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By Tom English

YOU don't have to be in Ally McCoist's company for very long to understand what his favourite word might be.

When he gets earnest, which is pretty much most of the time in these early and troubled days of his reign, he has a way of speaking, a McCoistian sincerity, that is hard to miss.


"To be honest with you..."


"To be perfectly honest..."


"I'm going to be honest here..."


"The honest truth is..."


Such a lot of honesty, so let's continue the theme. Rangers had every right to hope for the best in Malmo last Wednesday evening, but the sensible ones among their support, the ones, if you like, who knew their history, would have been totally prepared for the worst. In the analysis of their demise in Sweden there has been talk of McCoist's inexperience as a manager and, of course, the frenzied knee-jerk that paints the job as just being too big for him. There is a time to make that assessment but it sure as hell isn't after four games.


In any event, what happened to Rangers on Wednesday has been the kind of thing that has been happening for some years now. Even the old maestro, Walter Smith, suffered the same fate repeatedly in recent times. Before Sweden, Rangers had won just one of their previous 20 games in European competition. The last time they secured the kind of away result that would have been deemed good enough in Sweden - a victory - was over three years ago. To illustrate how long ago it was, Christian Dailly played in the match, a 2-0 victory at Sporting Lisbon. So did Carlos Cuellar. And Jean-Claude Darcheville.


There is a strange dynamic that takes hold in Scottish football sometimes. We decry the quality of the product here and bemoan the falling standards of the elite teams at the top. And yet a form of arrogance - in the media and among the support - takes hold at times when they enter Europe, an assumption that bad and all as the Scottish teams are, they're surely not that bad that they can't beat an "average lot" like Malmo, or "pub teams" like Kaunas and Artmedia Bratislava. McCoist wasn't the only one who fell at such hurdles. Far, far more experienced managers - Smith and Gordon Strachan - have been undone before him. Malmo was a missed opportunity, though. Rangers actually played reasonably well, better than they have done away from home in Europe for a little while. They lost because of indiscipline, not because they were outplayed or outclassed. They looked comfortable. There is a modicum of consolation in that for McCoist.


Something to hold on to as he watched the Champions League millions floating away on the breeze.


They were hampered, too, by a terrible false economy at work in the Rangers transfer strategy. Craig Whyte has money to spend, and he will spend it. Wesley Verhoek, the Den Haag winger, and Roland Juhasz , the Anderlecht defender, have been the subject of bids and may soon join Rangers. But Whyte should have had more players in the door by now, should have had more new talent in the starting line-up already. It's a failure of philosophy and this cringe-making 'low-bidding' process that they have been engaged in. Low-bidding has cost them dear.


"I wouldn't say deep frustration," said McCoist when asked about the transfer strategy. "The problem with transfers is that in an ideal world you go in and get the job done and get out and everybody's happy. In the current climate that's very seldom the case. What's been a little unfortunate for us is that every deal has been scrutinised to the maximum.


"I can understand totally the frustration and some of the criticism that's coming our way because players are not coming in as quickly as we all hope. You want to get the deal done and get out. It's the job of you guys (reporters] to find out (what's happening] and the next minute it's leaked and when it's leaked, prices go up, values go up, wages go up. I'm not complaining about it, but that's the way it is. If you're asking me if I'd rather go in, grab somebody, sit them down and say, 'Right let's do it right now, get the papers signed' then yeah, great."


So why doesn't he? Who's been talking to these players? Whyte? Ali Russell? Gordon Smith?


"I've been in constant dialogue with Kyle Bartley, for example," said McCoist. "Constant dialogue with Lee Wallace's agent. Maybe I need to use my phone more. Believe me if I get an opportunity to speak to any player I speak to them and that's the case."


Is there a coded message in there? McCoist is a deal-closer whereas some of the others at the club are not? On Verhoek and Juhasz he comes across as a man who is expecting them to walk through the door at any minute. "The bids went in on Wednesday. I just want them done. We are very, very hopeful."


If nothing else, the Malmo game offered up a test of McCoist's attitude when dealing with players who had clearly let him down. Namely, Steven Whittaker and Madjid Bougherra. The Algerian doesn't matter so much now that he has left the club, but Whittaker remains and he has had a rough week. Did McCoist give him a verbal blast or was his treatment more subtle? What exactly is the McCoist way of doing things in these situations?


"I'll be really honest with you, I haven't spoken to them. A couple of reasons and the most important reason is, well, they know. They know. I'd be really disappointed if Steven did that again.


Really disappointed, because he's an intelligent boy and looking at Steven at the end of the game I don't think I needed to say anything to him. Sometimes you judge a situation and the decision is made for you.


"You know, the indiscipline has definitely cost us but the indiscipline, dare I say it, was more stupidity than malicious. It doesn't help because we're out of the tournament, but sometimes you can forgive a little stupidity as long as you don't make the same mistake twice. Everybody makes a mistake but the crime is making the same mistake twice. Steven is the only one who can help himself. Effectively, there's nothing that anybody can say or do. I'm disappointed. I don't want to sound flippant here but I'm not overly worried."


Keeping your head when others are looking for it is a big part of managing the Old Firm. Keeping your head and freshening your team. He can do the first part. The second he would want to get on with pretty damn quickly.



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