PETER MacDONALD insists Derek McInnes was already a manager in the making when they starred together for the Rangers Reserves.

The 37-year-old was a fresh-faced teenager at Ibrox when McInnes, an experienced campaigner by comparison, was pushed down the pecking order under Dick Advocaat amid a deluge of big-money imports.

The duo found themselves playing their trade in the second string and MacDonald is adamant McInnes was never too proud to put in a shift alongside the youth players, displaying the leadership qualities and high demands which have come to characterise him as a coach.

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“I first played with Del in the reserves at Rangers when [Dick] Advocaat came in and he was always a leader,” lauded MacDonald.

“He was just a top guy. I was a young player coming through and I would put him up there with Ally McCoist, Ian Durrant and boys like that who would always take the time out to ask how you were getting on - ‘did you score?’ ‘how are things off the pitch?’ ‘well done, keep it up’.

“As a 16-year-old you appreciate that coming from a first-team player. He was always top-drawer and, although you don’t think about it at that age, he was always management material, with the demands he placed on you and the way he encouraged and drove others on.

“Certain characters are like that. Del was that as a player and a manager.”

The pair were subsequently teammates at St Johnstone again, before McInnes hung up his boots to make the transition from midfield maestro to manager in November 2007, replacing Owen Coyle. He went onto win the old First Division title in his first full season in charge.

“He had to distance himself from the boys when he got the manager’s job,” MacDonald continued. “But he was so well respected that we all made that transition easy for him. We knew he had the experience and pedigree to do the job.

“You could see right from the start, even with little things - better lunches, a more professional approach, better training facilites. He had won the Championship and played in the Premier League with West Brom so he had been there, done that and knew the standards he wanted.

“The set pieces and the analysis of the opponents is second to none and, at that level, you need a real work ethic to do all that. You could see he had the ability and drive to do well in management from the start.

“He can be strict, demanding and determined to succeed. And that’s exactly what you need at a club like Rangers - someone on you at all times. Even if you are playing well, he wants more, and he’ll get more out of that squad. It’s a fresh start for them.”

And MacDonald is certain the sky would be the limit for McInnes in Govan after a sensational stint at Aberdeen.

MacDonald added: “Considering what he has achieved with Aberdeen - finishing second and winning the League Cup - on potentially a quarter of the budget he could get at Rangers, I don’t see why he can’t do great things with Rangers and take them to another level. Players will want to go there, and he’ll get the best out of them.”