Smith considers return to Ibrox

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The Independent Online

Walter Smith admitted in the afterglow of Scotland's European Championship qualifying win over France in October that he knew what it felt like to have captured the heart of a nation. "Everyone I met was elated," he recalled. "It was a different feeling to when I won anything with Rangers because the whole country is pleased for you."

The Scotland manager might be about to break that national bond. Ibrox is calling, and Smith could be heading to his spiritual home after a nine-year exile. Paul Le Guen's sudden departure on Thursday as Rangers manager prompted a swift response from the club's owner, Sir David Murray. He offered Smith the chance to come back to the club with which his name is synonymous.

Smith secured nine successive Scottish Premier League titles between 1989 and 1997 (three as assistant to Graeme Souness) before moving to Everton. He is poised to make Ally McCoist, the record goalscorer from that Rangers side and currently a coach for Scotland, his assistant in what Ibrox fans call the Dream Team.

The Scottish FA will refuse tamely to hand over the man who is not only contracted until 2008 but who has earned a new respect for Scotland by taking them to the top of a qualifying group that includes France and Italy. Compensation talks could be bitter, especially if Smith breaks his contract. One suggestion is that Smith could perform both roles.

"There is a possibility in the short term of him doing both jobs, there's been a precedent for that," says Craig Brown, the former Scotland manager. "Guus Hiddink was PSV Eindhoven manager and also managed Australia, and Mark Hughes for a time did both jobs for Wales and Blackburn. It is far from ideal, but you could imagine it being a short-term solution."

But Smith and McCoist could not come close to eclipsing their previous achievements at Ibrox. Smith's nine in a row and coming within 90 minutes of the 1993 Champions' League final is beyond improvement; McCoist's media work offers greater security, since finances are a fraction of what Smith enjoyed a decade ago, as Le Guen discovered.

The Frenchman won three titles at home with Lyon, enjoying talents such as Michael Essien. At Ibrox, Le Guen was forced to make modest purchases, but his nine signings were so flawed that he lasted just 200 days.

Rangers' domestic season could be over if they lose today in the Scottish Cup third round at Dunfermline. Ian Durrant - another of Smith's old team - will perform the caretaker's role.

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