The last time Rangers were in a European final, David Healy was in Manchester watching his boyhood team and future club lose to Zenit Saint Petersburg.
Fourteen years on, with the Ibrox club back in a glamorous continental decider, the Linfield manager will view tonight’s encounter versus Eintracht Frankfurt at home in Northern Ireland hoping and believing there will be a different outcome.
Northern Ireland’s record goalscorer says the German side cannot be underestimated but he fancies Rangers in this evening’s Seville showdown, which will determine this season’s Europa League winners.
Healy suggests a key reason for his faith is that in the competition already Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men have defeated Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, who are superior to Frankfurt if the Bundesliga table is anything to go by.
“So far Rangers have beaten two better German teams than what they are facing in the final. They won those ties with strong performances and they will need the same again in Seville,” said Healy, fresh from winning a fifth league title in six years, taking Linfield to a world-record 56 championships, one better than Blues brothers Rangers.
“It will be tough and you can’t underestimate Frankfurt, who have beaten West Ham and Barcelona to reach the final, but considering the performances this Rangers team have put in against two German sides earlier in the competition, that should give the dressing room, the manager and the supporters a huge belief that they can go and win. I feel Rangers can do it.”
Pinpointing influential figures for the Glasgow giants, Healy declares that Allan McGregor and John Lundstram will be important and says that while his former Northern Ireland team-mate Steven Davis may not be starting, he could have a vital role to play.
“Watching Davo in recent games since he returned to in and around the team after injury he has been top class and typical of how he manages games and how he plays the game. He shows great composure,” said Healy, who claimed a Scottish Premiership alongside Davis during his 18-month spell at Ibrox that ended a decade ago.
“When he came on in the Scottish Cup semi-final win over Celtic, he showed that class and experience.
“Depending on how the final is going, the manager will look at Davo and think he would be a great option to come on and keep the ball if Rangers are winning or to create and make things happen if they are losing. Steven is still as good as anyone at doing that.
“Allan McGregor is another with great experience which is always important in big games and the form player is John Lundstram, who has been brilliant recently.
“It looks now that Rangers have adapted a formation which suits the way he plays. He has had huge plaudits and rightly so over the last few months.
“Then you have the boys with that bit of quality at the top end of the pitch to get them out when they are under pressure like Ryan Kent, Joe Aribo and Scott Wright and Fashion Sakala if they play — boys with a bit of pace.
“It is important for the forward players to get Rangers high up the pitch to take pressure off the back four and goalkeeper because that will come.”
Rangers supporters, many from Northern Ireland, have travelled in massive numbers to Spain.
On the fan factor, Healy said: “Frankfurt have a big following but I believe there will be more Rangers supporters in Seville.
“When you see British teams like Manchester United, Liverpool, Celtic and Rangers in European finals they always seem to have that extra bit of know-how in getting tickets to get the bigger slice of the crowd.
“Rangers fans will make a lot of noise which should help the team.”
Reflecting on the 2008 Uefa Cup decider when Walter Smith’s side lost 2-0 to an Andrey Arshavin-inspired Zenit side, Healy said: “I was playing for Fulham at the time, living in London. I got the train up to Manchester.
“Davo was on loan at Rangers from Fulham and got me tickets for the final.
“Going up in the morning from London I thought I would get the earliest train thinking it would be quiet and that I would keep my head down.
“When I got on the train there were thousands of Rangers fans trying to get on as well and I ended up being on the train with a load of London-based Rangers supporters.
“I met my dad and some of his friends and a few other mates and went to the Fan Zone in Manchester. Zenit were managed by Dick Advocaat and had Andrey Arshavin.
“They were exceptional and there was a sense as the match wore on that they were going to win.
“I wouldn’t say the final got to Rangers, it was just the quality of the opposition they were playing that night.
“I remember walking out of the stadium disappointed that we had lost.
“Hopefully the result will be different this time around.”