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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Rangers at the ready?

By Julian Taylor

Walter Smith (right) and Ally McCoist
Smith (right) and Ally McCoist answered Rangers call in January
For Rangers followers, the forthcoming season promises to be an intriguing one as manager Walter Smith looks to build on a promising start to his second spell at the helm.

Pressure always goes with the territory at both halves of the Old Firm, but the Ibrox club have gone two seasons without a trophy and must provide a challenge in the title race, with Celtic strolling to successive championships.

Smith has been busy in the transfer market in order to raise the hopes of a support accustomed to dining out on domestic success.

However, the golden era of Rangers in the nineties under Smith is long gone, along with the free-spending of chairman Sir David Murray, who helped bankroll the nine-in-a-row championships.


So far, Rangers have declared their intent, in quantitative terms at least, with the signatures of goalkeepers Roy Carroll and Graeme Smith, defenders Carlos Cuellar and Kirk Broadfoot, winger DaMarcus Beasley and forwards Lee McCulloch, Jean-Claude Darcheville and Alan Gow.

In such cash-strapped times, none of the new recruits are box-office, a trend that fans have been getting used to since the financial downsizing began in earnest during Alex McLeish's reign.

Sir David Murray
Sir David Murray has slashed Rangers' transfer budget

But will Smith's new-look side be good enough to challenge Celtic and make an impact on Europe, particularly the Champions League?

At first glance, it looks questionable, and perhaps the summer's most significant transfer was Celtic's 4.4m swoop for Hibernian's Scott Brown, usurping Rangers in the process.

With Celtic having banked over 10m from last season's Champions League campaign, Rangers' rivals enjoy the edge in current bargaining power.

Yet, there is no guarantee that high-spending equals success as Smith found to his cost when he embarked on a lavish spree exactly ten years ago.

Ibrox became a 'Little Italy' in the summer of 1997/98 as Rangers edged towards touching distance of ten titles in a row.

Lorenzo Amoruso, Sergio Porrini and Marco Negri all checked in.

A fledgling Rino Gattuso arrived to learn his trade in Glasgow too, but an ageing squad lost out to Celtic and the dream evaporated.

Despite a total expenditure in the region of 15m, Rangers went without a trophy, and Smith departed, making way for Dick Advocaat.

Jean-Claude Darcheville
Can Rangers rely on Jean-Claude 'The Rocket' Darcheville?

Since Smith returned in January he has boxed clever, stabilising the team and recording two victories over Celtic.

However, operating on much smaller resources than a decade ago will count for little among frustrated fans if results are not forthcoming.

This time, Smith is aiming to build a largely Scottish-based squad with a sprinkling of continental flavour, and his most successful season, 1992/93, possessed a tartan heart with an enviable esprit de corps.

And his assistant Ally McCoist is ideally placed to engineer a similar togetherness among the likes of Alan Hutton, Steven Smith, Charlie Adam, Kevin Thomson, Chris Burke and Kris Boyd.

Barry Ferguson apart, he has inherited few talismanic figures - there is no one of the stature of Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne, Stefan Klos, Ronald de Boer or Dado Prso to work with next term.

In a matter of months Smith has done exceptionally well to organise a squad low on confidence, and gradually release some of the remnants of predecessor Paul Le Guen's time, such as Lionel Letizi, Karl Svensson and Jeremy Clement.

Thomas Buffel
Belgian international Thomas Buffel has been an enigmatic figure

Also, assuming Boyd continues with his scoring form, will Smith persevere, for instance, with Filip Sebo?

Will Belgian international playmaker Thomas Buffel realise his potential, having performed well in Holland with Feyenoord?

Rangers need to chart a course to the financial promised land of the Champions League group stages.

Undoubtedly, it would be discomforting for Ibrox legend Smith to listen to the first rumblings of criticism if Celtic begin to set the pace.

And a winter of discontent would be an unpalatable prospect for the Rangers support.

Beasley's high hopes for Rangers
14 Jul 07 |  Rangers
Carroll signs one year Gers deal
07 Jul 07 |  Rangers
Rangers seal McCulloch transfer
11 Jul 07 |  Rangers
Webster extends Ibrox loan deal
29 Jun 07 |  Rangers
Rangers sign striker Darcheville
09 May 07 |  Rangers
Rangers sign Buddies' Broadfoot
06 Mar 07 |  St Mirren
Rangers seal Gow summer transfer
01 Feb 07 |  Falkirk


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