THE question was never asked and the decision didn’t have to be made. Only Alex McLeish knows what the answer would have been.
A return to Rangers would have been hard to turn down, but the job he would have walked into is far different from the one that he left more than a decade ago. The pressure and the expectations are the same, but the circumstances have changed dramatically.
As the Ibrox board commenced their search for Mark Warburton’s replacement in February, there were two avenues that they could go down. McLeish was the safe pair of hands option, the man who had been there, done it and worn the Treble-winning t-shirt. The other route was the one that was chosen as Pedro Caixinha arrived from Al-Gharafa unheralded and untested in Scottish football.
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McLeish believes the 46-year-old was always the front-runner for the position. It is a race he is not sure he would have stayed in for long anyway.
“I didn’t say I was definitely going to take the job if I was offered it,” he said. “It was more just to get a general feeling about how things were going.
“It was a decision I didn’t need to make anyway because they had clearly targeted Pedro. So it wasn’t there for me to accept or decline.
“Obviously, working at Rangers and knowing the ins and outs and understanding the pressure of having to win every single game…I’ve had all that before. I’ve done that and had some really great times as well as one or two when it didn’t go the way I wanted.
“A lot of that can be down to recruitment and trying to get the right players at the right time. This talk at the moment of a Sporting Director – he’s going to need to have loads of contacts and access to just about everybody in the world within Rangers’ financial means.”
The appointment of Caixinha received a mixed reaction but he has started to win over fans with messages and players with his methods. He still has plenty to prove, though.
It was a bold strategy from Rangers to overlook more established coaches with a knowledge of the club and the Scottish game. Yet McLeish believes a fresh pair of eyes may prove beneficial as the next phase of the rebuilding job begins with a new man at the helm.
“Maybe it’s better for a young, enthusiastic guy to come in and change it without knowing about all the things that go with being the manager of Rangers,” he said. “Pedro’s come in a little bit blind in that respect, although he’s been saying all the right things that the fans want to hear, like getting Simply The Best on the tannoy, so he’s clearly done his homework.
“But it wasn’t the same [this time]. I spoke to Walter Smith and he said: ‘They say never go back but, when I did [in 2007] I demanded that David Murray gave me money’. He ended up building a team that won three championships and reached the UEFA Cup final, with signings like Steve Davis, Steven Naismith and Nikica Jelavic.
“It was a great piece of team building by him but it will take time to catch up with Celtic now and I just felt, in my heart, that it wasn’t for me just now.
“I still get texts and e-mails from my pals – Rangers fans – urging me to read this blog or that one and I thought: ‘Do I really need that at this stage of my life?’ The political aspect.”
When McLeish replaced Dick Advocaat as manager in December 2001, he enjoyed instant success at Ibrox. The league was already well outwith his reach, but the League Cup and Scottish Cup were grasped as Celtic were twice beaten on the road to glory.
On Sunday, Caixinha will get his first taste of the Old Firm rivalry in the dugout. He watched on from the stand as Graeme Murty’s side draw with the Hoops last month, but the trip to Hampden will be a new experience entirely for the Portuguese.
The chance to lift the silverware is a significant one and there will be consequences at Ibrox and Parkhead. Victory would move Rangers within 90 minutes of cup glory and also end Celtic’s dreams of domestic dominance.
McLeish’s side were the last team to sweep all before them in Scotland back in 2003 and he knows Caixinha has a rare opportunity in front of him this weekend.
“We had a bit of momentum, but so did Celtic, with the run to the UEFA Cup Final,” he said. “We lost to them at Ibrox after they came back from Seville but they lost to Hibs at Celtic Park. We had to go up to Aberdeen and win - which we did. Every weekend we had to look for their result and then make sure we got a result.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘philosophy’ but it is two teams that need to win every single week. There are in a unique band of maybe six to 10 clubs in the world that are like that. That’s why Mark Warburton was shell-shocked after the defeat at Parkhead. That’s when he realised how important it is to win against Celtic.
“Pedro will be a hero. I’ve got all the texts from pals about stopping the Treble. That’s just from me! It’s big though. There is that pride of beating your biggest rivals. That’s the first thing, then the Treble and unbeaten run falls.”
*Alex McLeish was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.