McLeish agrees to leave Rangers at end of season

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Alex McLeish will leave his job as the Rangers manager at the end of the season, the club confirmed last night, bringing to an end the long-running speculation about his future.

Rangers already know the identity of his successor - with the Frenchman Paul Le Guen widely tipped for the post - but no formal announcement will be made until the conclusion of Rangers' Champions' League last 16 games with Villarreal.

"[McLeish's] departure was agreed in early January as Alex believed that a four-and-a-half-year term at the club was an appropriate period upon which to end his tenure," the Rangers chairman, David Murray, said in a statement.

"It had always been the board's intention to make this announcement after the Villarreal matches, in conjunction with other major changes that will have a significant impact both in terms of new investment and personnel.

"However, in light of recent results and helpful discussions with various supporters' groups, directors and senior players, it was agreed that the announcement of the manager's departure should be made now."

In other words, Murray felt that rather than endure more supporters' protests calling for McLeish's head, he has opted to give them McLeish's head and then leave him at the helm for another three months.

Murray has always been keen to protect his reputation as a chairman who has never sacked a manager. In allowing McLeish to continue for now, and then effectively leave by mutual consent, he is also handing McLeish one last shot at glory - however unlikely - in the Champions' League.

McLeish has been under pressure for almost the entire season.

Before Christmas he suffered the ignominy of overseeing the longest winless run in Rangers' history. After a vote of confidence from Murray, a mini-revival eased his problems, but not enough.

The deal was made for him to go, and an embarrassing Scottish Cup defeat to Hibernian last weekend followed by defeat in the Scottish Premier League to Aberdeen on Wednesday, have forced Murray to make that deal public.

Rangers, who won the Scottish Premier League title in the final minutes of last season, trail Celtic by 18 points in this season's race. They have slipped back to fourth place in the table and European football is far from guaranteed next season. They face an Old Firm derby at home on Sunday, and then the two games with Villarreal, on 22 February and 7 March.

McLeish, a lame duck for months, will apparently waddle on until then, at least.