THE TWO rookie managers that are being used as a comparison to the arrival this afternoon of Steven Gerrard as the new Rangers manager – on a three year deal – are Graeme Souness and John Barnes.
Both were rookies, both had outstanding careers at Liverpool, both were excellent players who enjoyed a global profile within the game, so all of those boxes a re ticked and the media can compare Gerrard’s position to either one.
Neither though is probably the best comparison that can be made.
Souness arrived at a time when although the Ibrox club were a sleeping giant, there was no one club that was dominating Scottish football.
A few years before Aberdeen had beaten Real Madrid in the Cup Winners Cup Final. Dundee United reached the UEFA Cup Final. Both of these New Firm sides had league wins to their credit and in the year that Souness arrived at Rangers, Hearts were within 7 minutes of winning the league.
Celtic had decent sides in the eighties and enjoyed numerous title wins and cup final successes but they could hardly have been regarded as dominating Scottish football.
Souness had money to spend and the cheque book was used to great effect to push Rangers towards the top of the game and they would after Celtic’s centenary season, go on a run that would see them win 9 titles in a row. The controversies surrounding where that money came from is for another day.
Then there is the comparison with John Barnes who inherited players like Henrik Larsson, Lubo Moravcik, Paul Lambert and Johan Mjallby and others and had a significant amount of money to spend. Barnes didn’t spend that money wisely enough but his time at Celtic was book-ended by other Celtic managers winning the league. Wim Jansen stopped the ten and Martin O’Neill went onto turn Celtic into the dominant force in the game – a position that the club have only strengthened as the Rangers financial collapse killed the club and Charles Green had to start again in the bottom tier of the game.
So if the manager whose situation is probably the closest to the situation that Gerrard is inheriting this afternoon is not Souness or Barnes who is it?
Well, what about Liam Brady?
Brady was a cultured footballer who had excelled in England at Arsenal and in Italy at Juventus. He was an experienced internationalist for the Republic of Ireland and was regarded as one of the finest players of his generation.
That was enough for an increasingly desperate Celtic board who looked on as the Rangers steamroller meant that there was little to no chance of the old Celtic board being able to do anything about it.
At least they tried. In what was effectively their last throw of the dice they gave the job to a former world class player who was a complete novice in management and asked him to try to stop the juggernaut across the city.
They gathered together all the money they could, putting the club into serious debt and in peril, and hoped and prayed that he would get it right.
He bought players in for decent money but the Rangers chequebook was always there to outspend the rookie Celtic boss, who was increasingly feeling the intense pressure.
Brady’s final game as Celtic manager was on 6 October 1993 when Celtic lost 2-1 at St Johnstone. Awful does not describe how bad Celtic were that night.
Brady described Glasgow as an “intense and aggressive place – unless you are prepared for it, it can overwhelm you,” and looking back at his time at Celtic he admits he made mistakes.
“Yes I admit I made mistakes. I was new to football management and Celtic were one heck of a club to start off with. There were things that didn’t go right immediately and I made an error of judgement in the transfer market.
“I bought Tony Cascarino for £1.1 million and unfortunately, he couldn’t cope with the pressure that is always on Celtic players.”
Brady maintained that he was trying to play football the Celtic way, aiming to maintain the club’s tradition of performing with attacking flair.
“Yes, that was my ambition. The Celtic support deserved that sort of team, that is what I wanted to give them. I’ll never forget my first game in charge – we won 4-3 against Dundee United at Tannadice. Scorelines like that would have kept those wonderful fans happy, I’m sure.”
So what went wrong? Brady tried to explain.
“There were so many divisions at Parkhead and, of course, it was a well known fact that the old board didn’t have a lot of money to spend in the transfer market.
“There was friction around the place and that gets through to the players – of course it does. Anyone who says it doesn’t has got it wrong. You name me one club who has performed well out on the park when there has been trouble at boardroom level.
“It was all so frustrating. The Celtic fans were so unhappy and disillusioned with the old board that they refused to back the team. That affected us too. In my days, money was tight and I had to get it right with every player. There was no room for manoeuvre, no way of going out and buying another player if one purchase didn’t work out.
“Stuart Slater was like Cascarino. There can be no doubting his class, anyone at West Ham would tell you how good he was when he played at Upton Park. He was a born entertainer, a typical Celtic player, if you like. However, it just didn’t work for him on Glasgow.
“Once more the strain showed and he never displayed the talents we all knew he possessed and that was a pity. But Glasgow and playing for Celtic can do that to you.
“I’ve got to hold up my hands and say the pressure, without doubt, got to me too. Of course it did. You’ve got to ride the storm and, sadly, I couldn’t manage it. That was why I had to resign.
“I had to cope with Terry Cassidy during my time and that was not a very pleasant experience, I can assure you. The trouble with Cassidy was that he was not a football man and, as such, did not understand football people.
“We had some stand up rows, Cassidy and I. It did little for the morale of the place with things like that going on. I wanted to manage the team and do my level best to put out a team that deserved to wear the green and white hoops. Simple as that, but there was interference from every corner.
“When Cassidy eventually left, Celtic put in Michael Kelly to handle the club’s Press Relations department and things didn’t get any better. It all became a bit intense and it got to the stage that you had to continually look over your shoulder. So much for team harmony and pulling together! Yes it was quite an experience managing Celtic Football Club!”
And Brady reckoned that the luck of the Irish deserted him while managing Celtic.
“We didn’t get much luck when I was there. We seemed to keep tripping over when it came to important hurdles. We played three semi finals in my time and lost them all. I’m not going to start making excuses at this late stage, but a rub of the green would have helped us on all three occasions. We didn’t get it and the results – all 1-0 defeats – are now in the history books.
“I would dearly have loved to have given the Celtic fans a trophy in my time there. The reason I moved out was to give someone else a crack at providing the goods. When it got near the end for me it was a very, very difficult time. I was aware of what the Celtic fans wanted. I knew about their desires for the club because they matched my own. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
Brady had had enough after that dreadful night in Perth – two weeks earlier Celtic had lost to Rangers in one of those semi finals. As the team made its way back from Perth in the driving rain, Brady made up his mind to resign.
The old Celtic had thrown the dice for the last time and had lost. Luckily for us Fergus McCann was watching, was ready to act and planned to build a 60,000 stadium – probably the single most important factor as things turned out.
Dave King is at a similar stage at the moment with Celtic almost out of side – the gap is even bigger than the one the old Celtic board faced in the early 1990s.
Gerrard is his Liam Brady and when it fails the rangers fans better hope that there is a blue nosed Fergus McCann type out there watching and ready to act.
Or it could all go belly up. Again.