The maxim that no player is bigger than a club took a hefty Glasgow kiss yesterday with the resignation of Paul Le Guen as Rangers manager after seven months in charge. The catalyst was Le Guen's dispute with Barry Ferguson, whom he stripped of the captaincy and dropped on New Year's Day.
The Scotland manager, Walter Smith, ishot favourite to replace Le Guen, but on what terms remains to be seen. Friends of Smith, who guided Rangers to seven league titles between 1991 and 1998, said last night he might be tempted to take over in tandem with his Scotland job in the short term but feel he may not want to return to club management permanently.
That increases the chances of a dual management set-up, with Ally McCoist, an Ibrox icon, joining Smith in the short term and then taking sole charge soon, if up to the job in his first management post.
The Independent has learnt that the Rangers' chairman, Sir David Murray, told associates last month that there was "a plan B" was in place in case Le Guen left, so an announcement will be soon.
Rangers, Smith (under contract to the Scottish FA until 2008) and McCoist also part of the current Scotland set-up would need to negotiate with the SFA to thrash out what happens next for all of them.
The SFA hierarchy knew nothing of Le Guen's departure until it happened.
Derby County's manager, Billy Davies, is another contender. Ian Durrant, Rangers' reserve team coach, will take temporary charge for now.
It is understood that Murray, was hopeful of a rapprochement between Le Guen and Ferguson, but Le Guen saw no future for himself and Ferguson at the same club, and it is thought that he negotiated his departure on that basis. Ferguson had made it clear via his agent, John Viola, that he wanted to stay at Rangers. The club would not have been able to force Ferguson to leave, and the prospect of Le Guen continuing with Ferguson still on his books and the massed ranks of Rangers' fans on Ferguson's side was an uphill struggle too far.
Poor results alone could have been a factor for Le Guen going. Rangers are 17 points adrift of Celtic and have dropped 20 points (from 36) against bottom-six sides this season. But Murray has always stuck by managers and so rapid a change is not his style. At seven months, Le Guen's reign was the shortest of any Rangers manager.
An intriguing footnote is the suggestion doing the rounds at Ibrox yesterday that he had been so shocked at the size of his task and unhappy with his prospects that he had already started looking at other jobs, perhaps at Paris St-Germain, where he spent seven years as a player.
The official line from Ibrox is that Le Guen left by "mutual agreement". Murray said: "Having met with Paul, it was clear that in the interests of the club and all concerned we agreed jointly to him stepping down as manager. We are all clearly disappointed with our current circumstances and will now focus on securing a suitable replacement. I would like to wish Paul and his management team well in the future."
Le Guen stated: "I am disappointed to leave the club, but I think it is the best solution for all concerned. I would like to thank all the people who helped me and my team during my spell in Scotland. In particular, I would like to thank the directors, who at all times gave me their total support."
Le Guen arrived in Scotland with a glorious CV, having led Lyon to a hat-trick of titles in France before taking a sabbatical from the game. But, like last season, while Rangers have done well in Europe, reaching the Champions' League knockout stages last season and the Uefa Cup last 32 so far this term, they have stuttered domestically.
Le Guen's 11 summer signings, mostly budget buys or free transfers, have largely failed to make an impact. And his relationship with the fans' talisman, Ferguson, has been cool since the start. Differences of opinion about everything from tactics to the players' Christmas party have created rancour and, ultimately, a sensational departure.
War of the words: Fallout at Ibrox
How the manager v captain crisis at Rangers escalated:
1 Dec: "The role of captain isn't as important in France as it seems to be here. The plan is my job."
17 Dec: "To me being the captain is the most important job about."
17 Dec: "He can say what he likes. It doesn't matter. I'm the boss."
2 Jan: "I will be cremated in the jersey I wore the night I was first made captain of Rangers. That's how much it means to me. Morbid? Maybe, but arrangements for what I wear in my coffin are already made."
2 Jan: "He tries to have too much influence. Even if I don't agree with him on the role of the captain, and I don't think he is as important as he thinks, you need to have a good captain."
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