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McLeish enjoying European test

Published: Wednesday 22 October 2003, 18.00CET speaks to Rangers FC manager Alex McLeish about life in the UEFA Champions League.
Published: Wednesday 22 October 2003, 18.00CET

McLeish enjoying European test speaks to Rangers FC manager Alex McLeish about life in the UEFA Champions League.
By Simon Hart

After leading Rangers FC to a domestic treble in his first full season as manager, Alex McLeish has overseen an impressive start to their UEFA Champions League campaign, comprising a victory over VfB Stuttgart and draw at Panathinaikos FC. caught up with the former Scotland defender ahead of Wednesday's meeting with Manchester United FC and his long-time mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson. How differently do you have to approach matches in the Champions League? Are the demands much tougher?

Alex McLeish: During a game, if the opposition manager changes something it's certainly a test of how quickly you can react to things they've done to upset you - that is something I will have to learn quickly. And in terms of preparation, you can leave no stone unturned. Have you been encouraged by the start you have made?

McLeish: If you'd said to me you will have four points from the first two games I would have bitten your hand off. But I think back to Athens where we played very well but lost a late goal - it can be so unforgiving, you think things are going nicely and then all of a sudden you're back down to earth. Although Celtic FC are your great rivals, did their success in Europe last season give you some encouragement?

McLeish: It did actually, although our fans would say we don't want them to do well. They made it difficult for me and my players as they set a yardstick for us. Celtic were the flag bearers for Scottish football - we have to do similarly, to justify the investment that has been made in this club down the years. We haven't done ourselves justice in Europe in recent years. You lost players like Barry Ferguson and Neil McCann in the summer. Were you worried how this would affect the side this season?

McLeish: That was always a worry. At Rangers you're expected to hit the ground running and the players who have come in have done that quite well. We've had injuries to key players - Craig Moore, Ronald de Boer and young Stevie Thompson - so the new players have been put right into the team and some have settled more quickly than others. They are possibly inexperienced as a team in the Champions League but many of them have played there before with other clubs. You have yet to include a single Scottish player in your starting lineup in Europe. How does it affect your role, dealing with so many imports?

McLeish: With so many different nationalities, you have to try and almost be a psychologist - it's the opposite of how it was in the old days. When Alex Ferguson was my manager, you had to play well or you'd know your place was under threat. Now there is a lot of patting on the back and cuddling. Speaking of Alex Ferguson, has he been a big influence on your coaching career?

McLeish: Of course. I worked with him so long [at Aberdeen FC] and we have got a good relationship. I'd be a mug not to take advice from him - although not so much advice as information, to glean the experience he has and take something from that and make sure I don't make mistakes when it comes to the crunch. But you have to learn the hard way at times Finally, what would you say are your strengths as a manager?

McLeish: I think it is important to communicate with players. At the end of the day they are human beings. In the old days the manager was probably aloof from the players but now it's a little bit different. Even if players are not playing for the team they appreciate being told 'you're very much part of this'. Of course, you won't have it 100 per cent - there are always one or two players with grievances with you.

Last updated: 22/10/03 21.10CET

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