IF YOU fancy putting a few quid on the identity of the next Rangers manager then feel free to roll up, the bookmakers will be happy to relieve you of the readies.
Managers find it disrespectful and crass that the oddsmakers have taken to running books on who will be next to be sacked, and who is favourite to replace him, but they are popular and compelling markets with punters.
At the moment the leaders in the next permanent Rangers manager market are Billy Davies, Terry Butcher, Alex McLeish, Walter Smith, Kenny McDowall, Ian Durrant, Jim Jefferies, Kenny Shiels, Lee McCulloch and Stuart McCall. The odds are there, even if the vacancy isn't.
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There are prices for the Scotland job, too: Gordon Strachan, McLeish, Joe Jordan, Owen Coyle, Smith, John Collins, McCoist, Davies and Billy Stark lead the market. For McCoist and Craig Levein, the very existence of these "runners and riders" lists will seem objectionable and demeaning, but they exist for two reasons.
First, the Rangers and Scotland jobs are so big that the level of interest is enormous. Second, neither have delivered the quality of results which would protect them from speculation or – in Levein's case – the imminent threat of being handed his P45.
Levein's case is straightforward. Haemorrhaging points for nearly three years has taken him to the point where the SFA's seven-man board must be only three or four more meetings, and another fortnight or so, away from leaping to a swift and firm decision on what to do with him. Actually, the insensitivity shown towards Levein by his procrastinating employers will end when an announcement is made today, but it has been handled poorly. Clearly, chief executive Stewart Regan doesn't yet have the sharp and modern SFA he wants, given that others seem committed to its traditional reputation for ineffectual dithering.
Even as someone who does not feel Levein has delivered the results and performances required to deserve more time – he will be handsomely compensated when he goes – it was impossible not to feel sympathy for him as he flew home after Scotland's most recent going over in Brussels.
He must have felt that every pair of eyes on the plane was boring into him, looking with either scorn or pity. Whatever thoughts were going through his head he could not have imagined that the SFA would keep him dangling to the point that now, 20 days later and on the eve of the next squad being announced, the country is still in the dark about what's going on.
McCoist's situation is more complicated. Rangers' financial implosion disguised the significance of his poor signings and cup and league failures last season and this, his second campaign, has not been clever, either. Rangers could not have imagined dropping a third of the available points after nine Irn-Bru Third Division games, nor crashing out of the Ramsdens Cup to Queen of the South, nor surrendering so tamely to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Communities League Cup last midweek. Right now, the likes of Emilson Cribari and Anestis Argyriou are symbolic of the team McCoist has assembled. His management has often put a real strain on the supporters' enormous affection for him.
But the McCoist and Levein cases are profoundly different. Rangers have only one objective for the next three seasons and it is to win the third, second and first divisions in consecutive campaigns. McCoist – despite all the reservations, the stumbles and the embarrassments – is sitting top of the third division and on course to win the title. He is meeting – just – the target which was set for him. "There would simply be no progress if we didn't win the championship," he said at the weekend. "Anything less wouldn't be good enough."
Rangers are in a strange place, where for three seasons their expectations and demands must change. What purpose would be served by sacking McCoist even if they suffer another humbling result in the Scottish Cup? The cost of compensating him and his backroom staff, and recruiting another set of coaches, makes no sense.
A new manager may well get more from this Rangers squad than McCoist has so far, but he would not be able to replace any of them because of the ongoing embargo. If McCoist looks like he's going to win the league for them that, for now, is enough. Given the resources at his disposal it is the lowest set of expectations ever placed on a Rangers manager. Having an actual decision to make on whether he is up to the job should not be an issue unless it genuinely looks like there is a division he isn't going to win, be it this one or either of the next two. If it comes to that, he would have to be sacrificed.
The stress McCoist went through earlier this year, in Rangers' cause, was written all over his face. The club is in his debt for that but not to the extent that he is unsackable. Maybe one day Charles Green will face the sort of decision the SFA board has been botching, but not any time soon. Anyone who bets on McCoist being replaced by Davies, Butcher or anyone else had better not be in a rush for their winnings.