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Young guns keep McDowall firing on all cylinders

Kenny McDowall tries to search for the right word.

Kenny McDowall is reassured by the return of Walter Smith
Kenny McDowall is reassured by the return of Walter Smith

He has just been asked about the prospect of the Old Firm fielding colt teams in the lower division of a newly reconstructed Scottish league set-up. "Maybe a nursery team," he eventually says with a wry smile. McDowall is making a point, since Rangers' first-team squad now contains the club's best youngsters, and some of them are only 17. Like the ambition of returning to the top-flight, so much still seems some distance away for the players and staff at Ibrox.

McDowall's anger has subsided, but he is still irked by the weeks of uncertainty the club had to endure during the summer without knowing what league the team would play in, or even if they would play at all. The registration embargo hampered the rebuilding process, too, but there is some comfort to be found in perspective since McDowall had only 10 players to work with on the first day of pre-season training.

This has been a season of compromises and problem-solving. There are times when he's planning out training in the morning that McDowall looks at the names of the available players on his whiteboard and can think only that the crucial point of the session should be completing it without suffering any injuries. "If it wasn't for bad luck we wouldn't have any," he says. "We don't have the biggest squad so we have to manage as best we can."

There is no point railing against the circumstances the club finds itself in, not least because so much of the financial crisis was self-inflicted. Talk of league reconstruction does not grip McDowall, since it cannot affect Rangers' situation, or the obligation to win the third division this season. He worked with a crop of talented youngsters while in charge of Celtic's reserve team, and he rates the young players currently establishing themselves in Rangers' first team as just as talented.

McDowall is at least used to the particular demands of working with young players: the patience and the tutoring that is required. Ally McCoist is in the midst of a stark exposure to the complications of managing at the opposite end of the game than he has been used to as Walter Smith's assistant with Scotland then Rangers. Last summer, too, saw McCoist having to hold the club together during administration and the efforts of various potential buyers.

"The summer was horrendous, just watching everything unfold and seeing the turmoil Ally and the club had to go through," says McDowall. "It was a horrible time. I tried to support Ally as much as I could. I don't know any manager who has gone through that in their first job. He was doing everything. It wasn't easy on him. Believe me, he'll be a great manager because of it.

"We got beaten by Stirling and we know there were people shouting for our heads. But we had to start from scratch with youth players and those we brought in. Of course we didn't enjoy getting beat by Stirling. We just have to make sure it doesn't happen too often."

Allowances have to be made for the youngsters in the team and how they react to the demands of being Rangers players. The example McDowall uses is the manager's half-time team talk, with the younger figures hanging on his every word when the older, more time-served professionals would be keeping their heads down and hoping not to be singled out for criticism. McCoist is on a learning curve, too, but the experience will be an advantage.

So, too, will the return of Smith as a non-executive director. The former manager stressed that he would have no role in football matters, but he will be an authoritative voice in the boardroom when discussions are being held about the funding priorities when the rebuilding process begins in earnest following the share issue being completed.

"It will reassure a lot of people, the fact that Walter is prepared to come back," McDowall said. "The non-football people will sit and listen to Walter and I'd like to think they'll back whatever he puts forward. The club has fallen a long way and we should never forget that. It'll take time to get back to where we were. But by putting the right people in the right jobs, we might get there slightly quicker."

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