A qualified defence against critics of Rangers manager Walter Smith.

Last updated : 20 March 2009 By Phil Leotardo.
"It is much easier to be critical that to be correct."

It is with no hidden sense of irony that my opening gambit to set the general theme for what follows is borrowed from a man whose diplomacy preserved peace in Europe. Benjamin Disraeli's words halted the re-escalation of the Russo-Turkish War and I cannot help but feel a sense of kinship with him as I too attempt to prevent the re-opening of some old wounds.

The battle lines in this particular conflict were drawn nearly two decades ago at the dawn of Walter Smith's first reign over Ibrox. Many wars were won, seven league titles to be exact, which coupled with the two achieved during Souness' stewardship equalled our previous best consecutive title accumulation.

Despite the sweet and frequent taste of victory, other battles soured this. Those fought abroad brought frequent and often humiliating defeats which for some people left the oft-raised victory flags flying at half mast. Surrendering to the superpowers of Amsterdam and Turin was understandable if unwelcome, but Sofia and Athens? It was clear, our general was a gallant man but he just wasn't qualified to take us any further and when finally falling in the battle for a tenth and record breaking it was all over.

But it wasn't.

Fast forward to August 2008 in a Lithuanian stadium that looked very much like a war relic and it was the same picture. Our battle hardened hero stood amongst the rubble of a defeat more cataclysmic and far-reaching than any that had come before. Surveying the damage was painful. There was little left on which to rebuild but what little there was had to be given to a new man with new plans and new ideas and once again it was all over.

But it wasn't.

See, something had changed. In the 18 months prior to this latest disaster we embarked on a journey that few would have believed could have culminated in Manchester on May 14th 2008. This time, Smith had led us to a European final.

Getting there was not easy. As with all great challenges, the hurdles and barriers become steeper and bring greater foreboding along the way but likewise, the rewards, the sense of overwhelming joy and intoxicating triumph becomes addictive. When you're flying that high nothing and nobody can stop you but when it does come to a halt you do not just glide back down to Earth, you crash and burn.

Unsurprisingly then, it was at this point the vultures began circling and the knives were sharpened.

"Smith blew it…Smith doesn't know what he's doing…Smith played for a draw and settled for a defeat…Smith's a dinosaur…Smith doesn't understand tactics."

This is the censored version of the crescendo which grew between May and August of last year and has been growing sporadically at various junctures of this season. In amongst the general outpourings of frustration there are a handful of recurring accusations which fall into the category of myth. Two such myths are that Smith does not play youth players and did not rotate the squad.

The former of those is very easy to disprove and is as prehistoric as the manager it relates to. Allegedly, Smith does not give youth players a chance and the proof of this is that Barry Ferguson said in his book he was about to leave the Club.

Firstly, what Ferguson said in his book does not necessarily represent the reality of the situation. It is hardly unheard of for football players to manufacture controversy in what are often bland and boring affairs. Secondly, even if it was true that Smith overlooked Ferguson, all that would prove is that Smith had overlooked one player. As it happened, Smith gave that player his debut. Thirdly, a plethora of young players were given opportunities during his first tenure - Neil Murray, Charlie Miller, Steven Pressley - several aged under 22 have been signed this time - Steven Naismith, Kevin Thomson, Kyle Lafferty - and others have been handed their shot this season - John Fleck, Aaron Niguez, Rory Loy.

Why does the myth exist then? Well, sometimes it is easier to be critical than correct.

Likewise, the latter myth can be disproved very easily. The charge this time is that Smith did not rotate the squad last season. In the SPL alone we used 26 different players. 21 of those players started more than a quarter of our games. That seems like a rather equitable distribution of appearances to me and I think to any reasonable person. However, undeterred by this evidence, someone will pipe up "What about Alan Gow?"

Now, I can only speak for myself, but I have seen Alan Gow every time he has played against Rangers and any time he played against Celtic on TV. That amounts to less than ten games and unless we have a dozen part-time Falkirk supporters in our ranks they cannot have seen much more of him which leads me to turn the question around - what about Alan Gow? The only answer I can come up with is they are criticising Smith not because Gow was good enough and would have made a difference but simply because he did not play.

In other words, it is much easier to be critical than to be correct.

This is not a call to down arms and move away from criticism rather it is a plea to brace yourselves for the battles ahead. We have all been here before, we know the drill. Now is the time when the team needs us most, that means the players, the coaches and, yes, the manager. Bear in mind his past triumphs. He, more than anyone else, has the power to win another of those battles and raise the victory flag at Ibrox once more.

And it is absolutely critical that he gets it correct.