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Ian Redford: a major talent who never managed to fulfil potential at highest level

There are footballers who forever seem determined to check in prematurely at life's departure lounge.

Ian Redford produced the best performance of his career against Borussia Moenchengladbach in the semi-final of the UEFA Cup in 1987. Picture: SNS
Ian Redford produced the best performance of his career against Borussia Moenchengladbach in the semi-final of the UEFA Cup in 1987. Picture: SNS

Then, there are others with plans to invest in property or stay in the game's ranks, and to offer their "expertise", even if nobody has particularly asked for it.

Ian Redford was neither of these, which makes the news of his death at the age of 53 all the more shocking and sad. I spoke to Ian while I was writing a book on Davie Cooper; he was one of life's gentlemen: generous in his appraisal of team-mates and rivals alike, sagacious in his view that Scottish football was overly obsessed with brawn over brain, and wonderfully grounded in his appreciation that the game was never really that important in the grand scheme.

It is true that misfortune had a queasy habit of following in his footsteps. He lost his brother, Douglas, to leukaemia at an early age and never quite recovered from the blow.

Speaking to Herald Sport in October, he said: "I wasn't really aware of what was wrong; it was just my sister and I knowing something wasn't quite right. He was never getting better and eventually after about five years he died. There was so much pressure on my mum and dad and I look at how they coped and struggled to cope. In my early days there was a lot of anger in me, a lot of suppressed anger because of what happened to my brother and a lot of confusion about that."

He was deaf in one ear and chose, quite rightly as it transpired, to ignore the medics who advised him to stop playing. Even the title of his book - 'Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head' - hinted at the travails bubbling beneath the surface.

He was only a teenager when he began to serve prodigious notice of his potential with Dundee. Some at Dens Park even compared him to the legendary Alan Gilzean and his tally of 34 goals in 85 games was a strike rate of which anybody could be proud. With the benefit of hindsight, he - like Cooper - should probably have considered a move to England.

Unfortunately, for the pair of them, they signed up to a shambles at Ibrox. Redford, who arrived in Govan as Scotland's most expensive player - the transfer from Dundee was worth £210,000 - could not orchestrate a revival any more than Cooper could, regardless of their individual talents.

It was a slow, inexorable descent into decline and the precocious talent which both had displayed was too frequently mistaken for flippancy by fans fed up on an all-too-familiar diet of dross.

Mercifully, there was an escape for both of them. Redford, who was largely unappreciated by Rangers, moved to Jim McLean's Dundee United and, within the space of a week in 1987, was collecting runners-up medals in the UEFA Cup and the Scottish Cup.

His goalscoring display against Borussia Moenchengladbach in the semi-final second leg of the former competition, perhaps the apogee of his playing career, eclipsed even the quarter-final win over Barcelona.

"I enjoyed being back on Tayside and we produced some terrific performances," he told me in 2011. "What people should realise is that was a seriously good United side.

They made beating Barcelona look easy. I was only there for a short time, but I knew they were a top-class side. The reason for that was pretty much down to Jim and Jim alone."

That assessment was both an astute analysis and an acknowledgment that Redford had done himself few favours by waltzing off to Glasgow.

He was involved in his country's under-21 reckoning, but never advanced beyond those heights and if we discount the period when he was excelling in Dundee, it is probably fair to conclude Redford never made his mark on Scottish football.

But what a legacy and what pivotal lessons he gained, both from his spell in Raintown and his instinctive alliance with Cooper, who died in 1995, aged just 38, from a brain haemorrhage. "I worked with two geniuses in my career. One was Davie Cooper and the other was Jim McLean," said Redford. "I was very fortunate in that regard. How many people get the chance to work with people who are genuinely gifted?"

He turned out for Ipswich Town as the clock ticked down on his career, and then spent time at St Johnstone, Brechin City - where he attempted, without success, to combine playing and managing - and Raith Rovers.

In the final analysis, he might be remembered as a very good, rather than a great player, and it is doubtful whether he would even append the word "very" to that description. Yet the suspicion lingers that if he had chosen his next club after Dundee more wisely, we might be writing a totally different piece altogether.

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