McLeish plays for pride in the endgame

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The Independent Online

The Old Firm is like a long-running soap opera. The backdrops remain the same, the drama still gets churned out, but the constantly-changing list of characters is hard to keep up with. Neighbours? Well, not friendly ones. What about Desperate Managers?

The name of Paul Le Guen will not be on many people's minds at Ibrox today. All that counts in Glasgow's eternal rivalry is the here and now. Le Guen may be part of Rangers' tomorrows, but all that Alex McLeish knows is that he only has two more of these special days to enjoy.

The worst secret in football was revealed on Thursday night when Rangers announced that McLeish will be leaving this summer after just over four years as manager. There will be no trophies to lift this time, paying the price for a barren domestic season. Villarreal could end the Champions' League adventure in a few weeks, which will leave just the remaining Old Firm games for McLeish to salvage a bit of pride.

This is the penultimate one. No one, though, who was at Ibrox in August as Rangers spoiled Gordon Strachan's Old Firm baptism with a 3-1 victory in the opening derby of the season could have believed that by early February, Celtic would be 18 points ahead of their rivals and en route to the Scottish Premier League title.

That statistic was too much for many Rangers fans. There was a demonstration - for the second time this season - after last week's Scottish Cup defeat by Hibernian and the midweek defeat by Aberdeen in the League saw the plug being pulled on McLeish. The move, by chairman David Murray, was meant to dispel the simmering anger at Ibrox and unite the fans before the arrival of Celtic.

"It is time to move on and I decided that, with my family, last summer," McLeish insisted. "I told the chairman at the beginning of the season that I felt this would be my last campaign. It is a demanding job but I would not have changed anything about it. Am I sad? No. We are turning this into a soap opera. Managers come and go but the well-being of Rangers is the most important thing."

Although the bookmakers favour Le Guen, whom Murray failed to persuade in November to come to Glasgow, the former Lyon coach will have his pick of several top European jobs. McLeish said that "two or three people are being spoken to" which might signal that Charlton's Alan Curbishley, or even Motherwell's Terry Butcher, a former Rangers captain, could also be on the shortlist.

McLeish insisted that he feels comfortable with helping Murray choose his successor. How-ever, he will not step aside before the end of the season. "If I was to speak to an incoming manager, that would be fine, but to have someone else traipsing about the corridors of Murray Park every day, talking to players, while I am still here? No, absolutely not."

Ironically, the one man who would endorse that is in the opposition dugout. Strachan felt that his players at Southampton let their standards slip once he announced he was leaving with six months still to go. " I just felt a wee change in the dressing room," he recalled.

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