Todd Cantwell looking energised again is one sign the Belgian manager knows what he is doing.
None of it is even remotely the fault of Philippe Clement. And yet, the similarities are difficult to ignore nonetheless.
The balding, shaven head. The steely, serious stare. The Gallic twang. Even the surname gives off a whiff of a previous managerial misadventure. That he posed for his first photographs as Rangers manager wearing a pair of jeans may, unfortunately, have added to these Paul Le Guen parallels given that the Frenchman, from day one, never really appeared to have a grasp on what this football club means to its supporters. Or what the job of leading it truly entails.
But what Clement has said and done in his first few days in the job suggests that the Belgian might be a manager of genuine substance rather than another reminder of the difficulties involved in appointing the right man for this very specific job. Time and time again over the years, the list of custodians of Rangers have taken it in turns to botch their responsibilities whenever they’ve been charged with the task of identifying the man best qualified to put a winning team on the park.
Sir David Murray started it all when he chased after Le Guen only to discover a few months later that his star candidate was so completely disinterested in holding down the position that he hadn’t even bothered to unpack the cardboard boxes in his garage. Le Guen lasted just 240 days but the catastrophic damage done in that short space of time was close to jaw dropping.
So much so, that it required none other than the late, great Walter Smith to carry out the repair work and return Rangers to where he had left them during his first title laden stint in charge. Smith’s huge shadow remains in place. Against his work, that of all others will be judged and Clement is the latest man to take on that challenge.
It was way too much for Mark Warburton to cope with and the subsequent appointment of Pedro Caixinha was a mistake of such monumental proportions that the only thing he managed to succeed at was losing the job in even less time than Le Guen. In many respects, Dave King got lucky when he handpicked Steven Gerrard for the role five and half years ago, plucking him from Liverpool’s youth academy in the hope he might somehow be ready to take on such a senior position.
Gerrard might have been box office. But it was a punt which might have gone down as little more than a publicity stunt gone wrong had it not been for the sheer weight of the Scouser’s personality and instinctive will to win. Even so, in more than three years at the helm he returned just one solitary trophy. That it just happened to be the most important trophy in the club’s recent history, means Gerrard’s tenure can be loosely viewed as a success even if the reality is that he too fell way below the standards which Smith left behind as a legacy.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst did match Smith’s achievement of leading Rangers to a European final but one Scottish Cup in one year and three days was not enough to protect the Dutchman from an early end. And then Michael Beale was fast-tracked into the job, after five minutes in management at QPR, in the hope that really was the tactical brains behind Gerrard’s singular title success. And we all know how that worked out.
Which is precisely why Clement has now picked up the chalice and the input of Graeme Souness in the recruitment process, ought to come as some comfort to a support which has been in this movie all too often. Record Sport revealed that Souness was taking a prominent role in the interview process, meeting with Frank Lampard in London and also sitting down for a video call with Kevin Muscat as part of a three man Rangers delegation.
Souness will also have sat down at least once with Clement and it seems impossible not to conclude that the former Bruges and Monaco manager must have made an impression on the man who was responsible for bringing Smith to the club as his trusted assistant in the first place. Because if Souness believed that any of the other candidates were better qualified for the role then surely his opinion wouldn’t have been ignored by chief executive James Bisgrove, chairman John Bennett or director Graeme Park?
That would have defeated the whole purpose of inviting such a behemoth into the conversation so it can only be concluded that Souness likes what he sees in Clement and believes the Belgian to be capable of fixing the mess that Beale betrothed him. Which brings us back to Le Guen.
It was Jeremy Clement back then, of course. One of Le Guen’s first big summer signings who was presented as the posterboy for a French revolution. Before long he was taking Barry Ferguson’s place in midfield. Le Guen was gone by January 4 2007. Clement was sold by Smith three weeks later to make way for the arrival of Kevin Thomson.
And that will be the key issue with which the new Clement has to grapple now that he’s the man in charge. He has inherited a dressing room full of Jeremy Clements – players who, in a short space of time, have proved themselves to be completely out of their depth.
The new boss says he doesn’t wave a magic stick but he conjured a goal out of Cyriel Dessers in his first game against Hibs at the weekend and it wasn’t even a flukey deflection. More than that, his Rangers side looked organised, disciplined, motivated and structured in a way which seemed way beyond Beale since the season began.
Perhaps for the first time in this campaign, these players appeared to understand the instructions given to them and the positions which they were being asked to fill. It was no coincidence, for example, Todd Cantwell came off the bench and instantly looked like the playmaker he had been in his first six months at the club, before Beale overcomplicated his tactics and team selections, trampling on the 25 year old’s toes in the process and limiting his creative influence.
Of course, a first day win over Hibs hardly means Clement and Rangers are out of the woods. But, even so, the early signs do suggest that, this time around, Rangers may have found themselves a manager who is up to the job.