Friday, November 24, 2006

Paul's Perplexing Problem

Nobody will have enjoyed Kris Boyd’s equalising goal against Auxerre last night more than Paul Le Guen.

But his pleasure will probably have been more diluted than that which Gordon Strachan felt on Tuesday.

True, Le Guen will be satisfied that his return to France didn’t end in defeat and that the point they gained has extended his club’s involvement in Europe until after Christmas.

But he will remain baffled by the same perplexing problem that bothered Alex McLeish last season.

How does a team that can exceed expectations in Europe fail to replicate that domestically?

Le Guen needs to find his answers quickly. His last two victories on home soil – against a managerless Dunfermline and a rudderless Hearts – have brought little comfort.

Far from cementing Rangers’ hold on second place they seem to have almost reignited the battle for the runners-up spot.

Hibs and Aberdeen have matched Rangers win for win. Hearts remain alive and must surely start kicking again at some stage.

If any of those three can mount a sustained challenge Le Guen’s team look ill equipped to match them.

He may spend in January – but he knows that will be a tacit admission of failure, prove that the players he brought in during the summer have not delivered for him.

Looking at some of his match winners and success stories this season will offer him little comfort: Adams, Novo, Boyd, Burke, McGreggor.

All names that were in the Ibrox programme before Le Guen crossed the channel.

So where does he go from here? The SPL is, barring a miracle, beyond him. But the fans will demand that there is no meek surrender when Rangers meet Celtic in December.

A performance that day that proves his team have the stomach for a fight will help him.

His next challenge will be the January transfer window. Buying – and buying big – might be a mistake.

Even if results improve in the short term Le Guen will be at the mercy of the next dip in fortunes. He will have proved that he lacks the confidence to back his own judgement. In turn the board’s confidence in him will never be the same.

So don’t be surprised if Le Guen sticks with what he’s got. Another couple of wins in Europe would dangle the carrot of a UEFA Cup Final at Hampden in front of the supporters.

Consolidating in the league – and clinching second – will give him a launch pad to attack Celtic next season.

And he will have a much clearer idea of where he needs to strengthen and who he needs to get rid of – allowing him to get his chequebook out in the summer.

Rangers got a completely new type of manager when they snared Paul Le Guen. Don’t be surprised if he thinks that splashing the cash in January would do little to solve his problems.