Smith quits Scotland for return to Ibrox 'home'

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The Independent Football

Walter Smith yesterday became the manager of Rangers again after a hiatus of nine years with the club in a similar position to when he left it - at a low ebb - but with the promise of money to spend in the transfer window and with the satisfaction of being back "home" at a club where he enjoyed almost a decade of uninterrupted glory. "This club has always been in my blood and I can't wait to get started," he said.

Harsh reminders of the special strains of being an Old Firm manager were quick in coming as his inaugural press conference was dominated by questions about his feelings on walking out on Scotland - he resigned as the national coach yesterday morning - and on the multiple headaches he will inherit as Paul Le Guen's successor.

These include which of Le Guen's 12, mostly unimpressive, signings he will keep, whether Barry Ferguson (whose fall-out with Le Guen led to the Frenchman's departure) has any chance of being captain again, and how Smith will cope with anger directed at him by Scotland fans who feel left in the lurch just as they had started feeling optimistic about the national side's resurgence.

"Wait and see," was the thrust of Smith's responses, although he added that he had "a little bit of regret" about leaving the Scotland job - with the team top of their qualification group for Euro 2008 - and said only Rangers could ever have tempted him away.

Smith has signed a three-year deal at Ibrox, and, as expected, Ally McCoist has become his assistant. They will be joined by Kenny McDowall, whose defection from his post as reserve coach at Celtic to become Smith's first-team coach at Ibrox will only intensify the animosity inside Glasgow's Old Firm cauldron.

Smith's first game in charge will be Saturday's home League game against Dundee United, with Rangers trailing leaders Celtic by 17 points. His last at the helm was the 1998 Scottish Cup final, which Rangers lost to Hearts, shortly after they had ceded the Scottish title to Celtic for the first time in a decade. His record before that guarantees reservoirs of goodwill. He won seven titles in a row between 1991 and 1997, and each domestic cup three times.

After Smith resigned yesterday morning, the Scottish Football Association's chief executive, David Taylor, said the exit was a "serious blow" and that he was "very disappointed". He added that the SFA would now sue Smith for breach of contract, and Rangers for "inducement to breach contract".

A messy legal battle is theoretically possible, but unlikely. Sources on all sides expect Rangers and the SFA to thrash out a six-figure compensation deal, even though Sir David Murray, the Rangers chairman, said yesterday that the SFA's first, undisclosed, demand, was "totally unrealistic".

"I'm delighted to be back at Rangers. I never thought it would happen," Smith admitted.

"It's a challenge, but if you're afraid of the challenge then you should not accept it."

National service: Runners and riders for Scotland job

Tommy Burns

The former Celtic manager was brought in as assistant Scotland manager to Berti Vogts before Smith arrived and kept him as No 2. Current Celtic first-team coach and youth development manager. Ideal short-term candidate.

Odds: 2-1 favourite.

Craig Levein

Made his name at Hearts with successive third-place finishes, leading to his appointment at Leicester, where he only lasted 14 months. Now at Dundee United, where his impact has been positive.

Odds: 11-4.

Alex McLeish

Out of work since making way for Paul Le Guen at Rangers in the summer.

Previously led Motherwell to second in the SPL, Hibs to third and steered Rangers to seven trophies. Available, but would prefer club management.

Odds: 9-2.

And the rest...

Derby's Billy Davies (9-1) may rather try for the Premiership than Euro 2008. Ditto George Burley (33-1) at Southampton. Gary McAllister (9-1) has no managerial experience. Graeme Souness (40-1) is an idol at Rangers but does not get on with the SFA. Craig Brown (25-1) has done it before. Aberdeen's Jimmy Calderwood and Forest's Colin Calderwood (both 14-1) are enjoying club football.