ON the brink of his first derby as Rangers head coach, Pedro Caixinha has been told he will be backed passionately as he is now in charge of “the most famous club in the world”, writes Scott Mullen.
That assessment came from former Ibrox striker Marco Negri as he attempts to offer a few kind words of advice to the Portuguese who is seeking to make an impression in his first Glasgow derby in Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final with Celtic.
Negri knows all about making a big early impression: the man from Milan stuck the ball in the pokey 23 times in his first 10 games after Walter Smith signed him from Perugia for £3.5 million 20 years ago. (Twenty years, blimey.) Caixinha was in the stand at Parkhead last month when the two side’s last met. Just a day on from putting pen to paper as Mark Warburton’s replacement he watched as Graeme Murty helped Rangers to a credible 1-1 draw.
Loading article content
However, the comfort of the Celtic Park directors’ box will be far removed from the exposed vantage point of the Hampden technical area come Sunday.
Players and coaches at almost every opportunity tell us nothing prepares you for involvement in the meeting of the two Glasgow clubs, but Negri has sought to reassure Caixinha ahead of his most tricky test since arriving at Rangers.
“I would say to him that he is very lucky because he is coaching at the most famous club in the world,” said the Italian. “He will always be backed with love and passion from the most amazing fans.
“The Old Firm is the Old Firm and players, managers and fans don’t need any motivation. The pressure, the positive pressure, is there. The other games are very important as well and getting second place would be important for the team. Getting into Europe would be good for the fans and it would give the manager money to spend on players. If you want to improve and to challenge Celtic, you need better players.”
As much as is possible in this fixture, the pressure on Caixinha is probably as low as it ever will be during his duels with Celtic. A sturdy start to his reign has brought respect among fans without raising the level of expectation too much.
With second place and a Scottish Cup final place still up for grabs, the solid foundations laid by Caixinha give Negri grounds for conservative optimism. He said: “I would go for second place and to beat Celtic. The Old Firm is a game apart. It will be important to show to Celtic that we are not far away.
“The manager must train the team so he can learn a lot about them and he will learn about the club, the fans, the people. He has time to understand what he needs for next season. He must be focused and getting second place would be a bonus. But the next few weeks will be important for him to understand what players he needs for his style.
“He started with a big result and that was a positive. He needs time. It is not easy for a footballer or a manager to come in during a season but he has got a big personality and I think the fans must be a little bit patient and let him work on the team.
“There is still a big target of second place and to get back into Europe. That is important financially as well because if you want new players you need money. The best way to do that is to get second place. This season is not finished yet.”
Negri of course knows all about flying starts when it comes to the Glasgow club. After all, the man from Milan stuck the ball in the pokey 23 times in his first 10 games after Walter Smith signed him from Perugia for £3.5m 20 years ago. Twenty years, blimey.
While he endeared himself to the hearts of Rangers supporters almost instantly, the 46-year-old understands for a head coach it’s not as easy to make such an impact.
“For strikers, it is different because they are all about goals no matter what club you are at. Don’t forget, I was playing with Laudrup, Gazza and big, big players. Everything was easy for me because of the team I was in. But you have to be focused, the football pitch and the goals are the same in Italy, Spain and Scotland. You have to go there and show your ability.
“I didn’t know him very well before he came to Rangers. [It was a gamble], a little bit, yes. The board and the people working for the club are doing a great job so the fans, and I am a fan as well, must trust them. They chose him so I will back him.”