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Ally McCoist: what to do with a man who cannot walk away?

THE next crisis is scheduled for just after high noon on Saturday.

Ally McCoist faces his biggest on-field challenge yet against Dundee United. Picture: SNS
Ally McCoist faces his biggest on-field challenge yet against Dundee United. Picture: SNS

However, Rangers supporters, bloodied and bruised by two extraordinary years of turbulence, will be reminded bluntly about the realities of their club somewhat sooner that the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final with Dundee United at Ibrox this weekend.

The season-ticket renewal letters will be sent out tomorrow, with informed sources suggesting an 18% hike. These missives might precipitate a period of reflection among supporters.

The crisis at the club is political, financial and professional. It has seeped from the boardroom to the playing field. The crux of the matter in the wake of the Ramsden Cup victory by Raith Rovers appears to be the future of Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager. A simple investigation of "should he go or should he stay" has more twists than Agatha Christie on a Waltzer.

Rangers are believed to be in the almost unique position in football of having a manager who can't walk away from a club that can't sack him. The belief is that the board and McCoist are welded together by mutual necessity. Being Rangers, however, it is not as simple as that.

McCoist remains determined, even defiant. He has been sorely tested by the events both before and after liquidation. He has made mistakes both on and off the field.

But he has become the rallying point for a support who have been introduced to more chancers and comic singers than a matinee audience at the Glasgow Empire.

The Rangers manager could be forgiven for deciding that his future lies away from a club that he loves and a job that he craved. His professional abilities have been scrutinised with some rigour in the aftermath of defeat to Raith Rovers.

The accusations include: his recruitment policy is and was flawed, his tactical acumen is limited, and his ability to make a game-changing decision is hardly conspicuous. There is a validity in all of this but McCoist is entitled to point out that players were necessarily bought in haste, that his tactics have been good enough to ensure only two defeats all season and who needs to change the flow of a game that your team is already winning?

The pressure, though, is growing and is in danger of becoming intolerable. McCoist, famously, cannot do walking away.

A personality with a strong sense of self-will and a belief in self-reliance, McCoist must wait on the deliberations of the board, however constituted that may be in the immediate future.

The accepted truth is that he cannot be sacked in deference to his place as Rangers legend and as the enduring beacon in the most stormy of times at the club. This is no longer correct. First, there is a loud element of the Rangers support who are looking for change in the manager's office as well as the boardroom.

Second, the present board includes those who have little time for McCoist. This disaffection stretches far beyond his capabilities or otherwise as a football manager. McCoist's decision to give the proxy vote on his shares to a supporters' club at the club's annual meeting in December was handled delicately by Graham Wallace, the chief executive.

However, it was greeted with some anger by other members of the board. The chance of a united front against the requisitioners was weakened considerably by the manager's stance. This has not been forgotten or forgiven.

There are also those on the periphery of power at Ibrox who are not admirers of the manager and have called on him to be sacked.

McCoist has had a good relationship with Wallace but there are reports that this has been severely dented, if not fractured, in recent days. If they continue to sing from the same hymn sheet, it is with strained voices.

There is, too, a constituency that argues that the sacking of the manager would give the sale of season tickets a necessary and timely boost. More sober voices point out that the level of uptake of season tickets may be beyond any such move given the continued uncertainty in the boardroom and the prospect of competing in the SPFL Championship with a squad that is not considerably improved.

There is also the belief that finding a replacement for McCoist may be easy, but that does not mean it carries a guarantee of success on the pitch. "This place is bedlam," said a Rangers insider. "There is no budget, no scouting and no stability.

"Who wants such a job? And are they the sort of people who could make it work?"

Despite all this, of course, McCoist could be sacked and there would be little concern over any pay-off.

"Can you imagine Ally suing Rangers?" said one cynical but acute observer last night.

The manager thus prepares for a defining match against Dundee United against a backdrop of severe sniping, unyielding criticism and increasing pressure. He would be forgiven if he remarked with his trademark smile: "So what's new?"

This rhetorical inquiry may be answered by Dave King, the South African businessman, who is pressurising the board to accept his plan for an immediate investment of £50m backed by a rights issue.

The issuing of the season-ticket book reminders might prompt King to make another verbal intervention as he seeks to persuade fans that he offers the last best hope of a swift re-invigoration of the club.

His supporters insist he would provide funds for a strengthened squad for next season's campaign. King would almost certainly also back McCoist, at least in the short term. However, King did not become a multi-millionaire on the back of a penchant for patience and a predilection for backing those who do not give him what he wants.

Rangers now stand just more than a week away from the publication of the business plan that will set out the way forward. It is difficult to see how it can satisfy King.

McCoist, meanwhile, must select and set up a team to defeat a quick, inventive and increasingly confident Dundee United side. The Rangers manager, ever the optimist, will point out his team are just 90 minutes away from unlikely redemption.

Until, that is, the next crisis.

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