Unfit to plead
What occurred to me however, was not the difference in 'galactico' superstars ,we accept that such players are beyond us in this age. It wasn't even the technical and tactical chasm that lies between a squad like Liverpool's and a squad like ours which jumped out at me. No. It was a much more fundamental issue. A much more important one. An issue which should be irrespective of the players/teams ability. The issue is that of fitness, particularly relevant this week considering the regrettable actions of our club Captain and first choice goalkeeper.
As I watched Chelsea square up against Liverpool at Anfield, I was witnessing not just two teams of footballers, but twenty-two dedicated athletes. Always moving, always running, always finding space. Jumping for every ball, stretching to catch lost causes, muscling one another off the ball. These twenty-two men were displaying the very Olympian ideal with which modern football has become so completely entwined. They ran themselves into the ground, and not a blade of grass lay untrodden. Compare this ninety minutes of end to end physical contest, to our own limp and sluggish performance against St. Mirren. Consider particularly, how immobile we looked. Slow on the turn, slow to every loose ball. A short first-half spell aside, we lacked pace and we lacked endurance. Our second half-performances since the turn of the year have been decidedly average, but Wednesday's stood out like a lighthouse for the lost.
Why is it we keep getting the simple things so badly wrong? With the way the game has evolved, a strict fitness programme should be a prerequisite for a club our size. Likewise, a carefully monitored, calorie controlled diet should be enforced with the utmost severity. At Walter Smith's Rangers though, we seem to prefer doing things a different way. It's worth noting that Wattie's first action as boss during this second spell,was to remove a ban his predecessor had placed on two of our squad's favourite vices, alcohol and curry. One can only imagine how badly these two indulgences were being abused that merited Le Guentaking such a hard line approach.
Le Guenhad that so-called 'continental' attitude to fitness. We often try to dress it up in Scotland, but the reality is that this is simply the 21stCentury attitude to fitness football-wide. He had the players out for 4 mile runs around Auchenhowie at the crack of dawn. He was drilling them through double training sessions. The junk food was banned from the canteen and their eating was monitored. Compare and contrast. As stated, Walter's first act was to lift the bevy and bhonnaembargo. It was his first act, the thing he put first on the agenda and thought was vital to stamping his influence on the team. This is classic Wattie. When taking over the Scotland reigns in 2004, you might recall that the SFA had a free international date for the new manager to fill with a match against friendly opposition of his choosing. Walter thought it better to cancel the fixture date altogether, and have a day of training at Man U's Carrington facility, followed by two nights on the lash in Manchester City Centre. The use of alcohol as a lubricant for team-bonding worked for Walter in the 90's, so why wouldn't it now?
The Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor 'boozegate' ruckus has raised some important questions too. Whichever way you slice it, clearly the pair of them were under the impression that drinking through the morning into the next day, to complete excess, was perfectly acceptable behaviour. Two professional athletes who were there to be representing their country,thought that nothing would come of a seven hour booze binge days before a vital match. Forget the obvious punishment they are inflicting on their bodies for a minute, and just think of it from the perspective of the modern game. Can you think of another football club of our stature where such a thing would be tolerated at all? Arsene Wenger famously watches his young players diets with a keen eye, ensuring they don't stray from eating plans drawn up by top dieticians. Under interview, he suggested: "As a coach you can influence the diet of your players. You must point out what is wrong." I wonder how Wenger would have reacted to Cesc Fabregas and Manuel Almunia drinking themselves into a stupor before an important game with Spain. Disbelief, no doubt. The Arsenal manager has cultivated a squad of hungry young pros who want to win medals and achieve big things in the game.
So perhaps a more pertinent question might be,why is it that Rangers players don't value their fitness and health in the same way? Steven Hughes, Mo Ross et al, our recent history is littered with good-time-Charlie's who were more fond of the cities nightlife than they were of staying in peak physical condition, and it reflected on the park. Boyd even had the club doctor writing him sick lines for his hangovers. It permeates the whole club in this current era also. There is a culture of neglect and disregard for fitness at Ibrox today, one need look no further than our huffing and puffing in that appalling St. Mirrenperformance. The last man to try and change this culture was chased out of Ibrox with his tail between his legs. Does this mean we're not ready to step into the new footballing century? Or simply that we are awaiting the right man to lead us there? Either way, it's clear to see that something is rotten with our current methods. Anyone who doubts this much, just have a look at the training ground photographs of a lean and toned Charlie Adam under Le Guen, at the start of a season which saw him bag 14 goals and win the YPOTY award. Compare that image to the same Charlie Adam after twelve months of Walter's Act II, and prepare to be agasp at the metamorphosis.
The Glorious 12th