UNTIL you have played with Barry Ferguson, you don't realise just how good a player he is.
He was up there with the best of them, and I have no doubt it is his achievements on the field that have led to his appointment as caretaker player-manager at Blackpool.
I absolutely loved playing with Barry even though was one of the most demanding players I ever worked with. If players weren't doing things properly, he used to moan at them like crazy on the park, but as a manager he might have to learn there is a balance to be struck.
As a player, he was also the kind of boy who needed an arm round the shoulder, someone telling him everything was all right, and as a manager he will have to do that, too. Sometimes you have to get things out of people in different ways.
Barry was already the top boy by the time I got to Rangers: Dick Advocaat used to absolutely love him. I could relate to Barry because I was just like him. They are a dying breed in football - people who moan and demand the very best from their team-mates, talkers like Big Yogi Hughes at Celtic, or Paul Scholes and Steve Bruce at Manchester United. Sometimes my team-mates would say they wished Barry would stop moaning, and I would say, "listen, he is only trying to get the best out of you".
Not that we didn't have our fall-outs. I remember one day we were playing at St Mirren and Barry started moaning at me during the game, demanding I give him the ball all time. I said I wasn't going to do that and we agreed to talk it over in the dressing room at half-time.
Soon the two of us were running at each other, full on, and punches were being thrown. But we went out there after the break, I scored, we beat them 3-1, and Barry was the first one to congratulate me. Dick loved the fact we had addressed it ourselves, resolved the problem. But he still fined us £500 each. Even if Barry can't behave in quite the same way as a manager, he is focused and knows what he wants.
It remains to be seen whether he will be given the job at Bloomfield Road on a permanent basis, but it is a fantastic opportunity for him to go in at a really good level. He has the staff in place and is going to have a right go at it.
Bob Malcolm, who did some coaching with us at East Fife last season, has gone down to work alongside Barry. They have been doing their coaching badges in Ireland together, and have been pals for ages. Barry has also brought in Malky Thomson, Craig Brewster's former assistant at Dundee United and Inverness Caley Thistle, who has more recently been at Limerick as assistant to Stan Taylor. When Barry is playing, he will need the rest of them to be on the button when it comes to making changes.
Some people will always bring up things like Boozegate to suggest Barry isn't cut out for management. Don't get me wrong, he got himself into a few skirmishes, he liked a pint like the rest of us, and maybe even a cigarette when he was drinking, but he was so focused. He had a wife and family and he wasn't out every weekend. He was one of the best professionals at Rangers, a fitness fanatic who trained his butt off. He had natural fitness and technique but worked hard at everything else. You don't control games at Champions League level the way he did unless you are a top pro.
Barry was so high profile that he got caught out a couple of times, but I think he has learned his lesson. When I listen to his press conferences, or maybe even read his newspaper column, I think he has matured so much as a person.
I will always remember the day Barry got given the captaincy at Rangers. We were getting changed at Ibrox, before heading off to Stepps. Big Lorenzo Amoruso came in with a face like thunder, then Barry appeared sporting a huge smile.
It is a shame Barry is benefiting from the sacking of Paul Ince and Alex Rae but that's football. It says a lot for them that they brought him back into the team after his loan at Fleetwood Town, because I have seen managers who will refuse to sign a player because they feel ultimately he could be a threat to their job.
Blackpool are a good wee club, with a lovely wee stadium. How long Barry stays in charge will be results dependent, but he has made a good start and changed things by bringing in the likes of David Goodwillie from Blackburn and Andy Halliday from Middlesbrough, with a few others - maybe including Kris Boyd - on the way. And sometimes it is better being the player-manager, because you can learn on the job. He will know straight away which players he can trust and which ones were hiding when the club needed people to step up to the plate.