12 January 2007
WALTER: WRONG WRONG WRONG.
WALTER SMITH has tarnished his image by walking out on the SFA to take over as Rangers manager for the second time in his career.
It is not easy to criticise a friend, and Walter won't be happy with me, but I will never be accused of hypocrisy by sitting on the fence or trying to defend the indefensible.
Everyone knows my stance on contracts and I don't like players or managers breaking agreements they have previously been happy to sign.
Call me old-fashioned, but as someone who honoured every contract he signed I truly believe they cannot be ripped up or ignored when it suits one party or the other.
I've given Kevin Thomson and Scott Brown stick this season for the stance they have taken in their bid to renegotiate their deals at Easter Road.
No one is forced to sign a contract and once pen is put to paper there is a moral obligation to start and finish work on the dates specified within the agreement.
If it's good for the goose it's good for the gander and that applies as much to Walter as it does anyone in football, including the Hibs pair.
Walter is, far and away, the best man for the rebuilding job at Ibrox as he takes over at a club that has never been in a worse state. Even Rangers fans who phoned the Record Hotline last week to criticise me for giving my honest assessment of their team might agree with me on that.
Nevertheless, it was wrong for Walter to leave the Scotland job when he still had 18 months of his contract to run.
Then, having decided to quit, it was also 100 per cent wrong of him to begin work at Rangers before a compensation package had even been hammered out with the SFA.
The whole thing has left a sour taste - from negotiations over pay-offs to phone calls made to Kenny McDowall beforeWalter had even been confirmed in the job. It is a ridiculous and ludicrous state of affairs.Walter has tarnished his image, in part to save Rangers owner Sir David Murray a couple of hundred grand in compensation as he continues to haggle with the SFA.
In the grand scheme, what the hell is £100,000, £200,000 or so to Murray? He is used to getting what he wants but Rangers pay millions for players and Walter is worth at least that to the club, so the club owner should have put his hand in his pocket and paid up.
Unusually, perhaps, my sympathies lie with the SFA, although that doesn't mean to say chief executive David Taylor and his office bearers should escape without their role in all this being examined.
I told them last year to get Walter fixed up on an extended deal but, instead, they pussy-footed about and allowed this situation to develop.
Walter should have been sat down after the France game because if there were any doubts within the SFA about his ability to do the job - and there shouldn't have been - they were dispelled by our 1-0 win at Hampden.
Even if Scotland do not qualify for Euro 2008 - and that remains a big doubt - Walter would still have been the best man to lead us into the World Cup qualifiers and an extension until 2010 should have been tabled and short, sharp negotiations concluded.
Now we're back to square one and although they won't thank me at Dundee United for mentioning his name, and I'mscared to bring it up, I reckon Craig Levein fits the bill as his successor, while Gary McAllister is also a decent shout. Walter says whoever takes over the job does so in a better position than when he arrived but that is utter rubbish.
There was no better time to take over Scotland than in the immediate aftermath of the Berti Vogts shambles because the only way was up for the national team.
I also wonder if Walter is jumping ship at just the right time because, in my opinion, Scotland are as high up the FIFA rankings at the moment as we're likely to be for some time.
Walter is a shrewd man and I honestly believe he understood he would never be in a stronger position as national boss than he is at present, when everything is at its rosiest.We beat France but we've still got to play them in Paris and there is also a double header against the world champions to anticipate in Italy and Glasgow, so who knows how the national team would have been viewed in a few months?
I don't think there was any chance of Walter losing his job when his contract expired next summer anyway but he is right to suggest a lack of appreciation of his efforts with the national squad as negotiations had not been seriously discussed before Rangers came calling.
Now he has gone back to his former club in a situation that parallels his position with Scotland when he succeeded Vogts as he is inheriting another mess at mistake, it would have been more difficult for Walter to return when memories of regular trophy successes were still fresh in the mind for fans, for example in the immediate aftermath of Dick Advocat's departure.
Walter certainly took over a better and stronger group of players when he replaced Graeme Souness during his first spell in charge in 1991 but, like Scotland, he is taking over at the best time possible as there is only one way Rangers can go and that's back up.
I've no doubt Walter will achieve more success at the club he led to nine in a row but, even for Rangers fans, it doesn't make the manner of his return acceptable.
It's vital in football that good examples are set and I'm in no doubt Rangers got the right man for the position they needed filled. In saying that, I'm also in no doubt Walter was wrong to accept the job in the manner he did and that his reputation has suffered as a result.