Saturday 1 September 2007

Rangers 4 – 0 Gretna

Goals: Boyd 38, Webster 63, Cuellar 81, Collin 83 og.

Every team wants the easiest possible game after a hard-fought European adventure. On this occasion, Rangers were happy to have a home game against newly promoted Gretna. A significant difference in intensity from a trip to Belgrade!

Given the gulf in class the result was (almost) a foregone conclusion. The trend for the 2007/08 season was to play 4-5-1 midweek then 4-4-2 at the weekend with Kris Boyd replacing Brahim Hemdani with predictable regularity. DaMarcus Beasley also played when there was less of a defensive duty to perform in the wider areas, adding extra pace to the position that Lee McCulloch would bring greater physicality too, horses for courses and all that. Steven Whitaker was utilised as a right sided midfielder for the first six months of his Rangers career, creating a good understanding with Alan Hutton who loved nothing better than an overlap. It was a good balance with the more defensive Sasa Papac on the other flank.

The Rangers team on the day was: McGregor, Hutton, Papac, Webster, Cuellar, Thomson, Ferguson, Whitaker, Beasley, Cousin, Boyd.

Yes, you read that correctly. Andy Webster. Not only did he start, but he finished the game and managed to get on the scoresheet. More of him to come.

Just to demonstrate a sign of the times, all the match reports for this fixture included words such as; lacklustre, struggle, Euro hangover, nervy and pedestrian. Rangers won 4-0 remember. They were also 1-0 up at half time and 2-0 up after an hour, I wish all Rangers’ games were as uncomfortable.

This game was, for one player, an indication of what his role at the club was to be. Andy Webster had been brought in on loan in January 2007 to bolster the defence. A current Scotland international and at only 24 an experienced centre half with nearly 200 first team appearances to his name. Things never did go to plan though. Injured in his first training session he missed the rest of the 2006/07 season without kicking a ball for the club, returning for pre-season after Rangers and Wigan agreed a further six-month loan deal. Walter Smith was obviously keen to get Webster at the club having been impressed with him whilst in charge of the Scotland national side.

With Davie Weir already way past the twilight of his career and defying the laws of physics it was obvious what the long-term plan was for Webster. He would play to give Weir a rest and partner Carlos Cuellar with the three of them rotating for league games. This would ensure the Weir/Cuellar partnership was fresh for important league and European games before replacing Weir at the heart of the Rangers defence in the long term.

We all know this didn’t quite go to plan. Webster played 3 games for Rangers in total over 4 years. He would get injured in training just days after making his first appearance v Gretna. An ankle injury initially side-lining him but he also required knee surgery to repair previous damage. He would miss the whole of the 2007/08 season but incredibly his transfer would be made permanent.

Can you remember the hassle? After invoking Article 17 of new FIFA regulations Webster left Hearts for Wigan despite having a year left of his contract. He then retrospectively had to pay Hearts £625,000 because he didn’t have “just cause” to terminate his contract. Hearts appealed the £625,000 payment as they felt he was worth more as a current international and he was only 24 years old. This backfired when the Court of Arbitration for Sport judged that Webster should pay only £150,000 to Hearts, oops. Hearts also complained to FIFA and the SFA that Webster should never have been allowed to sign on loan for Rangers from Wigan as it was less than 12 months since he left Hearts. Conspiracy theories a plenty.

After signing for Rangers permanently, he left to join Bristol City on loan for six months to get some much-needed game time. He returned in the New Year but through injury and the form of Majid Bougherra and David Weir he never made an appearance. The 2009/10 season was one of Webster’s finest. He played regular football on loan for Dundee United, captaining them to Scottish Cup success. He also returned to the Scotland team. He played over 30 games and was nominated for the SPFA Players’ Player of the Year. Andy Webster was fit and back in form.

Hopes were high when he returned to Rangers but again he was plagued with injuries. He was also blocked by the form of Weir and Bougherra and the emergence of Danny Wilson. Walter Smith indicated that there were perhaps more psychological rather than physical issues with Webster, although in his defence he did undergo surgery a couple of times. What doesn’t do Webster any favours however, is that after he was released by Rangers in January 2011 he went on to play over 30 games every season for the next five years, playing over 40 in two of them! Between the ages of 29 and 34 he barely missed a game.

With the form of some of the recent departures from Ibrox despite poor/abject performances for Rangers, perhaps the weight of the jersey is just too much for some after all. Nobody can be that unlucky for 4 years, can they?!