Le Guen's fight to seize power may get harder

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The Independent Online

Paul Le Guen has done many things in his sabbatical year from football. The former Lyon coach threw himself feverishly into television work, and his idea of a break from appearing on screen was to head to the Sahara last week for the gruelling 150-mile Marathon des Sables.

The man who is about to inherit Rangers will probably put his feet up today in his Brittany home. No doubt Canal Plus, his current employers, will have helped him out with a satellite dish that picks up Setanta's signal, and Le Guen will settle down to watch something that will make his pulse race just as much as that trek in the desert.

The Old Firm encounter has to be embraced to be understood. More so if you are a player or manager. Alex McLeish could tell Le Guen that, as could Gordon Strachan. The Celtic manager also had a year out of the game and turned to television work to keep his mind alert, but found that nothing prepared him for being thrown into a job in a city where you not only have to ensure that you win, but that your rivals don't.

Strachan survived a mauling in his first month, including a painful 3-1 defeat at Ibrox in the opening Glasgow derby of the season, to win the Scottish Premier League title by 20 points. His job security meant McLeish was consigned to history despite taking Rangers to the last 16 of the Champions' League.

Le Guen's task will be to seize back power. The man who laid success on a plate for Gérard Houllier this season by bequeathing the former Liverpool manager a gifted Lyon side who have just strolled to a fifth successive French title will find his own inheritance at Ibrox not quite as eye-catching.

If Celtic win the final Old Firm derby today at Parkhead, they will earn far more than bragging rights - the gap between the bitter rivals would open up to 26 points - they will kill Rangers' ambitions of returning to the Champions' League next term. Far from being a game than means nothing, the outcome of this one will cost someone £10m: that is what Rangers made from this season's adventure, and what Celtic missed out on when Strachan's side lost in the qualifying round at Artmedia Bratislava.

Celtic have more than just schadenfreude as a reason for wanting to see Hearts win second place. Damaging Rangers financially ahead of Le Guen's arrival would be crucial. For the Rangers team, there is an uncertainty as to how many will still be around the dressing-room once the Frenchman sweeps in.

Kris Boyd ought to have more confidence than most. The striker's 15 goals in 13 starts since Alex McLeish signed him for £400,000 in January from Kilmarnock makes him the SPL's top marksman, yet he is preparing to prove himself all over again to Le Guen. "I think that's been at the back of most of the players' minds with a new manager coming in," Boyd said. "You want to do your best for the team this season, but at the moment you also know he is looking at us from a distance. There'll be players leaving and coming in. It's up to the ones who stay to show they are good enough to play for him next season."

Julien Rodriguez played in the 2004 Champions' League final with Monaco and the defender was highly valued in France, yet even he feels uncertain of his compatriot's intentions. "I don't know Le Guen," he said. "I have got three years left on my contract. Le Guen's arrival could make things easier for me, although I don't know whether I am part of his plans."

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