Smith looks to say farewell to Rangers with title-winning swansong
Saturday 14 May 2011
Walter Smith can finish his long stewardship of Rangers tomorrow with a glorious bow and a tenth title.
The 63-year-old is ending a managerial career that started at Ibrox 20 years ago, and his second spell at the club he supported as a boy.
He said goodbye to his beloved stadium on Tuesday night, with a 2-0 win over Dundee United. That left Rangers with an advantage over Celtic going into the final dash for the Scottish Premier League title; they are one point ahead of their rivals going into tomorrow lunch-time's league finale. Smith takes Rangers to Kilmarnock, while Neil Lennon's Celtic have a marginally easier game, at home to Motherwell.
Celtic have a superior goal difference, so Rangers will probably have to match the result from Parkhead to win. But if they did so, it would be a fitting flourish from one of the towering figures of the Scottish club game. A tenth league title would draw Smith level with the great Jock Stein, the mentor of Celtic's Lisbon Lions. Only two managers have won more: Willie Maley, who led Celtic through the first half of the last century, and Bill Struth, manager of Rangers through the inter-war years and into the late 1940s.
Smith's achievements are even more impressive for coming over two very different eras at Rangers. In his first spell, between 1991 and 1998, he had access to players of the quality of Basile Boli, Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne. His seven consecutive titles and three Scottish Cups, a fine achievement, were eased by his resources. In his second spell, though, he has exhibited different strengths. The money has drained out of Rangers, and with it the talent. Yet since replacing Paul Le Guen in 2007 he has won two titles and is close to a third, as well as two Scottish Cups and three League Cups, while also taking his team all the way to the 2008 Uefa Cup final.
Moreover, and most importantly, Smith represents a nobility that has been lost in Scottish football this year. The hate campaign directed towards Neil Lennon – two men appeared in court yesterday accused of sending hoax bombs to the Celtic manager – has debased one of the game's most enduring rivalries. "Not just a football manager," said Aberdeen's Craig Brown of Smith yesterday, "but a human being of outstanding calibre and quality and I just can't praise Walter Smith highly enough."
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