Smith was Ferguson's assistant at Scotland for the Mexico '86 World Cup finals
By Andy Campbell
Tuesday evening's meeting with Manchester United represents both a reunion and a challenge for Rangers manager Walter Smith.
Smith will go head-to-head with his long-time friend and former colleague, Sir Alex Ferguson, as he tries to get the Ibrox side's Champions League Group C campaign off to a positive start.
But, as well as trying to get one over on the club where he had a spell as assistant manager in 2004, Smith will be all too aware that this season is his last chance to make an impact in Europe's premier competition.
Almost exactly 25 years ago, Scotland manager Jock Stein died suddenly on the night that his team clinched a play-off spot for the following summer's World Cup.
Ferguson stepped up from his backroom staff duties to lead the national side through the 2-1 aggregate play-off victory over Australia.
And Smith, who had been coaching Scotland's Under-21 side, was appointed Ferguson's assistant for the finals in Mexico.
This being Smith's last season in football management, he will have one last crack at the Champions League - although Sir Alex said this week that his rival was too young to retire
Together, the pair oversaw an ultimately unsuccessful showing as the Scots finished bottom of a group that included eventual finalists West Germany.
But what was to follow for both men would define their respective careers.
Smith left his job at Dundee United to become Graeme Souness's assistant at Rangers ahead of the 1986/87 season and, by the November of 1986, Ferguson had ended a highly successful spell at Aberdeen by replacing the sacked Ron Atkinson at Manchester United.
While Smith and Souness enjoyed instant success at Ibrox - a league and league cup double in their first season - Ferguson endured a fruitless opening spell at United, having to wait until 1990 for his first trophy.
Towards the end of his fourth season at Ibrox, Smith was promoted to the top job at Rangers after Souness left and 1991 also proved to be something of a landmark year for Ferguson with the capture of his first European trophy at United, the European Cup-winners' Cup.
Throughout the 1990s, both men enjoyed championship success on opposite sides of the border.
But, while Ferguson's United gradually worked their way towards Champions League success, Smith found it difficult to match his domestic success in European competition.
And it was early exits from both the Champions League and Uefa Cup that contributed to Smith's decision to leave Rangers at the end of season 1997/98.
Ferguson's United continued to go from strength to strength, winning the Champions League in 1999 and adding further league championships at the beginning of the new decade.
During this period, Smith was taking his first and, to date, only sojourn into English club management at Everton.
And, for the first time, the two old friends were going head-to-head with each other on a regular basis.
Smith's Everton only once prevented Ferguson's United recording a victory, a 1-1 draw in August 1999.
After being sacked from Goodison towards the end of season 2001/02, Smith spent two years out of football but was given a route back in March 2004 when Ferguson invited him to assist him at United.
The pair enjoyed League Cup success before Smith made way at the end of the season, as had been planned.
But Smith was soon back in the dugout after Scotland sent out an SOS in the aftermath of Berti Vogts' ill-fated reign.
Back working for the Scottish Football Association, Smith rejuvenated the national team, making them hard to beat first and foremost and capable of notable wins over Norway, Bulgaria and France.
Smith is in his final season, but Alex Ferguson says he's too young to retire
However, such results only served to make Smith the obvious candidate to replace Paul Le Guen at Ibrox after the Frenchman's problematic Rangers reign came to an abrupt end in January 2007.
Sixteen months after returning to his boyhood heroes, Smith led his team out for a Uefa Cup final appearance at the ground of United's rivals, Manchester City, but Zenit St Petersburg denied Rangers European glory.
Though championship success followed in 2009 and 2010, Europe has proved fruitless for Smith's Rangers since their appearance at Eastlands, with a damaging qualifying defeat to Kaunas two years ago and only two points in last season's Champions League.
And, this being Smith's last season in football management, he will have one last crack at the Champions League - although Sir Alex said this week that his rival was too young to retire.
Smith was keen not to look beyond his side's visit to New Douglas Park when asked last week about the impending trip to Manchester.
"I'll probably speak to Sir Alex," he admitted. "But we've both got tough away games this weekend, so we'll let those games be over before we start to think about the Champions League."
Ironically, it was the man who took over from Smith at Goodison, Davie Moyes, who showed Smith how to frustrate United, his fellow Scot's Everton side scoring in the dying seconds through former Rangers midfielder Mikel Arteta to secure a dramatic 3-3 draw.
Smith will be hoping that it proves to be some kind of good omen ahead of Rangers' attempt to upset the odds in the Red Devils' Old Trafford fortress.
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