were blown off course in a Spanish rainstorm by Valencia who went on to reach the final itself. "It is good to start at home and I'll be happy just to win and get three points," Advocaat said. "The teams we face this season, are not as as immense as Valencia or Bayern.

"I think the group suits us, though it is tough. Galatasaray won the Uefa Cup while Monaco come from the country which has won the World Cup and European Championship, so they must be good.

"The good thing, as far as the fixtures go, is that our last game is at home, against Monaco. Both teams might be looking for the points to advance then, just as Bayern and ourselves were last time but I would far rather we had that task to do at Ibrox."

Ironically, had Advocaat chosen to fly to Austria last Tuesday on the chairman David Murray's Lear jet, he would have been none the wiser. Sturm too lost at home, going down 2-1 to Casino Salzburg.

Salzburg's general manager, Nicolas Neuruer, feels his compatriots are not well placed to improve upon their poor performance in Manchester last October, largely because their principal attacker, Ivica Vastic, will miss the Ibrox match.

"He is injured just now and although he also missed the tie with Feyenoord and Sturm won, they have been very poor in the Austrian league recently," Neuruer said. "We have beaten them twice and at the moment they are struggling to stay out of the bottom half of the table."

The main problem centres on the relationship between the team's veteran coach, Ivica Osim, and Sturm's flamboyant chairman, Hannes Kartnig, who has bought in the former Russian international Sergei Yuran - known for his goals at Benfica but for his boozing in an ill-fated spell at Millwall - and who now wants to recruit Rangers' defender Scott Wilson.

"The coach refuses to have new players imposed upon him," Neuruer said, "because he thinks the team is fine. But the atmosphere is not good at the moment and although Sturm have gained a lot of Champions' League experience in recent years, they may have grown a little bit too old together."

Maybe, unlike the taxi which rushed Advocaat to Nice airport on Tuesday night, Sturm will run out of gas and allow Rangers' ambitions to take off.