Life begins at 40 as Weir sticks to short-term goals
Rangers defender opens up to Simon Hart on Scotland's 'realistic' chance of qualifying for Euro 2012, feeling insecure at Everton and becoming a coach when he finally calls it quits
Sunday 03 October 2010
For a man who gave up some time ago on setting long-term goals, David Weir is quite on a roll when it comes to notching milestones.
The 40-year-old became Scotland's oldest player when he appeared in last month's Euro 2012 qualifier against Lithuania. That came on the back of a 2009-10 season in which he appeared in every minute of champions Rangers' SPL campaign and earned the Scottish Football Writers' Player of the Year award – not bad when you considerhis arrival at Ibrox in January 2007 was meant to be "only till the end of the season".
"You never look that far ahead in football, or I don't anyway," says Weir, feet rooted to terra firma. "Short-term goals are the way forward, especially once you get over 30." Even more so when you hit 40, though in the case of Weir – "I'm not interested in my age" – that really is just a number to a player setting his sights on Scotland's Euro 2012 double-header against Czech Republic and Spain.
The world champions' Hampden visit is the Hollywood fixture but Friday's preceding Prague qualifiercould hold greater significance, Weir believes. The Czechs lost at home to Lithuania last month and he says: "That could be a pivotal game. If we win it, we could put them on the back foot. That is the first game and, if it goes right, the Spain one will become bigger and bigger."
Scotland have been absent from major tournaments for so long that, of the present squad, Weir alone has played in one, at France 98. Is Euro 2012 a realistic aim for Craig Levein's side, who lead Group I after a draw in Lithuania and last-gasp victory over Liechtenstein? "It is realistic but it would be a big achievement. Obviously we've got a lot of hard work to do but there is definitely the quality of player to do it. You look at the number of lads that play in the Premier League and add the number playing Champions' League football with Rangers and for Celtic as well."
He is not alone in citing Rangers and the Champions' League. On Friday, Levein highlighted Rangers' success in stifling Manchester United, as he discussed his favoured 4-5-1 formation (though, unfortunately, Lee McCulloch, Rangers' holding midfielder in Manchester, will be suspended in Prague). Weir says: "I think [Levein] has realised we have to be more pragmatic and harder to beat and maybe not be as open and flowing as he would like us to be and susceptible to counterattacks."
Walter Smith's own return to a more conservative approach has profited Rangers, who beat Bursaspor last Wednesday for their first Champions' League win since 2007. Weir defends their methods. "When we got to the Uefa Cup final [in 2008] we were criticised for being negative and playing anti-football. Probably we opened up a bit too much last year. We had bad results and conceded more goals than we would have liked. [Now] we are trying to play decent football but also trying to be quite defensive and not give many goals away."
It is a style that suits Weir, who reflects on the necessary adjustments made with age. "You become less athletic and can't cover the ground you used to. On the other hand you are more experienced. You realise what you do and don't need to do. If your manager sets a team up in a way that can help you, as good managers do, that is a big factor as well – if I was playing in a team where I was left exposed, it might be different."
Rest is another key factor. "You've still got to train hard but it's knowing when to train. There are times two days after a match where you are not back to where you'd like to be, whereas three or four years ago, you would have been. That is probably the biggest thing to guard against – training when you're not ready to train."
Given Weir's longevity, it is curious that he only made his Scotland debut at 27. He was a late starter, turning pro with Falkirk at 22 after a football scholarship in the United States – at Evansville University, Indiana – where he gained a BA in Communications and "grew up a lot". Smith took him from Hearts to Everton in 1999 and has been a significant figure in his career ever since. During Smith's tenure as Scotland manager, Weir says, "he gave me the opportunity to start playing again after I'd stopped" after a fall-out with Berti Vogts. "He then brought me to play for Rangers, which was the club I supported as a boy so he has created three great scenarios for me."
By contrast, Weir confesses to a sense of insecurity when working under his other manager at Everton, David Moyes, who was "trying to bring in younger players and build a team". Weir explains: "I was never settled in the team. That's just the way the gaffer managed – everyone was kept on their toes, fighting for a place." His insight into Moyes's intense methods is intriguing. "I think he is one of these managers, and I've spoken to a lot of players who've worked with him, that they don't realise how good he is until he actually leaves. He is all-consuming and it is all work, work. Everything is about getting that extra 0.01 per cent. It is quite demanding but obviously he gets the best out of people."
Having played under two of Scotland's finest, Weir has coaching ambitions and, with A and B badges acquired, will start on his Pro-licence in January. "I've got a thirst for knowledge and with the managers I've worked under that increases it – people you can talk to about the game and try to get ideas from." How to stop Spain, anyone?
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