I've bided my time in writing this article to ensure I wasn't too hasty like some were immediately after the first bad result this season, but now I feel that enough time has passed to view just what kind of job Alex McLeish has done for us so far this season.
It is undoubtedly one of the most heated debates amongst our support right now as to whether McLeish is the man for the job and he most certainly has massive plus points. He does however have, and I should probably whisper this to avoid being lynched, major weaknesses as well.
When he first arrived on the scene, we all know the reaction he got. There's no need for me to tread over the ground that we all know too well and there's certainly no need for me to remind anyone of his fantastic achievements over the past couple of seasons. Last season's climax was undoubtedly one of my best moments as a Rangers supporter after two seasons without the big one. McLeish made us the kings of Scotland yet again. In hindsight though, the warning signs were already there. The end result is all that matters at the time, but thinking back, there were times that our bottled smashed, and with considerable style. You can look back to the last two league games against Celtic and the game at Dens Park as probably the most obvious examples. Not that it mattered come the end of the season mind you!
My frustrations with McLeish only really came to light this season though. It's easy to argue that McLeish is the right man for the job given what he has done in his first two years at Ibrox. It should be pointed out though that Dick Advocaat equalled the achievement of 5 trophies in 2 seasons while also making us a team in Europe that everyone hoped to avoid. The Dick Advocaat/Alex McLeish comparison is one for another day though as there is obvious differences between such things as money spent. One thing that should be remembered though is that it was with Dick Advocaat's players that Alex McLeish was able to transform into a successful team that finally brought the league title back home. Come the end of last season though, it was time for McLeish to mould the team into the shape he wanted.
The players brought in were the first signal to everyone that Alex McLeish perhaps wasn't the messiah he was made out to be. Yes it is fair to say that he hasn't had the money at his disposal to buy real quality, but it shouldn't be allowed to mask the fact that these are the players he chose to do the job. Clearly he has an eye for a centre half with Khizanishvili proving to be a class act and Berg being a far better signing than could ever be hoped for. The rest of the imports have proven to be a lot less desirable. Nuno Capucho was brought in to do the job of Caniggia (a player who wanted to stay and was more than likely on the same wage as Capucho is now). Given the choice of having Caniggia or Capucho to turn a game in the last 30 minutes, I know which one I would rather have.
This money could then have gone to the purchase of James McFadden rather than Ostenstad as our new striker. Although according to McLeish, McFadden is too rough around the edges for Rangers. Good call Alex, why on earth we'd want a player who runs his heart out and has proven to be good enough for the Premiership instead of a washed up Norwegian who hasn't produced the goods in years is beyond me as well. It seems everyone except for Alex McLeish knew that Emerson had a reputation for being a lazy player who didn't really care and while at times, Vanoli looks pretty good, he's prone to more than the odd shocking game.
Tactics are the next major fault I see in Alex McLeish and on far too many occasions I've seen tactical naivety that rivals Walter Smith's reign. Why we persist in playing a 2 man midfield when it has been clear for weeks that this doesn't work is beyond me. We went to Old Trafford with this formation when only a few days earlier, we'd been run ragged in midfield by Partick Thistle! Why on earth were we playing with a left winger on the right and vice versa against Dunfermline? The two full backs had the easiest games they'll ever have as all they had to do was keep the wingers on their weak foot. I get increasingly frustrated at him throwing every player possible up front as his only solution to being behind in a game when it's clear we need someone different in midfield. The only possible explanation I have for the last two is that they sometimes work in Championship Manager!
The organisation of our team and general fitness leaves a lot to be desired as well. You only have to look at our opponents in the Champions League Qualifier to see the difference that these things can make. We clearly have the better players than Copenhagen bar one or two individuals, yet what Copenhagen lacked in ability, they made up in organisation. Every player knew where they were supposed to be at all times, and were they to be dragged out of position chasing the ball, someone else was in there covering. We've seen this kind of organisation from other Scandinavian outfits like Rosenborg and Basle, with Eastern European teams also being prime examples of this. Yet at times, we look like a group of complete strangers, with people running into each other, some posted missing at vital times and other basic positional errors. Against Dunfermline, we punted high balls to the strikers while the midfield stood and watched. If you're playing that kind of game Alex, you need to get your midfield moving towards the strikers (you also need to have a midfield in the first instance).
Despite all his negatives, I do see positives in his management as well. Clearly he has the ability to lift the players with his team talks and he composes himself in the public eye in an exemplary manner, acting with dignity and grace even in defeat. He did a remarkable job last season showing that there is still time for this season to be turned around.
There seems to be some rumblings that McLeish has lost the dressing room and it doesn't surprise me at all given his negatives in my eyes. Should that be the case, then the writing is on the wall for him already. As it stands just now, I do believe that despite his faults, he should remain in charge at least until the end of the season. Though in my view, his coat should be on a very shaky peg. Should he prove me wrong however, I will be more than delighted to eat my words.
Just do it Mr McLeish.