TEN OF THE BEST
Nine in a row winning manager Walter Smith shares his ten of the best.
THIS season we’ll be re-publishing a much loved programme feature where various former players and staff talk about some of their favourite experiences and tales from football in 10 of the Best.
Today nine-in-a-row boss Walter Smith discusses his time as a player at Dumbarton, beating Leeds United at Elland Road in ’92 and much more.
Best Player I Played With
Before moving into coaching and management I played for just two clubs in my senior career, Dundee United and Dumbarton, and there was a very good standard of player at both. At Tannadice we had the likes of Paul Sturrock, Paul Hegarty and Ralph Milne but the best player I played with was David Narey.
Younger Rangers fans might not know too much about big Davie but he was an outstanding centre half who famously scored for Scotland against Brazil at the 1982 World Cup.
If I remember rightly he stayed with Dundee United for 21 years as a player and he was happy on Tayside. When I moved into coaching at the club, working under Jim McLean, we had Richard Gough join us as an 18-year-old and he went on to play with Spurs and then Rangers.
There is absolutely no doubt Davie, like Goughie, could have gone on to play at big, big clubs because he was a fantastic player in what was a great era for Dundee United when you look back on it now. When I went to Dumbarton in 1975 I was also very surprised at the level of player at Boghead. 7
They had a young right back called Graeme Sinclair as well as Murdo Macleod, Tom McAdam, John Bourke and Ian Wallace who all went on to enjoy excellent careers.
They were all younger than me but if any Championship club now was to have McAdam, Bourke and Wallace as their front three strikers with Murdo in their midfield and Sinclair at full back they would be very fortunate indeed. After my spell with the Sons I went back to United in 1977 and played for a few more years before moving into coaching.
Best Pound For Pound Signing
I’ve been asked a few times in interviews to name the player I felt was my best signing as Rangers manager but it’s a tough question to answer because a lot of the players I brought to Ibrox went on to enjoy a great level of success at the club.
If however you were to ask me for my best pound-for-pound signing that is slightly easier because it would have to be Davie Weir who came to us for nothing, we didn’t even pay a pound for him!
At the start of my second spell as manager in January 2007 the first thing I wanted to do was bring in an experienced figure in defence and looking back now I couldn’t have gone for anyone better than Davie.
Initially he only signed for six months because he was 36 but we ended up offering him another year and then another year. It went on like that and aside from his wages he didn’t cost us anything. In his five years at Ibrox he was outstanding both in the way he performed on the pitch and the way he conducted himself off it.
In terms of pound-for-pound signings Rangers have made you will struggle to beat Davie and that’s all down the desire he had to be successful at the club.
Best Young Player I Saw
Looking at the Rangers team now and in the last couple of years it’s great to see a few young players forcing their way into Alistair’s first team but once they get that opportunity they then have to show they are good enough to be Rangers players and that’s the real challenge.
During my tenure as Rangers manager the best young player I saw progressing from the youth ranks to the senior side was Barry Ferguson. Barry made his first-team debut in the final game of the nine-in-a-row season at Tynecastle and then he went on to make nine appearances the following year in 1997/98 before Dick Advocaat took over.
You could tell early on that he was going to be a really good player and that he was going to have a terrific career because he had outstanding individual ability and a good attitude to the game. Another young player who had a fantastic start to his career at Rangers was Charlie Miller.
People forget Charlie played in the Rangers team when he was 17 and by 20 he was playing in cup finals alongside Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne and others. By that time he had already played in the Champions League as well so Charlie was a really, really good player who could have had a similar career to Barry but it didn’t work out that way for him.
Best Moment Of My Career
Being a lifelong Rangers fan and with my family all being supporters becoming the manager of the club for the first time was the best moment of my career.
After that of course came winning nine-in-a-row and taking the club to the UEFA Cup final which are great memories while becoming the Scotland manager was also a very proud moment as well. But becoming the Rangers manager was a massive step for me as it was the first time I had been a manager in my own right at the club I had always supported.
At that stage Graeme (Souness) had asked me to become his assistant at Liverpool but as soon as David Murray offered me the job at Rangers I knew I had to take it. David could easily have gone for a manager with a lot more experience but he put his faith in me and we went on to enjoy a lot of success through the 90s and when he brought me back to the club at the start of 2007.
Best Manager I Worked Under
The best manager I worked under when I was a player was Jim McLean at Dundee United. It was actually Jerry Kerr who took me to Tannadice but I worked with Jim for far longer than I did with anyone else so he had a huge influence on me, both when I was a player and then when I moved into coaching.
Jim stimulated my interest in coaching and management and that was a big thing for me. He put demands on everybody at United and that was something you had to learn as a manager, to put demands on people to get the best out of them. He certainly did that and for someone who only managed a provincial club Jim had an absolutely fantastic level of success.
He took Dundee United to the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1984 and the UEFA Cup final in ’87. To also win the League Championship in 1982/83 was a tremendous achievement and I feel fortunate I was able to work with him and, after my playing career was over, to have had two spells as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at the World Cup with Scotland in 1986 and at Manchester United.
Best Career Decision I Made
Having spent a lot of years at Dundee United the best career decision I made was to join Rangers as Graeme Souness’ assistant in 1986. I had a great job at Tannadice and I enjoyed it but moving to Ibrox turned out to be the biggest turning point in my career.
Having stood on the terracing as a youngster watching the likes of Jimmy Millar, who was my favourite player, to then getting the chance to join the club as Graeme’s assistant initially was fantastic and of course my family were very proud as was I.
Rangers was in our blood and Jim (McLean) knew that, there was no way he could have stopped me moving back to Glasgow. From there Graeme started his revolution, bringing in great players, and it was a really exciting period for everybody associated with Rangers.
Graeme and I were different characters but I think we complimented each other well and we’re still great friends to this day.
My Best Childhood Memory
My childhood in Carmyle, in the east end of Glasgow, was a very happy one and football was a massive part of our lives.
There was a park just up the street from where we lived called The Orchard and as soon my brother Ian and I came in from school we would run up there to get involved in a game of football.
From the moment you got there until it was dark there would be three or four games on the go and you would usually come up against grown men who wouldn’t hold back, it certainly toughened you up.
I learned so much from playing in those games but my best memory from my childhood is going to Ibrox to watch Rangers play in the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1960 against Eintracht Frankfurt.
We lost 6-3 in that second leg at home but going to that game at the age of 12 I remember thinking how big an occasion it was because there was a small chance Rangers could get to a European Cup final.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as we had suffered a heavy 6-1 defeat in the first leg in Germany but my dad also took me along to the final at Hampden between Real Madrid and Frankfurt. 127,000 fans were there to watch Madrid win 7-3 and I was just amazed at how good that team was with Di Stefano scoring three and Puskas getting the other four
Best Piece Of Advice I Can Give
The best piece of advice I could give to any aspiring footballer or coach is simply to make sure you maximise your capability, that to me is the biggest thing you can ask of yourself and of anybody else.
Unfortunately there are a lot of players and coaches that perhaps don’t do that and then regret it further down the line. If you put everything into your job and try to listen and learn along the way you won’t have regrets and wonder what might have been.
I don’t think it’s too complicated, you just have to make sure you use what you have got to the best degree and work as hard as you can. While I was going into management I was given a good piece of advice from Sir Alex Ferguson who said ‘Never look for confrontation because confrontation will always come to you when you are a manager’.
That was a good bit of advice but imagine him telling me that!
Best Results From My Career
In my coaching and management career there have been a few results people perhaps didn’t expect to happen but they did. In 1984 I was Jim McLean’s assistant when Dundee United beat Roma 2-0 in the first leg of the European Cup semi-final at Tannadice.
That was a fantastic result for the club and although United never went on to face Liverpool in the final that year that first leg win over Roma probably stands alone as one of the best results in Europe for a Scottish club. As manager of Rangers I think the 2-1 win over a fantastic Leeds United side, who were the English champions, at Elland Road to qualify for the Champions League group stages in 1992/93 certainly sticks out as one of the best results from my career.
They hadn’t lost a game at home for a couple of years so for us to go there and put in such a great performance, like we did at Ibrox to win 2-1, was a terrific achievement. On the international stage being manager of the Scotland side that beat France 1-0 at Hampden was another great moment, not only for me but for the country.
France had reached the final of the World Cup in 2006 but had lost to Italy and we then found ourselves in the same 2008 European Championship qualifying group as both of them. The victory over France in which Gary Caldwell scored was only three months after that World Cup final so it was a terrific result and a great night for Scotland.
Best Way To Relax
Football was such a big part of my life for so long and now that I am effectively retired it is true you sometimes wonder how you will fill that void. Of course I still watch a lot of games, my wife would probably say too much.
Away from football Ethel and I are doing a bit of travelling and we play a lot of golf. We’ve been over to the Masters at Augusta which was a great trip and one we said we always wanted to do.
We are both members of a couple of local clubs so we play once or twice a week although my own game seems to be getting worse the more I play!
So playing golf is something I really enjoy but my best way to relax is to spend time with the family. I’m now a proud granddad to five boys and Jessica so it’s great to see them growing up and having a bit more time to do that.
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