Gattuso spices up Smith's new plot

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The Independent Football

When you have been around a long time, the capacity still to inspire is often overlooked. Like the recently reopened La Scala Opera House, Walter Smith has been spruced up and given a new lease of life; so what better backdrop for his new production next Saturday?

When you have been around a long time, the capacity still to inspire is often overlooked. Like the recently reopened La Scala Opera House, Walter Smith has been spruced up and given a new lease of life; so what better backdrop for his new production next Saturday?

Milan will echo to the strains of 10,000 Scots voices. The choral accompaniment will fill the city's other dramatic stage, the San Siro Stadium, as Smith makes his bow as Scotland manager with the toughest of World Cup qualifying assignments, away to Italy.

After the high farce of the soap opera that was Scotland under Berti Vogts (like most German opera, it took three years to finish and the plot was unfathomable), Smith is simply seeking to establish some stability after a wretched decline which saw Scotland slip to 77th in the world rankings. Qualification for Germany 2006 seems an impos- sibility given that the Scots picked up only two points from the opening three games before this encounter with Group Five's heavyweights.

At 56, other managers might have thought twice about risking a reputation built on seven trophy-laden years at Rangers a decade ago. "If I was frightened of not making something of the Scotland team, I would not have taken the job - I did not need to," he said. "There has been a lot of criticism and doom and gloom. Hopefully I can lift that."

There will be one eyecatching piece of evidence out on the San Siro pitch of the former Everton manager's capacity to lift players beyond their limits - unfortunately, he will be playing for the Azzurri, not the dark blue of Scotland. Rino Gattuso is the heartbeat of Italy's midfield. He is a proven winner with Milan, with a Champions' League success and two Italian titles under his belt. Yet his terrier approach was honed in Glasgow, under the watchful eye of Smith.

Smith spotted Gattuso playing in a youth tournament for Perugia and enticed him to Rangers at the age of 17. The combative midfielder won a Scottish Premier League title before Smith departed for Goodison Park.

With his father figure gone, Gattuso could not take to Dick Advocaat and returned to Italy, where his rise has been remarkable.

Smith met Gattuso last month when he went to Cagliari to watch Italy's 2-0 friendly win over Russia. They will embrace again in the San Siro. "It will be strange for me to play against his team and see Walter in the other dugout," said Gattuso, whose wife, Monica, is Glaswegian. "He is my favourite manager. Walter was like a second father to me when I went to Glasgow, because I was just a young boy.

"He gave me my chance to play for a big team, and he will always be in my heart because of that. I learned a lot from him. I love the British style of football. It's about running 100 per cent for 90 minutes and tackling like men. In Italy, if you tackle a player they moan to the referee. The Scots will not do that."

Smith, though, will want his unfancied team to get in the faces of the Italians just as Gattuso and Co did when Milan won at Manchester United last month in the Champions' League.

"Going to Italy is a hard task for any team, at any time, not just our country," he said. "All I ask is that we make it tough for them."

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