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Firm friends become city rivals

Published: Friday 19 August 2005, 11.15CET
Former Aberdeen FC team-mates Alex McLeish and Gordon Strachan will be in opposite dugouts for the first Old Firm game of the Scottish season on Saturday.
by Alex O'Henley
from Glasgow features

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Published: Friday 19 August 2005, 11.15CET

Firm friends become city rivals

Former Aberdeen FC team-mates Alex McLeish and Gordon Strachan will be in opposite dugouts for the first Old Firm game of the Scottish season on Saturday.
Scottish champions Rangers FC face Celtic FC in the first Old Firm derby of the season at Ibrox on Saturday, a game which sees close friends and former Aberdeen FC team-mates Alex McLeish and Gordon Strachan reunited in opposite dugouts.

First time
"An Old Firm game was one of the experiences I missed out on as a player, but being involved as a manager is the next best thing," said new Celtic boss Strachan. "It's not easy having your friend as [an opposing] manager and I'm sure it will be very strange for everybody."

No personalities
However, McLeish is determined not to get caught up in a sideshow with Strachan. "I won't be getting involved in all that stuff," vowed the man who has been in charge of Rangers for nearly four years. "It's about Celtic and Rangers and what the two sets of players do on the pitch."

Hearts top
Unusually for an Old Firm fixture, Rangers and Celtic go into the 277th Glasgow derby with neither side leading the Premier League, thanks to a resurgent Heart of Midlothian FC who have made a 100 per cent start to the campaign. Hearts also claimed this distinction back in November 1997.

Defensive frailties
If early-season form is anything to go by, Saturday's match should be a high-scoring affair, an assessment that is based on defensive frailties rather than the attacking prowess of either team. New signings José Pierre-Fanfan, Julien Rodriguez and Ian Murray are still settling in at Ibrox, while McLeish must also do without the influential Fernando Ricksen who was red-carded in last weekend's 3-2 defeat at Aberdeen FC.

Buffel doubt
Midfielder Thomas Buffel is a serious doubt having pulled out of Belgium's midweek friendly against Greece with a thigh injury and the manager had to wait until Friday morning for Marvin Andrews's return from FIFA World Cup duty with Trinidad and Tobago.

Special atmosphere
"I'm sure the new guys will find a difference in this to any matches they have played before," McLeish added. "Dado [Pršo] will have told the French lads what it's all about and the Scottish lads will have kept Ian Murray up to speed."

Celtic woes
Across the city, Strachan has even greater problems to contend with. The Parkhead club are still coming to terms with the trauma of their early exit from the UEFA Champions League at the hands of Slovakian side FC Artmedia Bratislava, while the uncertainty over the future of Dianbobo Balde threatens to undermine Strachan's plans to restructure a defence that has conceded ten goals in five competitive games.

Misfiring striker
Japanese playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura may have added flair and creativity to the midfield but another of Strachan's summer recruits, Polish striker Maciej Zurawski, has yet to find the net prompting speculation that homegrown talents such as Craig Beattie or Shaun Maloney will line up alongside John Hartson in attack. "We are fortunate to have Beattie and Maloney who have done really well when they have come on and time will tell when they can get a regular situation," Strachan said. "The way they are playing, that might happen reasonably soon."

Important impetus
Both managers claim their friendship will endure the pressures associated with being in charge of the Old Firm, but victory for either on Saturday would see Strachan or McLeish striding into the rest of the season with renewed confidence.

Last updated: 19/08/05 19.08CET

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