Friday, 25 March 2011

What Next for Walter Smith?

Walter Smith has hit the headlines this week after clinching the Scottish League Cup, his 20th trophy as Rangers manager. It has been no secret that Smith will leave Rangers in the summer, but what seems to have often been lost in the shuffle is that he plans to remain in management after his four year tenure at Ibrox comes to an end. Even Smith's wikipedia page suggests that the Rangers legend will be retiring in the summer but comments made by the Scottish manager in November suggest that this is not the case, with Smith apparently planning to remain in football in some capacity.

The big question in any case seems to be, if not Rangers, where else? Of his 30 year management career Smith has spent 11 years with the Glasgow club and a further 11 years in various roles within the Scottish National team's structure. Just four years have been spent South of the border, during a relatively unsuccessful spell at Everton and a brief stint as Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant at Manchester United. Indeed, Smith's departure from Rangers could be born more of a desire to prove his managerial credentials elsewhere than anything else.

As with many other elder statesmen of the game, an international role seems likely and would possibly sate his need for the game without bringing the day to day to pressures of club management. Sadly Smith's inauspicious abandonment of the Scottish National Team in favor of a return to Rangers may have burned bridges with the Scottish FA and current manager Craig Levein seems to have the support of the men in charge, if not perhaps all of the fans. If Smith's unhappy spell at Everton has put him off English club management a move abroad could be an unlikely, if semi-logical step. David O'Leary and Tony Adams have recently been lured to the Middle East, due in no part to the no doubt hefty pay checks accompanying their arrivals. While such a move would possibly not be as attractive to Smith from a footballing perspective, the idea of Don Revie-esque semi retirement could appeal to him.

While initially seeming pretty ludicrous, a return to Manchester United to link up with old friend Sir Alex Ferguson could also be an interesting proposition to Smith. Current Assistant Manager Mike Phelan, while being a reliable presence often sadly resembles a court jester who has been promoted to a position far above his station. Most Manchester United fans would react with horror to the idea of Phelan having any sort of tactical input, with Dutch Coach Rene Meulensteen seeming to provide the brains of the operation. Equally ludicrous might be the idea of Smith replacing Sir Alex, but his links to Sir Alex and his experience steadying the ship with Rangers after Paul Le Guen's disastrous misadventures at Ibrox may make such a idea slightly more tenable. One thing that would count against him in this regard is his lack of tactical nous and stoicly pragmatic nature. Given the choice Smith would always stick with his old favourites, as seen by his loyalty to players such as David Weir and Lee Mcullough. His propensity for conservative tactics would also probably not sit kindly with many United fans, nor the men at the top.

Sadly it seems that despite being an obviously capable manager, Walter Smith's love affair with Rangers has severely limited his potential options. Most British football fans would scoff at his unfashionably negative tactics and loyalty to veteran players, despite the widely favorable results they have achieved over the years. To me, the most likely scenario for Smith would be either a move abroad - whether in club or International management - or a reconciliation with the SFA and a return to the Scottish National Team. Whatever his future brings, what cannot be denied is Smith's status as one of the greatest managers ever to grace the Scottish league. Ally McCoist is set to take over at Ibrox in the summer, and the difficulty of the task on his hands should not be underestimated.

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