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Europhile Smith back where he belongs

Rangers FC manager Walter Smith has come tantalisingly close to success in UEFA competition a few times and though he has yet to win any European silverware he tells uefa.com it is the place to be.

Rangers coach Walter Smith
Rangers coach Walter Smith ©Getty Images

Perhaps it is only fervent followers of Scottish football and Walter Smith's nearest and dearest who are au fait with exactly how deeply his love affair with European football actually runs.

European success
At Dundee United FC he was assistant coach to Jim McLean when their side reached the doorstep of the European Champion Clubs' Cup final 25 years ago. Leading 2-0 from the semi-final first leg, United lost to AS Roma in the Stadio Olimpico. The United which Smith helped McLean craft into one of the outstanding European sides of the 1980s also reached the 1987 UEFA Cup Final which they lost to IFK Göteborg.

Frustration
Perhaps his greatest frustration stems from the first edition of the UEFA Champions League when Rangers FC, this time with Smith in sole control, narrowly missed out on a place in the final. Rangers finished just a point behind eventual champions Olympique de Marseille in the group stage with the section winners advancing to the showpiece against AC Milan. This year Rangers have slightly different aspirations but nonetheless their Europhile manager wants his team to catch the eye and net some points.

Better placed

It was the approach he took the last time Rangers were in the UEFA Champions League two years ago, winning 3-0 at Olympique Lyonnais en route to UEFA Cup qualification. They went on to reach the final before falling to FC Zenit St. Petersburg in Manchester. "I've loved the European involvement, good or bad," Smith told uefa.com. "Right now I would hope we are slightly better placed to do well than we were a couple of years ago.

Improved attack
"Then we were a team which had just been assembled and there were quite a number of players to integrate. We were a little surprised we got seven points in the Champions League group. We qualified for the UEFA Cup and round by round we were improving. What brought us a lot of success was defending very well and breaking from that platform. I hope we still have that solid base but with a couple of players we've added perhaps we have more attacking quality."

Stuttgart win
Defeats by VfB Stuttgart, FC Barcelona and in the home match against Lyon pushed Rangers out of the UEFA Champions League, but already Smith has a point from the Matchday 1 visit to Stuttgart and with Sevilla FC next up in Group G at Ibrox a great night is in prospect. Two of Smith's friends joined Los Rojiblancos at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán in the 1980s – coach Jock Wallace and winger Ted McMinn – but his romantic view of the Sevilla visit stretches to a deeper appreciation of Spanish football.

Spanish ties
"It's not only the supporters eagerly anticipating this match, I'm looking forward to it too," said Smith. "Scottish fans have an affinity with Spanish sides. Sevilla won the UEFA Cup in Scotland, at Hampden Park, and deservedly. Real Madrid have come to Hampden Park on a couple of occasions and won the European Cup final so Scots do like the manner in which Spanish teams play. It's a competitive group we are in and I think everyone is probably looking at Sevilla as favourites, but I hope we can have another good run in Europe this season."

Walter Smith spoke with uefa.com at the recent UEFA Elite Coaches Forum in Nyon.