ZENIT(H) FOR RANGERS MAN
Walter Smith, the most successful football manager in post-war Scottish football, has died after a short illness aged 73. Smith played over 150 matches for Dundee United between 1965 and 1980, before he became a team coach at the club under the great Jim McLean. At United, Smith was already developing his reputation as a hard-line disciplinarian when it came to team obedience, and once punched a player who tried to argue back, giving his boss ideas on how to deal with the BBC later. During the 1980s, he worked in the Scotland set up as manager of the under 18s side, and then as assistant to Alex Ferguson at the 1986 World Cup.
It was after this World Cup that he joined the club with which he was to become synonymous. Walter Smith became assistant manager at Rangers. He was seen as the power behind the throne as Rangers won trophy after trophy. In 1991, Graeme Souness left Rangers for a disastrous spell at Liverpool, and the Rangers board promoted Walter Smith to the managers job. In this position, Rangers were to eat up titles like they were at an all you can eat buffet. Smith led the team to nine league titles in a row, and they were on the verge of a European Cup final in 1993 only to be screwed over by Bernard Tapie’s bribing their opposition.
This may only improve your view of Bernard Tapie depending on your view of Glasgow Rangers, admittedly.
Rangers never repeated this European Cup run, and so Smith was shown the door when Celtic remembered how to win titles again. He spent four years at Everton, where little was achieved, which is the status quo for all who appear at Goodison Park. In 2004 he wound up Assistant Manager of Manchester United under his old friend Ferguson, and they won the FA Cup together.
In 2004, Walter Smith became manager of the Scottish national side. The team had struggled to put together a cohesive unit from the maverick but temperamental new generation and had been trounced 6-1 in the Euro 2004 playoffs by the Netherlands. Smith replaced future DDP pick Berti Vogts, and thanks to the press attacks on the team, confidence was at a low ebb. However, Smith picked up World Cup qualifying from the off, and Scotland went on a good run of form, until a home defeat by Belarus cost them a spot in the World Cup playoffs. Not to worry, Scotland started a godawful qualifying group for Euro 2008 alongside France, the Ukraine and World Champions Italy, and even beat France 1-0 on a good run for form, before Walter Smith left the job. Rangers had sacked the ineffectual Paul Le Guen, and sent an SOS to their legendary manager.
During his second term at Rangers, Walter Smith had a team which was considerably weaker than the one he had during the 90s. He still somehow took it to 3 league titles in a row. More impressively, he took Rangers to the 2008 UEFA Cup final, with impressive results over Werder Bremen, Fiorentina and a sensational win in Portugal at the home of Sporting Lisbon. They lost the final 2-0 against Zenit and the actions of some Rangers fans in Manchester in the aftermath took the gloss off what had been a remarkable achievement.
Showing what appeared to be expert timing known to only a few, Walter Smith retired from Rangers a year before their meltdown. He was briefly in talks to return to the Scotland job three years ago, but his health was not up to it. Despite trouncing Tommy Burns Celtic side during the 1990s, the two men became firm friends, with Burns working as Smith’s assistant during his years in charge of Scotland, and Walter Smith acting as one of Burns pallbearers when the Scotland legend died of cancer in 2008. It was this genuine friendship crossing the Old Firm divide which seemed to sum up Walter Smith, a man whom even his football enemies considered one of the nicest possible people in the game.
He was a unique pick for William Hague’s Special Friend.
24 February 1948 – 26 October 2021