Friday, December 09, 2005

Alex Wept - There Were No More Worlds to Conquer

A tumultuous week, then, for football's two Alexes. Both beleagured of late, one received a shot in the harm, the other a kick in the teeth.

Ferguson and McLeish have been linked since their mutual participation in Aberdeen's glory years, and whether through the media's liking for ropey parallels, or genuine similarities in their characters they have intertwined several times since - most notably when Manchester United met Rangers in the Champions League two seasons ago, affording the media ample opportunity for "master and apprentice" type profiles

It is flattering for McLeish to have such comparisons made, for in reality he doesn't possess that ferocious will and the image of the cantankerous dictator that his old gaffer embodies. In fact, he generally comes across as a decent, normal enough bloke, for whom the insanity of Old Firm management and the pressures of Rangers' recent struggles seem sort of inappropriate, as far as jobs go.

His relative normality has meant that he has never been a figure of hatred for Celtic fans, unlike, say Graeme "The Beast" Souness. But then he is a figure of hatred for most people.

This decency was one of the characteristics which Rangers chairman David Murray cited in explanation of his decision to grant football's equivalent of the gubernatorial reprieve. Of course, the main factor was Rangers' unprecedented progression to the second stage of the Champions League, Murray reading the attendant feel-good factor from Tuesday night's exploits as enough to save his manager. Another suggested reason for McLeish's survival - that Murray was unable to attract replacements of any note, has been predictably denied by the chairman.

Murray has always dwelt in the realm of public relations. See memorable quotes such as "for every fiver Celtic spend we will spend ten", and his long-running mastery of the poodles of the Scottish football media. However, in interpreting Tuesday night's success as redressing the deficiency in McLeish's stock he would appear, for once, to be largely out of kilter with his public.

Despite the bragging rights that Rangers' fans hope to retrieve through Europe, the supporters, having waited ten dismal games for a win of any sort, are not fooled. There is real doubt as to whether a home draw against a tepidly interested Inter Milan, and progression from what was clearly one of the worst Champions League groups in recent memory, compensates for a domestic predicament which has the 51 times Scottish champions competing for a place in the top six of the Premierleague, rather than for the title. And there is even more serious doubt as to whether McLeish is the man to remedy the situation.

Both Alex's received backing from their respective superiors at their clubs this week. While Ferguson would still seem to be approaching the natural endgame of his glorious reign, there remains the sense that all McLeish has gotten is a stay of execution.

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