Monday, October 27, 2008

Celtic bigots target Scotland star

FOOTBALLERS can enjoy their holidays even when they have been booed off the park at the end of the season.

Neil McCann endured some indifferent form throughout last season before being jeered each time he touched the ball in his final outing before the summer break. But a Rangers player appearing in Dublin knows to expect catcalls.

Perversely, the satisfaction he took from his holiday in Tenerife was enriched by the events at Lansdowne Road.

When Scotland won 2-1 there in May the Republic of Ireland support - many wearing Celtic tops - singled out McCann for particular abuse, although Billy Dodds and Barry Ferguson were also identified.

There was a sectarian undertone to the hounding of McCann, a Scottish Catholic and supposed "Celtic man" employed by Rangers, but it did not have the desired effect on his game. His performance was the most impressive of the Rangers trio that night and his best in a Scotland shirt since a previous win in another country's capital, at Wembley six months earlier.

Yet London and Dublin were flattering, misleading representations of his form over the course of last season. He had much to live up to after his first half-season at Rangers, when he arrived in December, 1998, and went on to score twice in the decisive 3-0 championship victory at Parkhead the following May, but his contribution throughout Dick Advocaat's second league-winning campaign was patchy. He was never sure of a place in the starting XI and, although their styles differ enormously, was under pressure from the goalscoring exploits of Jorg Albertz from the left side of the Rangers midfield. Confidence slipped away.

"Last season there was a wee dip in my form," he admitted last week in Holland during Rangers' pre-season tour. "I never doubted my ability, but sometimes the confidence was not there. You end up not trying things that you would when you're flying and that's frustrating for a winger."

He is arguably more central to his international side's plans than his club's, but McCann is relaxed about the likelihood of returning to prominence at Ibrox. There is a gallus streak in the former Port Glasgow boy whose precocious flamboyance in training as a teenager at Dundee sometimes irritated older, but less gifted team-mates.

He has discovered that a degree of arrogance is central to emerging from the mass of talented alternatives at Rangers.

"There has to be an element of arrogance. I would be lying if I said I didn't have that. I was always told when I was a youngster that I was that way inclined: a little bit cocky and arrogant. When I was coming through the ranks at 16 with Dundee you can imagine what I got called sometimes.

"If you come into the game as a young guy you need added determination and arrogance. A bit of that, going hand in hand with hard work, is the only way to get on here."

Billy Dodds, who is five-and-a-half years older than McCann, but also spent time at Dundee early in his career, has followed a similar route.

"We come from the same kind of working-class backgrounds," said McCann. "We have had to work for what we want."

He had intended to mentally shut himself off from football during his holiday, but found it impossible as thoughts drifted towards the coming season and the seven new signings made by Advocaat. "I am very determined this year because I know how difficult it's going to be to win a place in the side, as you can see with the boss bringing in more players."

None of the new arrivals offer direct competition to McCann on the left wing, although Allan Johnston can be used there. Wingers can follow circuitous routes to reach their destination, but it has taken four years, via Hearts, Rennes, Sunderland, Birmingham and Bolton, for the pair to come together. McCann was signed by Hearts for #200,000 in the summer of 1996 to replace Johnston, who had left on a Bosman for Rennes.

At the time Johnston was the more senior, established talent, but four years on the roles have been reversed. In his first season at Rangers "Magic" must ensure he does not disappear into the reserves as a victim of Andrei Kanchelskis, who has been impressive in his pre- season appearances so far.

McCann is entitled to harbour broader ambitions. "I want to be a success and play at the highest level," he said. "First of all get into the Rangers team and win everything. And I want Scotland to be in a major championship and be a part of that. I have a lot of targets."

In achieving them, he is almost certainly guaranteed to generate further jeers from supporters in Celtic tops.

Copyright 2000
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...