Dick Advocaat will come up against familiar opponents when he leads his FC Zenit St. Petersburg side out to face a Rangers FC outfit he still refers to as "my club".
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Dick Advocaat will come up against familiar opponents when he leads his FC Zenit St. Petersburg side out to contest the UEFA Cup final against a Rangers FC outfit he still refers to as "my club".
There is a famous moment in England from January 1999 when Ron Atkinson, the newly-installed Nottingham Forest FC manager, marked his first game by climbing into the wrong dug-out and sitting among startled Arsenal FC substitutes. It came to mind on Tuesday as Walter Smith, Steven Naismith and Allan McGregor filed into media tent for the Rangers FC press conference, with Advocaat bringing up the rear.
It was an unusual, unexpected sight, but after four successful years at Ibrox, the Dutchman holds the Scottish club dear to his heart. Friendships will be put aside at the City of Manchester Stadium, however. "Hopefully we will get a very good game with Zenit as winner," said the 60-year-old. "That's what I hope. I don't become emotional because I am playing against a team where I was manager for four years. I feel very positive because this is a football match: hopefully it will be a great match from both teams."
The Russian champions' progress to their first ever UEFA club competition final certainly intimates that it will be. Villarreal CF, Olympique de Marseille and Bayer 04 Leverkusen were all unable to stop the Zenit juggernaut, which sent minor shockwaves around Europe when they saw off FC Bayern München in the last four thanks to a 4-0 second-leg victory. Smith has certainly taken note, though Advocaat doubts it will alter Rangers' game plan, saying: "[Zenit] won't change our system because of this game. We like to play our own style, and that's probably what Rangers will do.
"We have to worry about Rangers as a team. We have to keep an eye on every one of their players because they are a real team," the veteran continued. "I know that if I was Rangers coach, I would be ready to play against a team who can play football really well and are well-organised." Stepping in Walter Smith's shoes is something that obviously comes easily for Advocaat, who claimed five trophies in his first two seasons at Ibrox after replacing Smith in 1998.
He went on to add another before leaving in 2002, but still follows their progress, and has been impressed with what he has seen of late. "With great respect, what Rangers have achieved in the last couple of years, when there was no money, that is a compliment to the staff and the directors," said the former Netherlands coach, though his primary focus is on the immediate future. "Both teams know each other quite well and I don't think there will be a big difference. The better team on the day will win." He just has to concentrate on finding the right dug-out.