Andrews the believer in the hard stuff

Rangers find the answer to their prayers as Trinidadian tough guy tackles a soft centre
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The Independent Football

Four years ago, Marvin Andrews would not have had a prayer of ever playing for Rangers. Back then, multi-million-pound price tags were not enough to guarantee a space in the club car park, never mind the team.

Four years ago, Marvin Andrews would not have had a prayer of ever playing for Rangers. Back then, multi-million-pound price tags were not enough to guarantee a space in the club car park, never mind the team.

New signings were measured by the noughts on their transfer fees. It came to a head when £12m, a Scottish record, was lavished on Tore Andre Flo from Chelsea in the autumn of 2000. It was meant as a gaudy declaration of intent to a more frugal Celtic, but instead the towering Norwegian simply became a symbol of the sins of excess. Flo has long gone, yet the misfit striker's legacy lives on at Ibrox - in the shape of monumental debt. A club who owe £80m cannot afford to shop at the blue-chip end of the market any longer, but it is the least vaunted signing of Alex McLeish's frenetic summer of bargain-hunting who could supply the quality that money cannot buy when the Scottish Premier League begins on Saturday: heart and soul.

The acquisition of Andrews from Livingston generated criticism that McLeish could ill-afford after last season's wretched campaign. Their failure to capture a trophy was mocked, in the eyes of some of their own fans, by securing a 28-year-old Trinidadian defender who was only available because his own club's step into administration had nullified his contract and rendered him a free agent.

Not that such a status carries a stigma any longer in football's economic meltdown. When Rangers launch their season away to Aberdeen, Andrews will be joined by two other free agents who both played at Euro 2004, for France and Croatia. However, while Jean-Alain Boumsong and Dado Prso arrived from Auxerre and Monaco without anything being spent on fees, their wages (Boumsong is on a reported £40,000 a week) will certainly eclipse Andrews' earnings.

Money, though, is not the humble Trinidadian's God. If that was the case, Andrews would not have turned down a lucrative move to Dundee United last season to remain at Livingston - a decision that looked doubly flawed when Livingston went into administration a few months later.

Yet, for the devout Christian, who attends the Zion Praise Centre in Kirkcaldy every week, it was all part of God's plan. Andrews had to turn the other cheek when he revealed God had told him not to move to Tayside, as scorn flew at him from all sides. However, McLeish sought out Andrews for his more earthly attributes. "Over the past couple of years, Rangers have lacked a real physical presence," admits the manager who knows his job will be endangered by another tame surrender to Celtic to match last term's. "It is something that we have not had. We have lost soft goals, not just to Celtic but to other teams, and I think Marvin can fix that."

The robust Trinidadian has already made his mark. A thumping challenge on Robbie Keane in a midweek friendly success against Tottenham Hotspur saw the Irish forward taken off on a stretcher, though Andrews, in typical fashion, said he would offer a prayer for Keane's speedy return. "I always go in for tackles, but I have never tried to hurt anyone," he insisted.

Pain is something that Rangers have become accustomed to since Martin O'Neill's own arrival in Glasgow four years ago altered the landscape. While Celtic have acquired three titles in that time, the most significant numbers at Ibrox have been £43m spent on 30 new faces with 47 going out the door. Ten of last season's underachievers have been jettisoned by McLeish, and that will soon become 11 when Craig Moore, stripped of his captaincy, returns from his sojourn with Australia at the Olympics.

The manager has banned drinking and even golf in a new quest for professionalism. In Andrews, he has a true believer whose devotion to fitness would shame his compatriot Dwight Yorke, whose hedonism has so upset Graeme Souness at Blackburn Rovers. "I believe that I am going to play every week at Rangers," Andrews stated, resisting any notion that he will merely be a squad player. "Not everyone in life will agree with you. When people say you can't do it, you know deep down that you can. This is how people become winners, or champions.

"I know there will be vipers waiting in the wings for Marvin Andrews to fall, so that is why I ask God for guidance. My heavenly father knows all about the the people who are waiting to say negative things about Marvin." Andrews has sent money back to his mother, his six sisters and three brothers ever since he came to Scotland five years ago to play for Raith Rovers. Some thought he would be out of his depth at Livingston, but he was the defensive rock of the side who won the CIS Cup last season. Now he is ready for the next level.

"That is how God works," said Andrews. "He trains you and prepares you for a bigger stage. I know God has blessed me with a talent. I am not as skilful as some players. I am not a Ronaldo or Ronaldinho, but as long as that ball is in the air, I believe I can win it."

McLeish hopes that an impressive pre-season - defeating Roma, Fulham and Spurs - will bring him his reward when the real business starts. If not, then he may require his board to learn the lessons of faith from Andrews.