Duffy aims to complete redemption at Rangers' expense

Scottish cup final: Dundee coach hopes to thwart McLeish's attempt on the Treble to give Georgia's favourite son his first taste of success
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The Independent Football

Alex McLeish would probably not be where he is today, if it had not been for Jim Duffy. When the pair walk out at Hampden Park for the Scottish Cup final this afternoon, they will be conscious of their role in each other's life.

Five years ago, it was Duffy who was the managerial high-flier, but his wings were clipped after an ill-fated spell at Hibernian which allowed McLeish to become his successor. The rest, as they say, is history.

While Duffy had to labour long and hard at Chelsea as a youth coach, and then as assistant manager at Portsmouth, before even attempting to restore his reputation, McLeish went from strength to strength. His spell at Easter Road took Hibs to the Scottish Cup final two years ago, and caught the eye of Rangers who asked him to replace Dick Advocaat in December 2001.

Four trophies in 18 months (he won the Scottish Cup and League Cup last term) have vindicated the Ibrox club's gamble - which is how many fans perceived it at the time. Should McLeish make it five by beating Dundee today, then he would join his Old Firm rival, Martin O'Neill, in being able to name his own price.

Victory would see McLeish become only the sixth manager in Ibrox history to win a Treble and he gives the impression that he is in with the red bricks which dominate the facade of Ibrox's main stand. Wresting power from Celtic matters a great deal to a man whose upbringing as a Rangers fan was a closely guarded secret during his playing days when Aberdeen regularly delivered a bloody nose to his heroes.

When McLeish was preparing for that final with Hibs (who lost 3-0 to Celtic) in 2001, he was being pursued by West Ham United. He resisted, the Hammers settled on Glenn Roeder instead, and then just seven months later the dream job at Ibrox became available. If Sir Alex Ferguson opts to name his successor at Manchester United in a few years, McLeish's name might be at the top of the tree by then.

However, the bond to Govan is strong. "I have a great mentor in Fergie, but no one can prepare you for the job of being Rangers manager," McLeish reflected this week at a special Cup final press conference within sight of the Scottish Cup and his counterpart, Duffy. "You have to experience the job for yourself and become immersed in the club. I am constantly reminding the players of what this club is all about, and about coping with the huge pressure we have every day here.

"Every corridor you walk along at Ibrox, is packed with photographs of trophy-winning sides of yesteryear, but I embrace the history and let it act as my inspiration. I never felt at any time that this job was too big for me."

Neither did Duffy. When he moved to Hibs in 1997 from Dundee, it was seen as the logical progression of a man who had gone into management at a young age after his playing career at Dens Park had ended with a knee ligament injury. He took Dundee to the League Cup final in 1995 but had gone as far as he could with the club, who underwent major financial problems in the early 1990s.

In that wretched 1997-98 season, Duffy and Hibs began with a 2-0 win at home to Celtic and were top of the Scottish Premier League table by September. But they were in trouble by the New Year and he was told to clear his desk just two months later to make way for McLeish.

Stamford Bridge rebuilt Duffy's confidence, while he unearthed players such as Carlton Cole. He moved to Fratton Park in 2001 to link up with his friend, Graham Rix, before sensing a change in the air on the south coast and moved after Harry Redknapp's arrival. Last summer, Dundee offered him the chance to come home after they had sacked Ivano Bonetti.

Duffy has hammered his own philosophy of industry into the cosmopolitan band of foreign players he inherited at Dens Park, which today will possibly number three Argentinians, two Georgians, a Venezuelan and five Scots. Dundee play with flair and three forwards, but when they do not have the ball they work tirelessly to retrieve it.

No one epitomises that more than Fabian Caballero, the gifted Argentinian who scored both goals when Dundee held Rangers to a 2-2 draw in the League four weeks ago.

"Caballero, Giorgi Nemsdaze and Zurab Khizanishvili could play in any team and I don't think too many would argue with that," said Duffy. "Fabian was not fit when I arrived here but he has lost weight and that allows him to express himself properly.

"When you have ability in your team, you have a chance. You cannot be written off and we have that ability. We also have resilience and we will need that because I expect we will have to weather a Rangers storm. We have a chance of winning the Cup because we have ability, but it is allied to belief."

Ironically, one of Duffy's other flair players, Khizanishvili, could well be at Ibrox next season. The Georgian is tipped to replace Lorenzo Amoruso, who could be playing his last game at Rangers today before joining Blackburn Rovers.

Dundee have to go back to the early 1960s to recall their golden era. That 1964 Cup final defeat to Rangers was the end of the road for a side which won the title in 1962 and lost to Milan in the semi-final of the European Cup a year later. Perhaps, like Milan, they are back in vogue.

Duffy has been boosted by the news that the goalkeeper Julian Speroni will be fit to start tomorrow despite being left dazed and bloodied after a collision with the defender Lee Mair at the end of a training session on Thursday.

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