Summer Sunshine for the Fans but the work of the Club begins again.
The reality is that football is over for the next month before the hardiest of souls head out on planes, trains and automobiles to our furthest flung friendlies and now is a time of relative relaxation for football fans. Now isn't the time to open up old wounds between those who believe Smith to be the messiah and those who see him as nothing more than a very naughty boy. Mere hours after our cup success we saw posters calling for Smith's head whilst predictable slurs were thrown in retaliation questioning just how blue some “supporters” blood actually was. Its a time to enjoy our successes, if not for the style with which they were achieved, at least with a sense of relief that they were achieved at all.
Unfortunately that amnesty doesn't extend to those charged with running Rangers Football Club. The league crown guarantees us entry to next season's Champions League but if we're to make any kind of impression amongst Europe's elite then the task of rebuilding Rangers surely begins on Monday morning. Talk is of a £10million cheque merely for turning up to the first group game but the wealth of European television money could be diluted should Celtic qualify via 2 potentially difficult preliminary ties. We're not immune to change this summer, much of it dictated by our finances, and it'll be up to Murray, Bain and Smith to start working on those changes before the champagne hangover has cleared from their system.
Smith finally delivered the title he was brought in to deliver after the disastrous experiment with Paul Le Guen. He's done so by way of an excellent UEFA cup run last season and some disciplined performances. Unfortunately disciplined doesn't always equal entertaining. Smith's Gers side are masters of inconsistency and can often go from heroes to zeroes in the space of a week. Each week we're left wondering which striker will turn up – the goal-machine who strikes fear into opposing keepers or the moody blue who mopes his way towards a 70th minute substitution? Will we see the charismatic midfield force with the holywood passes and the thunderous shot or the one who can let the game pass him by when he's denied the room to operate? Then there's the attacking full-back shifted from right flank to left, never really getting a consistent run of games to develop the kind of confidence on which his game thrives. In terms of squad management, question marks remain over Walter Smith and his steadfast refusal to feature Aaron and his often erratic use of young Fleck must surely be an ongoing concern.
Then there's his transfer record. Edu has come good at the right time. It took an injury to Kevin Thomson and a gross error of judgement from Barry Ferguson but most of the Rangers support must surely be apologising for writing him off so soon. I'll happily join in with a slice of that particular pie and Edu's performance in the closing weeks of the SPL can give us genuine confidence for the future. That does however have to be balanced by the fact that it took a mini crisis in midfield for the American to finally get his chance. Would we still be so forgiving had Smith's over-enthusiastic spending following the Kaunas debacle meant a January fire sale? How close we came to selling Boyd and how serious our need for £3million in January was will probably never emerge. That doesn't mean that we cant speculate on them and investing in the future to such an extent, and £2.5million is a hell of an investment for us right now, was risky. Those who seek to defend Smith's record tell us at length that he has a net spend of somewhere between £8mil and £13mil whilst those who decry his performance look at the £29mil gross splashed on players without really filling the positions that were badly needing attention. I cant buy the “net spend” argument because the fact that Cuellar and Hutton combined will ultimately bring around £17million to the club, that doesn't alter the fact that Smith spent around £15million on 6 players – 3 midfielders and 3 strikers – without concern for our problematic fullback position or our ageing centre half. The sale of Cuellar and Hutton doesn't justify the £1million spent on Andrius Velicka or the £2.5million for Lee McCulloch and it certainly doesn't justify a side playing with arguably 4 centre-halfs in defence and a midfield consisting of 3 central midfielders and a converted target-man striker.
We knew Smith's problems back in the 90s. Some of us were caught up in the drive for ten and others were simply distracted by the skills of our Danish superstar. I was a mere boy when Smith took over from Souness and cannot justifiably claim to have seen through him back in the day. Others however were certainly under no illusion as to Smith's strengths and weaknesses and many of their complaints are being played out again during his second spell in charge. I cant see Smith leaving before the end of his contract although I would imagine that if McCoist's appointment is to be the fait acompli that most suspect then Smith will delegate much of this summer's preparations to his heir apparent. We can argue that other managers would have spent more wisely or that their sides would have played younger players brimming with both skill and gallusness but its the opinion of our lame duck chairman that matters most and a change of manager doesn't appear to be on the club's agenda. Last Sunday's title and yesterday's cup successes don't hide Walter Smith's limitations and when the hangovers clear and the heads regain some semblance of focus we're still left with some serious issues to address.
Some players have proven themselves to be invaluable assets. Bougherra and Papac have shown their defensive class this season with assurance and composure. Others have stepped up when needed and the undoubted turnaround has to be Kevin Thomson who looks like maturing into a fine player and future captain. There have also been those who have shown glimpses of real promise in a blue shirt – Whittaker could yet be a fine attacking rightback with Davis showing glimpses of drive and determination and Lafferty potentially assuming the mantle vacated by Prso as a powerful attacker both outside the box and inside it. Add to that the form of Neil Alexander – solid when called upon – and the potential of Fleck, Shinnie on loan at Dens and the likes of Wilson and Wylde in our younger ranks and even the most pessimistic of us should approach next season with a degree of hope and ambition. That must undoubtedly be balanced against a squad with obvious positional deficiencies and a management team who have previously failed to identify and address our frailties.
Christmas might be the time for children but its summer when football fans should be writing their wish list. For if a jolly fat man is to deliver joy to the Gers faithful (and sadly not by Traynor releasing the Annie Maguire private tapes) then we must get our wish lists in early. The Gers support have collectively been good boys and girls for the past year and deserve to be justly rewarded. A commanding centre-half, cover for our fullbacks, first team players on the flanks and a more complete centre-forward (can we gene-splice Miller's work-rate with Boyd's goals?) must still be pursued and whilst we enjoy the summer sunshine our club can afford no such luxury to the manager.
For us the season is over – its a time of peace and goodwill to all football fans. For messrs Murray, Bain, Smith and McCoist? The work starts all over again on Monday morning. This season hasnt made our problems disappear but it might just have given us the room to manouver to address them.