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Football: I WANTED ETO'O .. I GOT MANIERO; ECK ON THE BRINK+ECK ON THE BRINK+HE BRINK+ECK ON THE BRINK+ECK ON Boss spells out how he's gone from cream of the crop to flops as end beckons Exclusive.

Byline: SAMUEL PEEPS By David McCarthy

McLeish weighed up a move for Eto'o when he first arrived at Ibrox but the Cameroon superstar chose Barcelona instead

THE first player Alex McLeish considered signing when he walked through the doors of Ibrox as Dick Advocaat's replacement in December 2001 was Samuel Eto'o.

The Cameroon superstar went on to become a sensation for Barcelona and is this month tipped to be named Africa's Player of the Year for the third yearmomentum, we got weaker andweaker. "Only now can we see a semblance of a group of players that can stay together for a few years and that's important for any manager.

"This time I'm hoping we've got good enough legs to withstand the games at the weekend and in midweek and that we can make a better impact.

"Sometimes the gap between the SPL and the Champions League can look enormous, as wide as the Grand Canyon, andbenefit from playing in superior leagues."

He admits that he would love more British players in the Rangers team and given the performances of some of his foreigners this season, it's not difficult to understand why.

But McLeish has only got what he's paid for and having to rummage around in the Bosman bargain basement is a far cry from his first days in the job.

He added: "Samuel Eto'o was the first name mentioned to me when I walked through the Ibrox front door four years ago.

"He was at Mallorca then and was gettable for around pounds 8m, but itwas at a time when we were trying to tighten purse strings.

"Who knows whether he'd have come but he might have done what Jean-Alain Boumsong did and seen Rangers as a stepping stone to the Premiership.

"A couple of years ago I said I wanted to get a British identity back into the Rangers team and I still crave that opportunity, but it is so difficult in the current markets.

"You have an A-list of targets and you know you can't get most of those. Then you look down the other lists and there are risks such as,cana player settle, can he integrate, do we know enough about his background?

"With a British player you know the mentality. But the thrill of getting 11 Scots to be successful in Europe would be something else.

"Unfortunately I don't see that happening for quite some time, if ever again, because of the escalation in wages at the top level.

"Ironically, because Scottish football has been forced to reduce wages to save clubs going into massive debts, it has seen a crop of youngsters being blooded and getting first-team experience earlier than you would normally expect.

"You can see that with my former club Hibernian, and the confidence that guys such as Derek Riordan, Garry O'Connor and Scott Brown have gained by playing first-team football.

"I hope Walter will see the benefits of that policy over the next few years but it's very difficult to do that with a club such as Rangers because the pressure to win all the time is so great."

He also explains that his friendship with Celtic manager Gordon Strachan has had to be put on ice somewhat given the fierce rivalry between the clubs.

One man's success tends to lead to the other's demise as McLeish is finding to his cost at the moment And while the former Aberdeen team-mates will always be pals, McLeish admitted they've had to distance themselves from each other for the moment.

He said: "Even if Gordon was in charge of Partick Thistle it would still be difficult for us to see each other because of the nature of a manager's job.

"He's probably closer to Mark McGhee and his family anyway but we have always retained a connection.

"I visited Gordon when he was at Southampton, we've always renewed phone numbers and if I were to bump into Gordon just now I'm not going to cross the road to avoid him.

"But certainly with the jobs we have now it's difficult to have that kind of relationship."

Maybe not for too much longer. Again, that will depend on David Murrayrunning. If you were to buy him today you'd get no change from pounds 40million.

The last player Alex McLeish signed was Pippo Maniero, a washed-up veteran Italian striker who didn't have a club and was shipped back out again without ever pulling on a jersey.

From Eto'o to Maniero with the likes of Egil Ostenstad in between perhaps tells the story of McLeish's reign and of the decline in standard of player he has been able to sign as the purse strings have tightened to snapping point.

If McLeish gets the heave over the next few days, and there aren't many who would bet against it, he will go down in history as the man who had less to spend than any of his predecessors under David Murray.

You won't find him moaning about that, though. He knew what he was signing up for when he left Hibs to move along the M8 four years ago.

In an interview to be published next week in a UEFA Champions League magazine, McLeish is pragmatic about the difficulties he's faced and speaks candidly about the pressures of trying to bridge the gap between the SPL and Europe's leading club competition.

He tells of how confident he is that he has finally gathered a settled squad of players capable of making the next phase of the competition and of how much more positive he is of making an impact than he was two years ago when Rangers finished bottom of a group that contained Panathinaikos, Stuttgart and Manchester United.

Whether he is given the opportunity to progress lies with Murray but in the magazine, McLeish says: "Of course, I would love to make some impact on Europe this season.

"If we are really ambitious we will be competing with Inter Milan to win the group in our final game at Ibrox and as we showed against Porto, on our day we can beat anyone at home.

"The last Champions League campaign was a great experience for me personally but it became difficult for us because of injury and the squad being fairly weak.

"As the campaign gatheredthen on another day it can be such a fine line.

"But as far as Rangers are concerned, it's a must-win game every Saturday. Walter Smith warned me about this, saying he went into Europe adopting a must-win attitude and ended up on the wrong side of a doing from Juventus 10 years ago.

"You run the risk of being picked off with that kind of approach by players who, without being disrespectful to Scottish footballers, are top-class technicians with superior touch and speed and who


CAPTION: Caption; COMING AND GOING: Veteran Pippo Maniero was pushed out of Ibrox before he barely had time to unpack
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 12, 2005
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