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Walter Smith: Fitness definitely not an issue at Rangers

| 14.08.2015

Mark Hateley is wrong – fitness wasn’t the problem last season

It’s been said in the press recently that Rangers’ players are looking in better condition under Mark Warburton than they did last season.

I have to say I completely disagree with Mark Hateley’s assessment of that situation. I don’t think for one minute that that is the case. I worked for Rangers for years and we’d equalled the record number of matches played for one season and when I left there is no way that Ally McCoist and Kenny McDowall, in any shape or form, would have allowed the fitness to drop.

The issue last season was not fitness, it was the squad not handling the pressure of playing for Rangers adequately. I think what’s happened now and what is noticeable is that everyone at the club has a far brighter view of the future as far as matters off the field go.

Rangers now have a board that want to see the club go forward and for the right reasons. The manager has to take some of the credit for that brightness moving on to the pitch. I couldn’t say that fitness was a cause for Rangers’ problems last year – that’s not a fair assessment.

When results don’t go well there’s an awful lot of pressure and that’s what happened last season. Now, with a new manager and a new board in place a lot of that pressure has been lifted and this has transferred to the pitch and the board are to be credited.

The levels of fitness were set high when I was at the club and when I left those standards would not have been allowed to drop. Results can go against you but a lack of fitness is certainly not a factor at Ibrox.

Hibs result will mean nothing if Rangers don’t find consistency in the league

The 6-2 win over Hibs in the Challenge Cup was a welcome result and gave everyone at the club a little bit of a lift but the real challenge starts this week and it’s consistency across the season that Rangers need.

I think pre-season games, albeit one was a cup match, can only be looked at so far and it’s the league performances that obviously will be the most important.

If Rangers can perform in that manner on a consistent basis everyone will be delighted. Hibs showed last season, especially in the second half of the campaign, that they are a decent team and after the experience that Rangers had last year they’ll want to get off to a good start to give themselves the best chance at promotion.

We’ll have to wait until we’re a few weeks into the season to see where Rangers are. Everyone is concentrating on the pitch and off the pitch the club has now got stability and optimism because there are Rangers people running the club.

We’ll need to see consistency on the pitch though before people can see that the club is moving forward.

If Rangers do go up a top four finish will be the expectation in the Premiership

The expectation is sometimes unrealistically high at Rangers but that’s the club and that’s what everyone from the board to the manager and the players has to handle.

If Rangers can get back to the Premiership, like it or not there will be an expectation to finish as high as possible and I would say that would mean a top three or four finish.

The Premiership has missed Rangers and when they come back the fans will be saying “we’ve four games against Celtic now and we need to equip ourselves well”.

Celtic are always the yardstick, that’s no disrespect to any of the other clubs, but Rangers will have to try to match that yardstick. A sensible person will say they’d need a year to bed in but I’m afraid it doesn’t always work like that.

That will obviously mean Mark Warburton will have to be allowed to invest in the squad and players coming into the club.

As for the players already at the club, we’ll have to see how they progress this season to see how good they are. The new players will need to be looked at to see how they handle the pressure and if they look like they can make that step up to the top flight.

James Tavernier has started very well and is the player who everyone is saying has hit the ground running so I’m looking forward to seeing him and how he grows this season.

Scott Allan is just what Rangers need but I fear he’s out of reach

Scott Allan showed last season at Hibs that he’s a very creative player and that’s something that Rangers have lacked over the last three seasons, someone who can carry the ball and create an opportunity for others.

That’s obviously why Mark wants him but it looks as though Hibs, and from their perspective quite rightly so, are not willing to sell someone who could cause them problems. They’ll not want to sell to anyone never mind their closest rivals

Scott would be a terrific acquisition but I fear Hibs won’t sell so I think Rangers will have to get on without him and I’m sure they will do.

Warburton is well prepared to handle the pressure at Ibrox

There is no doubt in my mind that Mark is well prepared for what lies ahead. His assistant David Weir knows Rangers as well as anyone and between them they will know what it takes has to handle the pressure.

Managing at Rangers or Celtic is akin to managing one of the bigger clubs in England and the media attention is intense. I think Mark is well aware of the intensity and the pressure on him to achieve results from the off.

He’s made a great start and gone about things sensibly. He’s given everyone a bit of confidence for the future.

Results will be key but Rangers will need to impress too

Because of the fact that Rangers lost most of their payers from last season and have had to replace quite a few it’s going to take a little bit of time for this team to bed in.

As such, for the initial stages of the season, results will be the most important thing in order to try to gain some confidence and to show everyone that Rangers are to be the prominent team in the Championship this year.

After six to eight weeks or so, though, everyone will be looking for a certain level of performance. The supporters have been pleased with what they’ve seen in pre-season but from everybody’s perspective the results will be the most important thing.

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Walter Smith

Walter Smith is one of the most revered names in Scottish football with his hugely successful spells in charge of Rangers yielding 10 Scottish Premier League titles.
Read his latest thoughts exclusively at Ladbrokes News.