Just how can Walter Smith rescue RangersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ season after such a disastrous and humiliating start? Last seasonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Uefa Cup finalists find themselves out of Europe before the season has even begun. The prospect of a long season without Europe, watching Celtic playing in the glamorous and money-spinning Champions League, is just about as bad as it can get for the Blue half of Glasgow.
After such a promising season last year when they looked likely at one point to win an amazing quadruple, the pile up of fixtures, amongst other things, led to them missing out on the SPL title and the Uefa Cup and limping home to the consolation of the Scottish FA Cup, only just overcoming lower league opposition in the final.
Rangers finished the season with that cup win but they were tired and disappointed. Summer transfer activity has been less than exciting at Ibrox and a pointer to possible things to come came about when they were unable to meet the wage demands of WatfordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s centre half Danny Shittu after the clubs had agreed a fee.
That financial issue came about when Rangers must have fully expected to be taking part in the Champions League, or the Uefa Cup at the very least. Now, Rangers stand to lose millions of pounds after crashing out of European competition at the hands of Lithuanian minnows FBK Kaunas. Defeat in the Champions League second qualifying round means that Rangers entirely miss out on European football and a potential Ã‚Â£12million windfall.
RangersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ manager Walter Smith said: “It’s a blow in every aspect, including the financial side and everything that comes with it. We still have to change the squad but there will be an impact on the budget.”
Last season, Rangers notched up 19 European victories to march to the Uefa Cup final in Manchester where they were beaten by Zenit St Petersburg. Many people felt that Rangers played the game in a very negative way and the phrase, Ã¢â‚¬Ëœanti footballÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ was used. I felt that was unnecessarily harsh as all Rangers did was play to their strengths and win football matches. Unfortunately, they stuck to their negative tactics in a game they should have won comfortably and it has backfired on them in disastrous and spectacular fashion.
With Celtic already in the group stages of the Champions League all of ScotlandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s TV money will go to them. Celtic suddenly become a much more enticing prospect for the better players across Europe than their City rivals are. This could turn out to be a defining season in Scotland as Celtic have a massive opportunity to take advantage of RangersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ misfortune and become stronger on and off the field. Not only could their Champions League exit have a damaging short term effect on Rangers but the repercussions could be felt for many years.
Whilst Celtic can look to improve their squad, Rangers may have to part with some of their better players. The likes of Carlos Cuellar and Brahim Hemdani will be keen to find European football elsewhere and they are not cup-tied.
Walter Smith has realistically admitted that his summer transfer budget will inevitably be affected by their European defeat, even though the transfer window is open for another three weeks. He may well see more players leaving than arriving.
“We have been looking to bring in at least one, maybe two, midfield players, but we have to wait and see what transpires when we take into account the ramifications of not having European football. If the benefit of European football is that you get Champions League money to spend then, of course, when you don’t have it we will have to be careful with what we do.”
At the worst time possible for Smith he faces a difficult time on Friday when he and the club’s owner Sir David Murray and chief executive Martin Bain will take part in a pre-arranged question and answer session at the club’s training complex. He will be asked difficult questions and he may find it difficult to come up with reassuring and positive answers by then.
Even harder than the question and answer session will be the job of lifting and motivating his players for the first league game of the season on Saturday away at Falkirk.
Walter Smith is a very fine manager and has a great deal of respect within the game. It is doubtful that he has ever faced a challenge as big or as daunting as the one he finds himself facing at this time. I am sure he can come through this, but it will test him to the very limit.
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