Ally McCoist the Manager: A Difference Maker?
- 01 March 2013
There's a great footballing tactics story that surrounds Jose Mourinho and a match played when he was manager at Inter Milan. The story goes his side were struggling to contain the opposition down one flank and the Portuguese managed to work out exactly what the problem was. To rectify it, he told Christian Chivo to simply stand five yards further back. After this, Inter took control of the game and went on to win.
Now, this story is told from memory but I suspect there is at least an element of truth surrounding it (perhaps it wasn't Mourinho at all) and what it does do it highlight the impact a manager can have during a football game. Even if it's just five yards, the little changes can make big differences and, over the course of a season, these big differences become massive. The days when a manager couldn't make an impact as the game raged are long gone.
There was a lot of teeth gnashing on Tuesday night when we left Forthbank Stadium. The second half performance of our team was, to put it mildly, pitiful. The half started in the worst possible fashion and didn't improve as we slumped to a second embarrassment in Stirling this season.
Yet, even though it was obvious to everyone in the stadium (including our management team) that we were struggling badly, nothing really changed. We weren't able to re-establish our authority on the game. The last 15 minutes, which should have been spent camped in the Stirling half searching for a goal, actually saw us hacking away clearances from deep in our own territory. Yes, we threw on a couple of substitutions and went two up front, but that isn't an attempt to change the direction of the game. It merely puts two blue shirts where there was previously one, an attempt to get a winner through sheer force of numbers.
There's nothing particularly subtle about the Rangers team right now, and that is a worry for the future. I wrote a few weeks ago about the need for fans to separate Ally McCoist the man and Ally McCoist the football manager. I also said there was a need to look further into the future and not simply concentrate on just being better than the teams around us but we still seem blinded by a complete denial that there is something wrong with the way we play football. This isn't a knee-jerk reaction, it's something that has formed over the course of the campaign. I'm well aware of the difficulties we have faced but they are now (hopefully) in the past and these excuses do not wash anymore. I was willing to forgive Brechin, but I'm not so willing to forget Stirling.
We are on a long-term journey but on the park all our solutions seem to be short-term. We filled our squad with midfielders and forwards (I'll leave the defence to later) who were among the brighter talents in the SPL and supplemented them with talented youngsters. The gap, on paper, between our squad and the rest of the Third Division is larger than any gap we had over teams in the SPL at any point. The problem is the management team seem to think that's enough. It's as if the team is simply picked and thrown out on to the park with the assumption that, because they are better players, we'll win. Of course, with the gap in quality being so large, we will end up winning the third division, and probably whatever shape the second division takes next year. But what happens after that? What happens when the gap gets smaller, when relying on the players just being better no longer cuts it and tactics and coaching starts to take a real importance?
I posed this question on the bus home after the game: if our resources and players were roughly on par with what is available to the other teams in this division, would the management team make the difference? You see it with good managers, they are the difference when the quality of the teams are similar. In 2010/11 the quality of the Rangers and Celtic squads was almost identical but we won the league because we had the better manager who knew how to organise his team to get us the results we needed. Mourinho took Inter to a new level in the Champions League after five years of underachievement. Since winning the trophy they have slipped again. He was the difference, they were never a great team, they simply had a great manager. I have grave misgivings that Ally McCoist has the sort of tactical nous to make that sort of the difference when we are back at a higher level.
That is not to say he won't be, it's a hypothetical question, but none of the evidence on show right now suggests he will be. He's not a "young manager" as a lot of people say, he's a "new manager" and that's different. It's difficult to see him changing much over the years, something that is a perfectly natural circumstance of growing older.
The other night was a prime example, but by no means the only one. Berwick was another poor performance but we got away with it simply because our players are better than Berwick's. Had that game been against, say, Hearts with a similar standard of squad, it's hard to imagine we would have been so lucky. We again looked bereft of ideas when Stirling equalised. Even that goal came from a set-piece that possessed the kind of quality we have not seen at Ibrox this campaign. With five minutes to go Kal Naismith received the ball with three red shirts around him yet not a single Rangers player within 30 yards of him to give him an option. Chris Heggarty received pelters for a long ball that was cut out but he had literally no-one to aim at. No movement, no smart runs, just a few players with their arms in the air and Stirling players right beside them. Our midfield was second to every ball while Stirling hunted in packs and backed each other up at every opportunity.
Our changes were laboured and predictable, as they have been for most of the season. I read a story about last season with Man City chasing a goal at St James' Park, Roberto Mancini actually replaced a forward with Nigel De Jong much to the fury of the City support. However, the idea was to free Yaya Toure from his more defensive duties and what happened? Toure scored twice and City went on to win the league seven days later. If you want an example closer to home, in the League Cup Final back in 2010 against St Mirren, we were down to nine men and the obvious assumption was to throw on a defender for one of our two forwards but instead Walter Smith brought on Stevie Naismith for Kris Boyd giving us a better option for an out ball and someone willing to get up and down the line. The result, we won the cup with Naismith's cross setting up the winning goal.
It is moments like this that football managers really earn their corn, by seeing things the rest of us don't, but I struggle to think of any time this season we have managed such an intelligent change in an attacking sense.
The defence, in many ways, is a different beast all together. It's simply not been good enough and it is encouraging to see Ally acknowledge that. In this case he has been hampered by the transfer ban, but he could make it easier on the back four by pressing teams higher up the park rather than inviting sides to attack an already weak back line. We managed it once against Stirling, in the first half and the result was a decent chance as Naismith played in Andy Little. There was the odd glimmer last night, not least the performance of Andy Little. Watching him from behind the goals in the first half was an eye-opener for me as I had previously questioned his ability but his movement was excellent, his touch was good and he scored a very nice goal, which in itself was well-worked. The first half-performance was an indication of what this team is capable of when things click.
So it's not all doom and gloom and of course not everything is the manager's fault. Some big names players have let him down and the players may be suffering from believing the league is almost won, but ultimately these are problems that Ally needs to rectify. If the players’ attitude is poor, it is the manager's job to improve it. No doubt I'll be casually dismissed as a "McCoist hater" by some but nothing could be further from the truth. I'm very much a "McCoist lover" but one who has concerns about his managerial ability.
Ultimately, we all want to see Rangers succeed, none more than Ally, and I'm sure he is working every hour God sends to take our club back to where it belongs. We have some good players and a manager who loves the club, but loving the club isn't enough and if Ally is the man to take us forward he'll need to become a manager who can make the difference between success and failure. Let's hope he can.
Douglas Dickie has been a regional journalist for the past eight years. He is a season ticket holder at Ibrox and travels to away games with the Toryglen True Blues RSC.