Strachan ready for old friend

Gregor Kyle

GIVEN that his only experience of an Old Firm game to date primarily involved acting as chaperone for a bus full of well-oiled Manchester United players, Gordon Strachan might just be looking forward to a ‘quiet’ afternoon on the touchline of one of the world’s most famous derbies tomorrow.

But as the Celtic manager prepares to make his bow in the game against Rangers at Ibrox, he is under no doubts as to the importance or size of the task he is facing.
The manager said: “We’re not standing still; we’re not saying ‘well, we won last week, that’s fine, now let’s get on with it’. I’ve always said that good players win you games and your formation can lose you games, so we’ve been working on our formation this week, working on what we do when we don’t have the ball and hopefully that’ll make us harder to beat.”
This work and preparation has taken place on the training field at Barrowfield and in one of the media rooms at Celtic Park as the manager pores over hours of footage of both his own players and tomorrow’s opponents in action.
“It was mostly our videos I’ve been watching,” he revealed, “although I have been watching Rangers as well. You have to look in to what Rangers have got because good players can win you games.
“It’s nice to see good players, like Alan Thompson last week scoring two goals, so that’s (an example of) good players winning games. They’ve got good players and you have to make people aware where the good players are and set up accordingly.”
Despite looking closely at what challenge Rangers will offer, the manager was not willing to be drawn on any single observation or on his relationship with Rangers manager, Alex McLeish.
This was no doubt borne of the respect that Strachan has for his former Aberdeen team-mate, but the reluctance to talk will also stem from a keen awareness that their own words are often the ammunition used against managers in the lead up to and fall out from an Old Firm meeting.
“I don’t want to talk about him because he’s my mate,” said Strachan conclusively when asked about the Rangers’ manager. “If I’ve got anything to say to him, I’ll say it to his face. I have the highest regard for him as a man, manager and player.”
Of his own feelings leading up to his Old Firm debut the manager was equally guarded, responding: “I am feeling excited, a wee bit of nerves, but very privileged that I am going to manage in an Old Firm game.”
And looking at his Celtic team’s recent form he added: “The last three games we’ve lost a penalty, so it’s getting better. The past week we’ve been working on things as a team and working on our formation when things break down. I think all of us would like to see the goals against column a lot less than what we’ve got, both Alex (McLeish) and myself.
“There’ll be a sensible approach to the game, we will attack when we have to attack and defend when we have to defend.”
But one thing is for certain, tomorrow he will at least take solace in the knowledge that all of his charges will be sober and responsible.
Strachan’s last visit to an Old Firm fixture was with his then Manchester United team mates as guests and as a senior player he was the man responsible for getting them in their seats and back across the border.
“I was trying to round up the Manchester Utd players and get them on the bus because they were enjoying themselves that day,” he revealed. “I was alright; I was just rounding up the other guys.”
The manager will now be hoping that come tomorrow evening he will have similar happy memories from this latest Old Firm game, one in which he finds himself one of the central figures.