Graham Ruthven speaks to Gordon Smith as the Scottish club plan to bring in a director of football
Barely a season passes in Scottish football passes without Rangers enduring some sort of existential crisis.
If there isn’t concern about the financial condition of the club, there is at least strife over the results and performances on the field. The current crisis, which has engulfed Ibrox since the surprise exit of Mark Warburton, relates to the latter.
Languishing in third place, 30 points short of rivals Celtic in the Scottish Premiership table, Rangers’ return to the top flight hasn’t been as triumphant as it had been hoped. Warburton, a man who was said to wear a "magic hat" by Rangers fans just last season, left Ibrox as a man wearing a dunce’s cap.
Warburton’s exit was messy and is still to be straightened out through the LMA, but Rangers are already moving on. The search for a new manager has started, with Alex McLeish and Derek McInnes two of the names linked with the vacant post, but much more significantly Rangers will also appoint a director of football. And if there’s club in world football that could use a director of football, it’s them.
Former Rangers Director of Football Gordon Smith arrives at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow. Picture by Danny Lawson PA Archive/PA Images
As a job title, it is something still grossly misunderstood in the Scottish game, often disparaged as little more than a continental complication that should be resisted at all costs. Football there is stuck in a rut of its own unwillingness to change, with the push-back over the hiring of directors of football the embodiment of this. There is an intellectual struggle for the sport in Scotland.
Detractors claim it compromises the authority of the manager, fragmenting the time-honoured infrastructure of a football club. In reality, a director of football is there to “co-ordinate all the different departments within the organisation of a club,” as Gordon Smith puts it to me. He was Rangers’ last director of football, leaving the club five years ago, not soon after they entered administration. Not since Smith left have the Ibrox club employed someone in such a role again. The need for another figure of Smith’s type is obvious, though.
“I don't think there’s any question that Rangers could use a director of football,” he says. “I think it’s something that’s required right across football, certainly at the higher level when there’s so much going on at the bigger clubs. It’s about taking distractions away. That’s why I think a director of football is required at Rangers.”
The appointment of a director of football at Rangers will be much more significant than the appointment they make to replace Warburton as manager. For too long there has been a lack of strategy at Ibrox, manifesting itself in a dismal few years at the club. Of course, last season saw Rangers lift silverware again, also making the Scottish Cup final for the first time in seven years, but such success was merely a front. Deeper issues were bubbling underneath, coming to the surface once the competition was strong enough to expose them.
Brentford’s Robert Rowan, Southampton chief Ross Wilson and soon to be former head of recruitment at Spurs Paul Mitchell are all on Rangers’ radar, with Wilson reported to be the club’s number one target. Whoever gets the job, there’s a lot of work to be done. From revamping the club’s youth academy, to restoring the scouting network, to implementing a transfer strategy, Rangers will offer a blank canvas. That is both the most daunting and most exciting aspect of the post.
Smith is quick to underline just how much will be asked of the successful candidate.
“Some people are saying they have done good scouting jobs at previous clubs, but being director of football is more than that,” he says. “When I went into the job I had played at the highest level in four countries, I’d been an agent, I’d been a coach, and I’d been a chief executive at the SFA, so I was very experienced and I had loads of contacts.
“Whoever you’re interviewing, they need to have a number of different qualities so that they can fulfil this role.” At Rangers, club that requires so much fixed, so much reversed, they will need more of those qualities than most.