Mark Hateley praises Ally McCoist's handling of Rangers
Rangers legend Mark Hateley has praised manager Ally McCoist for his "tremendous" leadership during the most difficult spell in the club's history – but warned fans the Ibrox giants still face a long, difficult path back to the top of Scottish football.
Hateley played alongside record goalscorer McCoist during a trophy-laden run in the 1990s, winning five Scottish Premier League titles on the trot during his first spell at Ibrox – including a famous treble in 1992-93 – before returning to help the club seal the historic nine-in-a-row in 1999.
The duo formed a renowned partnership on the field as the Gers dominated Scottish football and they still remain close friends two decades on from a time many fans look back on with fond memories.
Despite clinching back-to-back league titles since Rangers were liquidated and demoted to Scotland's fourth tier – with their route to the Scottish Championship being crowned with an unbeaten League One campaign – McCoist has come under criticism from some quarters this season, particularly for the club's failure win a cup to add to the trophy cabinet.
Just six days after the disappointing 1-0 defeat to Raith in the Scottish Challenge Cup final in April, Rangers went down 3-1 at Ibrox to Premier League side Dundee United in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup. This led to McCoist having to defend his position, but Hateley insists the Scot has done remarkably in the face of constant pressure and uncertainty.
"I think Alistair has done a tremendous job," began Hateley (pictured).
"Managers are judged on points and where you finish in the league and Alistair has done everything he's needed to do. He won the league last year, he won the league this year – convincingly, with over 100 points and 100 goals – and that's how managers are judged.
"However, he's under pressure to win a cup next season. Rangers have historically been known to win everything and that's what we're guilty of, the good times in the 90s.
"We won doubles, trebles, the nine-in-a-row and did so with a real flare. But we're at the different end of the spectrum now. You can talk about (Brian) Laudrup, (Paul) Gascoigne, (Ian) Durrant and (Jorg) Albertz, but the current level is not at that height. That's just the way we are, we're a team that's in transition."
Hateley, who scored 88 times in his 169 appearances for the Gers, believes a host of obstacles will have to be negotiated to make a return to the Premier League a reality, and to challenge old rivals Celtic once again further down the line.
He said: "It'll be a big difference in the Championship. Hearts have come down from the top flight and they've got a good young side who have been ruthlessly blooded. They'll be battle hardened and ready for the challenge.
"They'll be looking to go straight back up and you could have Hibernian in there as well (if they lose their play-off). These are massive challenges that lie ahead next year and I think it'll be tough.
"It'll be a while before we can battle with Celtic for the title again," said Hateley. "It's going to take a huge investment. Look at the team we had before we went into liquidation – (Steven) Naismith, (Nikica) Jelavic, Steven Davis. We had great players like these and trying to put them back into the Rangers team now would cost what, £20m? £25m? And that team couldn't win the league. You want to challenge so given investment and acute acquisitions, we're going in the right direction."
The former England international was keen to address one of his career highlights, scoring against Pat Jennings at Windsor Park in 1986 to lead his country to a 1-0 World Cup qualifying win en route to the Mexico finals.
He recalled: "It was a long punt that came off John Barnes. I took it onto my weaker right foot, took one touch and hit it. It went to Pat Jennings' right, and he has hands the size of dustbin lids so I couldn't believe it went in!
"Scoring against a keeper like Pat Jennings with my right foot ... it doesn't get any better than that."
Mark Hateley spoke during a guest appearance at the Rangers Megastore in Belfast