Berg finds happiness and new challenge at Rangers

Scottish Premier: Norwegian defender shrugs off muted welcome from fans and concentrates on upstaging Celtic at home and in Europe
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The Independent Football

Henning Berg's entire career in British football has been dictated by Scots. Some might detect a masochistic streak in a man who opts to move to Glasgow after a decade listening to Kenny Dalglish, Sir Alex Ferguson and then Graeme Souness, but at Ibrox he may discover things are different.

Alex McLeish may be the most talented Scottish manager of his generation, but the secret of his success at Rangers has been happiness, rather than hairdryers. He inspired an under-achieving group of players into giving him everything - and more - last season as they snatched the Scottish Premier League title from Celtic, in a man-management style that contrasts vividly from his more-vaunted compatriots.

McLeish has had to coax simply to make up for the lack of cash. A £62m debt at Ibrox has meant that he has had to recruit two free agents this week, in Berg and Paolo Vanoli from Bologna. Ironically, it was one of McLeish's wealthier predecessors, Souness, who helped him acquire Berg.

The Norwegian defender received a recommendation from the Blackburn Rovers manager, even though he shipped him out of Ewood Park. Berg could not wait to see the back of Souness, but now he will encounter him every day - because pictures of the man who began the Rangers Revolution by signing players from England in the late 1980s still abound at Ibrox.

"I didn't speak to him about Rangers but he spoke to the club and they must have been happy with what he said about me," smiled Berg yesterday. "I came up here on the Sunday and by Tuesday I had signed. I had other offers from clubs in England, Germany, Denmark and even my native Norway, but as soon as I knew it was Rangers I pounced at it.

"I would still have been at Blackburn if I had got my way. But I was never offered a new contract. The only reason I'm not there, is that I had a fall-out with Souness. He will tell you it was a football decision, but it was not. I had a good relationship with almost all my managers - especially Dalglish and Ferguson - but not with him for the last 18 months."

Berg's arrival has been met with a somewhat muted response. Fans see it as a downward step to take a man in his mid-30s to replace a player, Lorenzo Amoruso who went in the opposite direction for £1.5m.

"I can understand that because Lorenzo was very popular here, but he's not here any more," Berg reflected. "When I was playing for Manchester United, I had a high profile but things were not always the same at Blackburn. Last season, I felt was one of my best-ever, but probably I was the only one who noticed it.

"That form gave me confidence that I could still keep playing at the top level and that I could come here and help Rangers to win things." Ironically, it was Celtic who spoiled Berg's ambitions last season. Defeat in the Uefa Cup by Martin O'Neill's side prompted the Norwegian to think that he had played his last-ever game in Europe.

Now, he has one final curtain call. On Wednesday, he is likely to face FC Copenhagen - one of the clubs who tried to sign him - in the Champions' League qualifier. If Rangers are successful, he could find himself facing the club he won the trophy with in 1999 - Manchester United.

"It would be great to play in the Champions' League in my last season," Berg said. "The last game I played was for United against Real Madrid in 2000, and then, of course, with Blackburn in the Uefa Cup last season, though I didn't play in either of the games against Celtic because I injured myself in training the day before the first leg at Parkhead - the pitch we used was the one here at Rangers training ground, which Souness had been able to get Rangers to give us.

"I am lucky to have won a few medals with United and Blackburn and now I know I can add a few more up here in Scotland. I know a lot about Scottish football but Rangers and Celtic are the ones who create the big interest - even in England, they both seemed to have loads of fans.

"We want to retain the title. Winning the Treble, especially against such an impressive Celtic side that went to the Uefa Cup final, was a magnificent achievement for the boys. The Champions' League is also a target for us. The players want to beat Copenhagen so we can play big European games, but it is also important for the club so it can make money."

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