Two years ago on cup final day at Hampden, Martin O'Neill was being lauded as the treble-clinching managerial hero. Alex McLeish was the empty-handed loser, his modestly-talented Hibernian team having been swept aside 3-0 by the new wave Caledonians from Parkhead.
Yesterday it was McLeish who was riding the crest of a trophy-consuming wave at Scotland's national stadium. With a header by Lorenzo Amoruso midway through the second-half of an absorbing but far from classic Scottish Cup final, the Rangers manager completed a clean sweep of the season's domestic honours north of the border.
In doing so, the man with the golden hair and the Midas managerial touch took his haul of trophies to five in 18 months at Ibrox. O'Neill has won four in his three years at Parkhead. Celtic's manager might have won hearts and minds well beyond the confines of Scotland's second city with his team's progression to the final of the Uefa Cup, but it is McLeish who has put the most sparkle into the rival trophy cabinets of the Glaswegian big two. Indeed, as half of Hampden took great delight in pointing out at the final whistle yesterday, the showcase at Ibrox is full this season and the equivalent at Parkhead bare.
Such a bitter-sweet cocktail of self-congratulation and schadenfreude is only to be expected in the wild west of Scotland. McLeish, however, has achieved more than mere parochial point-scoring since he succeed Dick Advocaat in December 2001. With next-to-nothing to spend (at a club whose debts have risen from £52m to £80m), he has transformed a spineless group of players (who finished 21 points behind Celtic in the 2000-2001 Scottish Premier League campaign and who were on course for a 15-point deficit when he arrived midway through last season) into a force with whom their seemingly untouchable rivals have not quite been able to reckon.
It was a shot in the arm for Scottish football that the marathon title race was decided in a photo-finish this season. And it was another boost yesterday that Rangers were pushed all the way with no O'Neill or Celtic in sight. Dundee, highly organised and polished under the direction of Jim Duffy, matched them stride for stride from the off.
It was to Dundee's credit that McLeish became a figure of concern at pitch-side. There was no lack of method to his team's play but there was a shortage of cutting-edge urgency. In search of the incisiveness required, the Rangers manager withdrew Michael Mols at half-time and sent Shota Arveladze up front to partner Ronald de Boer. He then replaced Arveladze with Steven Thompson, but it was the towering defensive figure of Amoruso who made the breakthrough, stealing behind the Dundee rearguard to head in a Neil McCann free-kick.
The big Italian happens to be one of the underachievers who have been brought up to scratch by McLeish - as has Craig Moore, the Australian who was outstanding as his central defensive partner yesterday. Amoruso will be gone by the start of next season, probably to Blackburn, but the £1.25m transfer fee will no doubt be wisely reinvested by the man at the helm at Ibrox.
"If he does go, he'll be a big loss," McLeish said. "We'll have to try to replace him." For the time being, though, the Rangers manager has a rare Scottish trophy treble to celebrate. It was a feat Martin O'Neill achieved two years ago but a hat-trick which eluded the man who managed McLeish in his playing days at Aberdeen: Alex Ferguson.Reuse content