PHILIPPE Clement has recalled how former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan and his wife Lesley became his babysitters during his time in England with Coventry City - as he vowed to become a father figure to his Rangers players.

Belgian centre half Clement only spent 12 months at Highfield Road and his first team appearances for the Sky Blues during the 1998/99 campaign were limited due to a series of injuries.

However, the support which Strachan, the former Aberdeen, Manchester United, Leeds United and Scotland midfielder who was in his first coaching role, gave him that season still left an indelible impression on the defender.

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“I had a lot of problems at Coventry,” said Clement, who was appointed Rangers manager on Sunday and will take charge of his first game when Hibernian visit Ibrox tomorrow.

“The week before the season started I broke my cheekbone in a friendly game in Wales. I was out for three or four months. I came back and then this big fella Emile Heskey landed on my back and I had a back injury for a long time. I lost a lot of time there.

“But he (Strachan) was really nice with us. His wife also. My son at that moment was really small, I think he was around five years old. His wife really liked him. So in moments the gaffer said to me, ‘If you want to go out with your wife, go to the movies, your boy can stay with us’.

“So we did it a few times. He was our babysitter. They were really, really nice people. That support for my family at that time was really important for us. The experience was good for sure, as a player and also as a person.”

The Herald: Philippe Clement

Clement returned to his homeland and signed for Club Brugge after playing in just 16 games for Coventry – but he has never forgotten the warmth which Strachan showed him in the West Midlands and he has endeavoured to be every bit as paternal to his players since moving into management himself six years go.

The former Beveren, Genk, Club Brugge and Monaco head coach knows that his new charges, who have been heavily criticised by media pundits and supporters in recent weeks after losing important games at home and abroad, need exactly the same sort of encouragement and understanding which he received now.  

But the 49-year-old emphasised that he is not averse to disciplining his players, who are seven points behind defending champions Celtic in the league after just eight matches, if he believes that is required as well. 

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“As a manager, I want to be a father for all of my players,” he said. “I want to give them advice, I want to help them and get the best out of them. With a father it’s like that, I do the same thing with my kids.

“When they do well they get rewarded, when they don’t do well sometimes they get stick. It’s also one part of parenthood and it’s the same with the players. So it’s about building a story with them that’s really strong, but also with the staff around us.

“It’s really crucial and that’s why I said from the beginning it’s very important to have someone local within the staff. Someone who can be a bridge with the academy, who knows all the young players and how they are performing.

“With the academy, it’s always up and down with the players. We want the step from the academy to be smaller steps, not so big. That way you can give chances.”

One Rangers player who definitely needs an arm around his shoulders at the moment is Cyriel Dessers. The Nigerian internationalist has only netted one Premiership goal since moving to Scotland in a £4.5m transfer from Cremonese in Italy back in July. But Clement is confident he knows how to get the former Genk forward back to his very best.

“I will give him all the tools for that and then it’s about him doing it,” he said. “That’s the same for every player. We will give them the tools to get the best out of them. Then it’s for the player to take it. I have seen this process before. That’s why I say we need to give all possibilities for the players to step up.

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“You always have surprises. I had it in Genk. I had two strikers there, Nikolaos Karelis , who was scoring all the time. Then there was Ally Samatta who didn’t play because he never scored goals.

“Everyone said, ‘This guy never scores a goal’. But we worked really hard with Ally, like with all the other players, and he took it. He became better and after a few weeks I put Ally in the team more and more and he started to score goals.

“The next season he was top scorer in Belgium and the season after that he made a good transfer to Aston Villa. So we will invest in all the players to get the best out of them. Then it’s up to them to take this chance and make the most out of it.”

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Strachan spent four years as manager at Celtic and won the Scottish title three times, the League Cup twice and the Scottish Cup on two occasions. He also led the Parkhead club through to the knockout rounds of the Champions League two years running. But Clement stressed that he will not be sounding out his old gaffer for advice about how to succeed at Rangers.

“I don’t think you need to look too much to the past, or to ask too many things,” he said. “I know the Old Firm, I know the story and I have seen these games. I know players who have played here. I know Thomas Buffel really well and also Joos Valgaeren. I played with both in the national team. I know the story so there is nothing new for me.