Paul Le Guen has been asking his Rangers players all season to show greater fighting spirit. Phil Bardsley took the Frenchman at his word and flattened Thomas Buffel in a training ground bust-up on Tuesday but the others kept their blows for the more productive arena of the Uefa Cup.
The 3-2 win over Livorno in Italy on Thursday in the opening game of Group A could be the moment that pulls Le Guen off the canvas. The Ibrox manager had been under pressure after last Saturday's defeat at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle ensured his team were embracing their worst Scottish Premier League start in 23 years. Defeat in Europe would have heightened the clamour.
However, before the flight to Tuscany, Le Guen was forced to exclude Bardsley and a question mark still hangs over the on-loan defender. Le Guen, who has already exiled Fernando Ricksen to Russia for his ill-discipline, may send him back to Manchester United.
Domestic frailty stalked McLeish last season despite reaching the last 16 of the Champions' League and Le Guen knows that if his team lose to St Mirren at Love Street today, then he would be back to square one.
"I would like Livorno to be a turning point," said Le Guen on Friday. "But, after the game against Aberdeen, I thought that was a turning point and then we lost against Inverness. So I am very careful. It's up to the players to respond well on Sunday.
"The criticism was not the most important thing. To get the three points was more important. I am used to living with this pressure. I've done this job for seven years now and I know the expectation is high. But it's not impossible to live with."
Le Guen's CV, which includes three French titles with Lyon, is perhaps more suited to the European game but he acknowledges the importance of being able to compete in all competitions. "I would like to have a team ready to fight in the League and European games," he said. "I am pleased with all the players and with the team spirit too. It's important to feel that they are ready to fight for each other."
Ironically, one of Rangers' goalscorers in Livorno, Charlie Adam, returns to the club today that helped him catch Le Guen's eye, having spent last season on loan at St Mirren.
"It has taken me a long time to get my first Rangers goal and I was the same at St Mirren last year," said Adam. "I did not score for four or five games and eventually got 10 so, if I can get that again, I'll be happy."Reuse content