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As a boy, Steven Naismith's collection of Rangers FC shirts included one with the name of Ally McCoist, the club's record goalscorer, on the back. Today Naismith still has McCoist, now Rangers' assistant manager, on his back – albeit this time regaling him with tales of the past.
McCoist and fellow coach Ian Durrant were part of the team that manager Walter Smith, in his first spell at Rangers, led on a memorable unbeaten run in the 1992/93 UEFA Champions League. They finished just a point short of eventual winners Olympique de Marseille in a group stage that led directly to the final.
If a "wee bit young" to recall that campaign – Naismith was six at the time – the 24-year-old attacker has certainly heard about it since. "You hear it all between Durrant, McCoist and the gaffer. They've got some good stories and it's great to hear, it just gives you that hunger to go on and emulate some of the things they've done."
With Naismith having replicated McCoist's journey from Rangers fan to player, it might be asking a bit too much for him to match his hero's 355 goals – "it's more inspiration than trying to catch him because he's a long way away" – yet he has contributed his share this season, his eight strikes including the UEFA Champions League winner against Bursapor in September.
That success followed an opening Group C draw at Manchester United FC as Rangers made an impressive start, improving considerably on their efforts in 2009/10 when they collected only two points. Though the subsequent double-header with Valencia CF brought just one point – leaving them third – Naismith retains the belief they can progress as they prepare to welcome leaders United to Ibrox on Wednesday.
"Last season we got a harsh lesson," said the Scottish international, who has operated in a wide position in Rangers' preferred European formation of 4-5-1. "That's pushed us on and this is probably going to be the toughest game of the group, but we believe. We've come up against Valencia and Manchester United at Old Trafford so we believe we can get a result."
Naismith's talk of belief has substance according to McCoist, who points to their home displays in Group C. "When they get out on the park, you see that they believe they can win games. The Champions League is, like Sir Alex Ferguson has said, the best stage on the planet and they want to play there. Last season we were disappointing at Ibrox and this season we've had great performances against the Turkish champions Bursaspor and also against Valencia [a 1-1 draw], when I thought we were really unlucky not to win."
McCoist even sees similarities between this Rangers side and his own vintage. "Everybody speaks about that team we had in 92/93 as having a great will and a great desire – I think we went on a 44-game unbeaten run which was phenomenal – but I think there are a lot of similarities. The side we have now is full of characters and players who obviously don't want to get beaten, take it badly when they are beaten, and it's a good thing to have. I just hope the squad we've got just now can be as successful."
As for former Kilmarnock FC forward Naismith, McCoist is delighted by the way he has returned from a cruciate ligament injury in 2008. "He's playing as well as we've ever hoped," said McCoist, who knows exactly what it means for Rangers fans to see one of their own shining. "If you see one of your own coming up, a young Scottish lad who supports Rangers, it's great and an added bonus for the supporters."
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