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Wonderful Walter Smith managed to get the best out of Kyle Lafferty

Gareth McAuley


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Kyle Lafferty was young when he first joined Rangers, but was helped along by Walter Smith

Kyle Lafferty was young when he first joined Rangers, but was helped along by Walter Smith

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Walter Smith with the Scottish Premier League trophy

Walter Smith with the Scottish Premier League trophy

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Kyle Lafferty was young when he first joined Rangers, but was helped along by Walter Smith

Following the announcement of Walter Smith’s passing last Tuesday, Rangers produced a wonderful tribute video to their hugely successful late manager on their social media channels.

It was around eight minutes of Walter’s greatest achievements as he led the Gers to 21 major trophies and some amazing nights at Ibrox.

Towards the end, goals scored by Kyle Lafferty were prominent.

The technique and execution were impressive, but so was the significance. They helped Rangers land silverware, especially the final-day hat-trick against Kilmarnock to continue Walter’s incredible dominance of the Scottish game.

Kyle undoubtedly played the best football of his career under Walter Smith. Walter knew how to handle the Northern Ireland international, who could — and can be — a bit mad, crazy and unpredictable at times.

Walter had seen it all before.

As we’ve witnessed down the years, not every manager can deal with Kyle’s antics. Michael O’Neill would probably be the only other manager who really got the best out of Kyle.

And it comes down to brilliant man-management, a cool head and experience. Walter had that in abundance.

During Walter’s first stint as Rangers manager there had been some big personalities in the Ibrox dressing room, none more so than Paul Gascoigne. Now, I’m not for one minute comparing Kyle’s on-field qualities to Gazza, but off the pitch, some would argue their characters could be pretty similar.

Walter seemed to understand the lads wanting to let off steam and yes, be a little mad. It was ‘boys will be boys’ and he wasn’t going to come down on them like a sergeant major.

However, in return, he expected total focus when it mattered and for them to deliver on the pitch.

There was a mutual respect. There couldn’t have been a better influence on Kyle’s career in his early days than Walter Smith. Remember, Kyle was just a young lad when he made the big move to Ibrox from Burnley.

There was a lot of pressure and expectation on his shoulders but Walter took him under his wing.

Walter had his back, defended him publicly and kept faith during rocky patches.

Of course, Kyle being Kyle, he couldn’t help himself from doing silly things but Walter’s disappointment would have resonated and hit him hard. He hated letting Walter down.

Kyle is very impulsive and will just go ahead and do something stupid, but then when he has time to reflect he does regret his actions and I know when Walter was frustrated with him, those words would have stung.

Walter just had this aura about him, in the same way Sir Alex Ferguson did at Manchester United.

I don’t think there is a player who played for him who wouldn’t have a good word to say about his man-management style and how he conducted himself. Of course, there would have been times when he was forced to make football decisions that made a player unhappy, but that’s the game and big decisions are made in any business or walk of life. It’s how Walter handled those situations that made sure the players respected him.

He was adored and respected and the big reason for this was his honesty. A lot of the time, it’s all a player wants from his manager.

When I moved up to Rangers towards the end of my career, it was obviously long after Walter had finished his second stint at the club. But he was around the training ground and I was fortunate to meet him and have a chat. I obviously didn’t know him, but when you were in his company he made you feel as though you did know him. He had this warm and welcoming nature and this has been echoed in the tributes this week by Steven Davis and David Healy.

Walter’s passing is a really sad loss for everyone at Rangers Football Club, but especially for people like long-serving kitman Jimmy Bell. I loved sitting beside Jimmy and hearing the stories of the old days when Graeme Souness was in charge, followed by Walter. They were brilliant tales.

Of course while Walter was a staunch Rangers man, he was able to bridge the Old Firm divide and that is evident in the number of touching tributes from across the city this week. He also played a masterstroke when he became Scotland manager in 2004 when he brought on Rangers hero Ally McCoist and Celtic legend Tommy Burns as his assistants.

Walter’s passing, though, is not just felt by Rangers and in Scotland, but the entire football community and I know how highly regarded he is by Everton fans after his spell at Goodison Park.

But Rangers was his club, his passion and where he achieved incredible success.

He is regarded as a Rangers icon, a legend and one of the club’s greatest ever managers.

But more importantly, he was just a great person who conducted himself in the correct manner.

Walter Smith guided and positively influenced so many players on their career paths and that should be his legacy along with all the trophies.

Kyle Lafferty can certainly vouch for that…

NORTHERN IRELAND WOMEN ARE BRIDGING THE DIVIDE IN OUR COUNTRY

It wasn’t so long ago that there were only about 50 people watching the Northern Ireland women’s team.

Now they are packing out Seaview, but more importantly the team is an inspiration to the next generation of girls wanting to play international football.

They have given young girls hope, something to aspire to, and it’s great to see the women’s team has caught the imagination of the country. Young girls want to get outside and be active, take part and be like their new heroes.

Without even realising it, they are bridging a divide. I heard so many powerful stories during the last week of kids who have grown up in nationalist areas getting tickets to the games, going with their clubs or families and really enjoying the occasion, so much so they now want to go to every home game.

That’s the power of sport.

It’s no coincidence that during the pandemic one of the first things the government wanted to get back, even without fans in attendance in stadiums, was football.

Sport gives people young and old an escape, something to enjoy and embrace.

It’s a great release and once you are hooked, that is you for life.

Kenny Shiels and his team deserve immense credit for how they have become a competitive force in the women’s game, qualified for their first ever Euros and are now a wonderful inspiration to the next generation of footballers in Northern Ireland.


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