JOHN Rankin has just finished a training session in the Broadwood gym, a glass-fronted building appended on to the side of the stadium at Clyde Football Club. It's his day off but the 36-year-old is in a hurry. He has been injured for almost nine months having broken his ankle in the penultimate league game of last season against Queen's Park and he knows his playing days are nearing their end; he was flying back then and was named in the team of the year, he says he doesn't want the lasting memory of a career stretching two decades to be him leaving the pitch on a stretcher with an ankle fracture.

Nevertheless, Rankin has been putting plans in place for the day that comes when he can no longer do what he loves best. For the past 18 months he has been contracted to Clyde, coaching the Under-18s and reserves at Hearts full-time and he's been immersed in studying for his UEFA Pro Licence. Before that, he was chairman of PFA Scotland.

Rankin, who has played more than 600 first-team games during a top-flight career that spanned spells at Ross County, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Hibernian and Dundee United, has never been one to sit still. Even if he hadn't been undergoing rehabilitation for a serious injury, you sense he still might have been in the gym on his day off. Some greying around his temples aside, he looks 10 years younger.

He is one of life's doers. He thanks his mum and dad for that. When he was 15 he was offered a contract by Rangers – it was a childhood dream for this particular young boy from Airdrie – but Manchester United were also sniffing. A discussion was had after which a callow youngster opted to swap childhood for adulthood - and a move south that would mean leaving his family home for a life hundreds of miles away. His father helped to accelerate the process by telling him he would have to inform the Rangers manager Dick Advocaat of his decision himself. He had a double whammy for good measure, banning Rankin from football until it was time to leave later that summer.


“I still remember the date, it was Valentines Day 1999,” says Rankin of an evening devoid of romance. “I remember it as clear as day because I left in tears. Not because I was leaving Rangers but because I was leaving my parents (at 15) and we were driving home. I had basically taken the decision to walk out on my mum and dad and I had just told the manager so there was no way of going back and then I had my dad turning around to me – no emotion in his voice – and saying 'that's the football gone, son, it's exam time now, you can play with your pals at school'. I can still remember that journey and it was horrible.”

Today Rankin attributes his maturity and sense of discipline to the valuable lessons he learned back then. He has spent a lifetime looking out for others, of passing on his own experiences. It was a process that started almost from day one at Old Trafford. A natural mentor, none other than Sir Alex Ferguson soon singled him out for his leadership qualities.

“He could be anywhere in the building [Carrington] and he would shout 'Rankin! Is yer mammy all right for sugar?' That was always the question. He would put boys who were a bit wayward into my accommodation to share a room with me and I would take them under my wing. I was quite responsible and mature for my age and I loved that responsibility of trying to help the kids.”

A few years later after Rankin had signed for Inverness he took a call from United's kitman John Campbell, a fellow Scot, after he scored a last-minute winner against Rangers in the Highlands over Christmas 2006.

“I thought he's phoning me because I've scored against Rangers and he's a mad Celtic fan so I answered the phone and I heard 'Rankin. Do you know who this is?' I knew by the accent. I'm thinking 'I know exactly who this is'.

“He was phoning to say 'Listen, I am so proud of you, I'm delighted for you. I still keep track of you and what you are doing in your career. It's not just the ones who come through and make it here, it's also the ones who go on and overcome adversity.'”

Rankin has a happy knack of making a good impression on those he comes into contact with. He was recently namechecked - alongside another former Dundee United team-mate Paul Paton - in glowing terms by Andy Robertson in a newspaper interview on the eve of the Club World Cup semi-final in Doha. The Liverpool defender and Rankin spent a season together at Dundee United where the latter had such an influence on Robertson that he still remembers it six years on. Rankin says he couldn't quite believe what he was reading.

“When I clicked on the link I was stunned, totally surprised but there was a huge element of pride that someone of Andy's stature spoke about and thought about Pates and I in that regard.”

Robertson's success has presented Rankin with a useful barometer for measuring the progress of others but it has also given him the opportunity to compare and contrast. While he is damning of current trends among players to post everything on social media, he understands, too, that not everyone is wired the same way as him or Robertson.


“There are still some kids who make the sacrifices, I know that. But with social media these days it becomes a wee bit difficult because they want to keep up with everybody else and it's false in many ways. The quiet ones who don't post things and don't get caught up in that because they're not interested, they're quite happy to go about their business, they are the ones who get further.

“Every player has to be treated with that bit of freedom to. You can't tell someone not to do something, it's a sensitive thing. Every individual is different. Some need to feel brilliant. Whereas the ones that get furthest in their careers, they have a sole focus, tunnel vision. If you had asked me 10 years ago if Andy Robertson would have played in the Champions League final I would have laughed but I knew he would be playing in the Premier League. Players always know.”

Rankin attributes good upbringing and parental influence as the defining factors with those who go on to have successful careers. His reference point remains Robertson and recalls seeing what he had previously seen at Old Trafford in the Scotland captain's application to his profession back then.

“A lot of kids at 16, 17 will come and ask you about car insurance or a phone contract or tickets for a gig but Andy only came and asked you about football and that set him apart. He was different. He played every day to win. I once said Andy was someone who would kick your granny to win a game but then he'd come off the pitch and you'd be happy with him to take your daughter to the cinema. I stand by that and I loved that about him.

“He is the perfect mixture of his mum and his dad. That's a compliment to him. His dad's a quiet, reserved kind of character and his mum is very bubbly. They're two great people and I can't compliment him highly enough. The demands that were put on him, he wanted to learn. He never took it as an insult.”

“Nowadays it is too easy to blame other people rather than actually looking in the mirror and taking responsibility for yourself. You'll see kids coming through at big clubs in this country and then they get released or leave that club. Maybe their parents will have had it on social media from they were eight years old saying 'that's them at whatever club' and it becomes hard, it becomes a burden and it becomes almost an embarrassment when that kid is no longer at that club.”