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Wallace still chasing his dream amid a nightmare

RATHER like a Tommy keeping his head above water in the trenches of Ypres, pristine photograph of his childhood sweetheart pressed close to his heart, Lee Wallace is coping with the stresses of being trapped in a battleground not of his making by losing himself in his dreams.

Lee Wallace was happy to stay at Rangers, even if it has cost him caps for Scotland. Picture: SNS
Lee Wallace was happy to stay at Rangers, even if it has cost him caps for Scotland. Picture: SNS

Whichever way he turns, this bright, talented 26-year-old finds himself dealing with flak flying in all directions. His team's hopeless, they won't win the SPFL Championship next season, the players are a waste of money, the manager isn't up to it, why are they all keeping their jobs when the cleaners and the maintenance staff at Rangers are now living in fear of a tap on the shoulder and their P45?

All that has to be dealt with before he has even taken time to catch up with the now-daily developments in the latest financial meltdown at Ibrox, the demands for the head of Graham Wallace to be placed, apple in mouth, on a silver salver and the bitter fight for control of Ibrox through Dave King's plan to withhold season-ticket money from the current board.

Rangers is a basket case of a club, tearing itself apart bit by bit. Administration, incredibly, seems a real possibility just two years on from those days when Duff & Phelps turned their expert eyes on to the last bout of financial armageddon at professional rates and, erm, passed it on to the blokes who, according to the latest piece of forensic investigation into who ran away with what, "mismanaged almost all of their cash reserves".

Lee Wallace, fresh from being voted the Cheque Centre PFA Scotland Player of the Year in League 1, is one fellow who could earn a passport out of all this by playing his cards right. He is an able professional at the right kind of age with a good engine, a nice left foot and known suitors in England.

Wallace, of course, is intelligent enough to realise what fresh hell is unfolding around him, but he chooses to comfort himself with the private visions of greatness he has held since he joined the club from Hearts in July 2011.

He believes Rangers will become a major power again. He signed his contract with intentions of progressing to play in the group stage of the Champions League. He wants to be a central figure in some phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the catastrophic days of a certain Craig Whyte.

Nottingham Forest had two offers rejected for his services in January and may well return with greater competition very soon, but Wallace claims he was not interested and little appears to have changed.

"I knew I wanted to try to be part of this plan that we've got to climb the leagues," he recalled. "I have thought about it 101 times. I envision myself being here for a long time and getting us back to the days of challenging to get back into the Champions League and winning Premiership trophies. That is why I came here in the first place and those thoughts and dreams have not changed."

Yet, he was asked to take a 15% pay cut by Graham Wallace not so long ago. He did accept a reduction in salary when the club went into administration last time round. He was part of a Hearts squad left worrying about the future when Vladimir Romanov's grand plans for Tynecastle crumbled like a jam tart well past its sell-by date.

Would it not be better to jump ship to England for a better wage, a more competitive league and the kind of stability that has been missing from most of his top-level career?

"Probably not," he replied. "At this point, I am at a tremendous club. There is off-the-field stuff, of course, but when I talk about the fans and the history and traditions of this club, there is no better place as far as I'm concerned.

"International football might be a thing of the past for me, but the fact that I stayed at Rangers is a comfortable sacrifice for me. I see myself being here for a number of years. We will certainly be back to the Rangers of old."

Wallace was seen as the future for Scotland at left-back during Craig Levein's time at the helm of the national side. The defender now makes only the occasional appearance in the squad following his decision to stay put at Ibrox and play against part-timers every week when the likes of Allan McGregor, Steven Naismith and Steven Whittaker headed south.

To call that "a comfortable sacrifice" is quite some statement. Wallace has not given up hope of adding to his eight caps, but Andrew Robertson, a 20-year-old enjoying an astonishing debut season at Dundee United, is now ahead of him in the pecking order and Wallace is in no mood to back down on his assertion that club matters mean more to him than anything.

"Choosing to stay at Rangers maybe placed a burden on the manager selecting me," he said. "The boy Robertson has done brilliantly and I can't complain. It is always going to be about Rangers for me. I hope the door isn't closed. I have bought into what the Scotland manager [Gordon Strachan] is trying to do and the amount I've learned from being in three squads is unbelievable."

Wallace's focus now rests upon the challenges of next season's SPFL Championship. He cannot mask a certain sadness over the fact both Rangers and Hearts will be competing outside the top division next season, but, in typically optimistic form, he believes their meetings could prove to be the most attractive fixtures in the game.

"I think it might be between the two of us for the Championship," said Wallace. "Those games between Rangers and Hearts will probably be among the better games to watch in Scottish football."

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