The McCoist Dilemma

Rangers fans should be contemplating both the prospect of securing the league championship at Ibrox on Wednesday night and a Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United. The second of these currently seems in more doubt than the first after Sunday’s frustrating, almost inexplicable, draw against Albion Rovers. It was so unexpected that the local MSP has been moved to submit a Parliamentary motion congratulating the team.

Without wanting to diminish either the achievement or effort of our opponents, it wasn’t, or it shouldn’t have been, an evenly balanced encounter. We shouldn’t, however, be toiling just to find an equaliser against opposition such as Albion Rovers when there is such a disparity in resources between the two clubs. It wasn’t as though we were the ones being pegged back after conceding an injury time goal from a set-piece, possibly the only scenario that might have made the same result even slightly palatable. We all know that such one-off cup encounters can be unpredictable, with the occasion somehow elevating the abilities of the underdog. Indeed, as Rangers fans we have relied on such logic when considering the prospect of cup encounters with the likes of Celtic as we continue our progress back to the top of Scottish football. We might use it to give us some comfort if we manage to scrape through to the semi-final, at the second time of asking, because Dundee United look to be a formidable side. It is likely to be our most difficult match of the season to date and I defy any fan to say with confidence that Rangers would progress to the final.

Is all this unnecessarily bleak? The League One title will be wrapped up on Wednesday if we maintain our dogged but not particularly inspired league form. It would be churlish not to acknowledge the achievement of this milestone but also short-sighted to consider ticking the championship boxes as the only measure of our progress. Given the sums of money that have been spent and the relative quality of the players at our disposal, promotion is the minimum requirement each year. It shouldn’t be considered the crowning achievement no matter when it is secured or by what points margin. To make it so betrays a lack of ambition even in the context of on-going difficulties off the field.

Inevitably there will come a stage when the league is secured, or all but secured, and players will find it difficult to find the same motivation they possessed earlier in the season. But surely it is the job of the coaching staff to ensure such complacency doesn’t leading to turgid performances? Furthermore, it doesn’t explain games like the one endured on Sunday. Shouldn’t this Rangers team be desperate to continue its participation in a genuine competition and possibly even make history by defying the odds and winning the whole thing at Celtic Park? Memories of succumbing to Forfar in our first League Cup encounter of the season were revived by yesterday’s disappointing result but it can also be placed in a pattern of unconvincing performances.

As Rangers fans, we are often too demanding. This is not born of a sense of entitlement but an expectation that those honoured to be wearing the jerseys will strive to be the best they possibly can be. If there is a Rangers standard in a footballing sense then it is surely this – Ian Black take note. Pursuing such an aspiration is not only the responsibility of the players but of the coaching staff in the way they prepare players (attitude, fitness, knowledge etc.) and deploy them to make best use of their individual and collective talents. Ally McCoist has spoken about the need to invest in the playing squad during the next transfer window, a depressingly familiar refrain that seemingly ignores the still uncertain nature of our finances. The question is the same as it has been for a while: why should he be given more money when he seemingly can’t get the best of the players currently at his disposal?

It is a subjective judgement but many members of the squad could regularly be performing at a higher standard. The counter to this would be to suggest that the current Rangers squad is inferior to its predecessors. This is possibly true but it seems a rather basic observation to say that we aren’t blessed with the squads we had in the past, we have the squad we have now. We need someone to get the most out of this squad, which, incidentally, was largely assembled by McCoist. To suggest a manager can’t make players perform to a higher standard is to defy a pretty fundamental principle of management. One of the measures of Walter Smith’s achievement as Rangers manager was that he delivered success during two distinct periods. During his second spell he was dealt a significantly weaker hand than he had been previously but we all know that he achieved remarkable things regardless. To summarise, we need someone to manage what we have, not what we once had or might have in the future but probably can’t afford anymore. Rangers have indulged in a policy of tax and overspend in the past and we know the road that led us down.

Ally McCoist is and always will be a Rangers legend. This doesn’t seem to be a matter for dispute. It is disappointing that some fans have allegedly expressed their frustration in the form of personal insults. This is disrespectful to a man who has given his all to the club he loves. It also detracts from those with genuine concern about the direction of the team under his control. I would hope no Rangers fan would take any pleasure from expressing such doubts and I don’t believe many do. It is a careful balancing act between acknowledging his undeniable service and the needs of the club as a whole. In the past, some fans were seemingly content to overlook unconvincing performances because they believed McCoist could act as a telling influence inside the club when decisions were being taken by people the fans were suspicious of. We shouldn’t need or expect McCoist to perform such a function and it he has done in the past then it is to his credit. But we should concede that there are limits to what he might be able to achieve. The huge losses reported in the last accounts occurred while he was at the club, although he hardly bears primary responsibility for this. His influence over such matters is restricted and wider structural change at the club needs to be considered as a separate issue. In any case, assuming this was a credible argument, any internal leverage McCoist has is based on his perceived position among the support. With growing evidence of frustration in the ranks, this leverage will surely weaken.

As was previously stated, Rangers fans have a reputation for being demanding. Is it possible in this case we are in danger of being too indulgent? Being a club legend will buy you more time than the average manager with no previous connections. But there are still limits in place and McCoist has arguably been pushing against these for some time now. A lack of progress is inevitably going to result in diminishing returns as we make our way up the leagues and there has to be some concern that the Championship will be much more competitive and something of a culture shock. A hungry Hearts team will be among those looking to secure promotion next year, will we rise to the challenge? McCoist was a great player, a talisman to those of us who first started supporting the club during the Nine in a Row era. During administration he was our Churchill but maybe now we need an Attlee to better adjust to trying circumstances. Seeing McCoist sacked would be painful for all Rangers fans. It would be more agreeable if he found a suitable moment to depart with his head held high and so that we might salute him for everything that he has done.