The new Wenger ready to take Rangers by storm

He is French and studious, highly successful in his home country and is cracking down on Ibrox's booze culture. No wonder, writes Nick Harris, that Paul Le Guen is often compared to the Arsenal manager
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The Independent Football

It is not just the string of similarities between Paul Le Guen and his good friend Arsène Wenger that lead you to the conclusion that the Frenchman has a great chance of winning the Scottish Premier League in his debut campaign. Le Guen, the 12th manager in Rangers' history and the first Catholic, takes the reins for his first competitive match tomorrow, in his club's opening SPL game of the season at Motherwell.

The parallels with Wenger are compelling enough on their own to suggest that the 42-year-old Breton can wrest the title back from Celtic. Like Wenger, who won the Premiership for Arsenal in his first full season in 1997-98, Le Guen has an academic background and a degree in economics, is a master of the minutiae and devilishly detailed in every aspect of preparation. His mantra is hard work, healthy living and off-field discipline in the pursuit of excellence on the pitch. He has demonstrated all of the above in Glasgow before a ball has been kicked in anger, more of which later.

Like Wenger, he has an excellent track record. He led Lyon to a hat-trick of League titles in France. He is canny in the transfer market (he bought Michael Essien for £3m in 2003, two years before Chelsea paid £24m), and knows an opportunity when he sees it. He is also quiet but forcefully articulate.

Shortly after he agreed in March to succeed Alex McLeish this summer, he was asked why a man of his stature would choose a move to Scotland, when the likes of Lazio, Monaco, Benfica and Paris St-Germain had come calling for his services.

"I've not got a lot to say to people who think that," he said. "I am delighted to be with Rangers. That's all that counts to me. And, to be honest, I'm not interested in what other people think. It doesn't bother me in the slightest."

Le Guen, whose nickname is "La patate de Pencran" ("The Pencran Potato", after his home town, famous for spuds), is anything but a potato head. He understands the potential of Rangers, giants who attract 50,000 people a game. He appreciates the magnitude of the pressure, yet shrugs if off. "What, you think we had no attention at Lyon?" Le Guen asks.

He also has Uefa Cup football to amuse him this season, and quite probably the Champions' League, a tournament in which he twice took Lyon to the quarter-finals, next year. In all likelihood, though, he understandably does not acknowledge it publicly, he sees a gilt-edged chance to buff up an already impressive CV under the noses of Arsenal's hierarchy ahead of the day when Wenger moves on or upstairs.

Le Guen understands people will question his motives. "[But] all that matters is that I know where I'm going, what I'm doing and why," he says.

For those who look to recent precedent, Le Guen's chances of title success in his first year - of a projected three-year tenure he has said in the past that he sees as the optimum at any club - are high. Rangers' last four managers - McLeish, Dick Advocaat, Walter Smith and Graeme Souness - all won the championship in their first full seasons. On the other side of the Old Firm divide, so have Gordon Strachan, Martin O'Neill and Wim Jansen in the past decade.

Several of those seven took up their jobs with lesser credentials than Le Guen, whose playing career, as a defender, took in Brest and Nantes before seven years at PSG, where he made 478 appearances and won trophies, including the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1996. He was also capped 17 times by France before turning to management.

In three years with Rennes between 1998 and 2001, he nurtured the talents of Shabani Nonda and El Hadji Diouf. He fell out with the board, was sacked, and took a year off before filling Jacques Santini's highly polished shoes in the Lyon dugout. Santini had just won the title. Le Guen added three more then resigned in May last year, to take another year out.

By the time Rangers made their first approach last autumn, he was a familiar face at Arsenal, undertaking scouting work for Wenger, who said of his appointment at Ibrox: "I know Paul well and he came to Arsenal for a while. He is intelligent, has a good sense for the game, and is a good analyst of modern football."

So to the echoes of Wenger's takeover at Highbury in 1996, when a booze culture, discipline and diet were among the first issues to be dealt with. On the flight out to Rangers' pre-season tour to South Africa this month, the Dutch defender Fernando Ricksen got drunk on the plane. He was on his way home and booked into the Sporting Chance clinic within hours. Le Guen has made it clear that a drink is fine, but it is moderation or goodbye.

He has introduced twice-daily fitness sessions, overseen by his imported team of assistant Yves Colleu and a physio and trainer who have all been part of his staff since Rennes. He has started to eradicate any foods he sees as damaging in his players' diets, even banning his squad from dining in Mr Singh's India, a Glasgow eatery long popular with Rangers players. Fast food and chip shops have joined curries on the no-no list.

Le Guen has already shown his hand in terms of squad building. His first signings, the Sweden international Karl Svensson, a central defender and goalkeeper Lionel Letizi from PSG, demonstrated his priorities - and his knowledge of Rangers' damaging weaknesses last term. They have been joined by the Czech Republic's Libor Sionko, a midfielder, plus three tiros from France (Lyon's Jeremy Clement and Rennes' William Stanger and Antoine Ponroy) and Dean Furman, a promising youngster from Chelsea. They may not be glamour names but then Le Guen always knew that resources would be tight, even if cash has been promised and could be available from a new merchandising deal with JJB Sports.

Le Guen has trumpeted the virtues of having home players at the heart of his side, as Wenger did when he first arrived in London. But whereas Englishmen at Arsenal have become rarer by the year, Le Guen maintains, for the moment at least, that Scots will be key to his Rangers plan. Barry Ferguson, captain and heartbeat in midfield, is foremost among them, or will be when he returns from injury. Kris Boyd, the SPL's leading striker last season, also has huge potential, while the young full-backs Alan Hutton and Steven Smith, the utility man Ian Murray and the winger Chris Burke will all be given the opportunity to show their worth.

"I hope to keep them during this season and the following ones too," said Le Guen, making all the right noises for those fans wondering whether their club will become Little France sometime soon.

"There's not going to be a revolution. It's not as if we have invented any miraculous methods, but there will be a process of evolution," he said.

After 2005-06, Rangers' worst season in decades, vive la

Making of 'The Pencran Potato'

* BORN 1 March, 1964 in Pencran, Brittany

* PLAYING CAREER (Defensive midfielder)

AS Brest (1981-1987)

Stade Brestois (1987-1989)

FC Nantes (1989-1991)

Paris St-Germain (1991-1998, Won European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1996)

17 caps for France

* MANAGERIAL CAREER

Rennes (1998-2001)

Lyon (2002-2005, Won 3 consecutive French titles)

Rangers (Appointed 2006)

From Golac to Ivanauskas: Tartan managers with an overseas twist

SIX OF THE BEST...

* IVAN GOLAC (Yug)

First non-British, non-Irish manager in Scotland, with Dundee United, 1993-1995. The former swashbuckling defender led them to the Scottish Cup in 1994.

* WIM JANSEN (Neth)

First foreign Old Firm manager, won SPL and League Cup double in only season in charge at Celtic, 1997-98. Stopped Rangers' run at nine titles. Signed Henrik Larsson.

* DICK ADVOCAAT (Neth)

First foreign Rangers manager (1998-2001). Won domestic treble in 1999, and SPL and Scottish Cup double in 2000 with a core of Dutchmen.

* EBBE SKOVDAHL (Den)

Inherited a poor side at impoverished Aberdeen in 1999. Reached both cup finals in 2000. Took them as high as a fourth-place league finish before leaving in 2002.

* IVANO BONETTI (It)

Two helter-skelter years at Dundee (2000-2002) brought some thrilling signings (including Argentina's Claudio Caniggia) but no success and a messy end.

* VALDAS IVANAUSKAS (Lith)

After a turbulent 2005-06 season at Hearts which saw three managers at Tynecastle, he was handed control in March, guiding them to SPL runners-up spot and a Scottish Cup win.

...AND THE REST

* HARRI KAMPMAN (Fin)

Motherwell: Feb 98 to Oct 98.

* JOZEF VENGLOS (Slo)

Celtic: Jul 98 to Jun 1999.

* MIODRAG KRIVOKAPIC (Yug) Co-manager Motherwell: Sep 2001 to Oct 2001.

* FRANCK SAUZEE (Fr)

Hibernian: Dec 2001 to Feb 2002.

* ANTONIO CALDERON (Sp)

Raith Rovers: Jun 2002 to Jun 2004.

* CLAUDE ANELKA (Fr),

Prospective owner and manager Raith Rovers: Jun 2004 to Oct 2004.

* MIXU PAATELAINEN (Fin)

Cowdenbeath: Aug 2005 to date.

* PAUL LE GUEN (Fr)

Rangers: May 2006 to date.

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