On this day 15 years ago, February 14, 2007, Rangers legend Walter Smith returned to the European stage for the first time since arriving for his second spell in the Gers dugout a month previously.
Following a poor six-month period under Paul le Guen, the club needed a major boost and they got it when Smith agreed to take charge for a second spell in what proved to be an extremely popular decision amongst the Ibrox faithful.
Having established a coaching team that included Ally McCoist and Kenny McDowall, Smith faced a transitional period in which Celtic was dominating the league and this would be no quick fix.
Rangers are defeated by Hapoel Tel Aviv in Walter Smith’s European return
Rangers had actually excelled in Europe under the Frenchman and qualified for the last 32 of the UEFA Cup. Their opponents were Israeli side Hapoel Tel Aviv and with the league title looking a distinct possibility, a European run was welcome.
The last tie in European competition that Smith managed in was a 2-1 defeat by RC Strasbourg in 1997 which sent the side spiraling out of the UEFA Cup at the first-round stage in a season where the club was chasing ten in a row.
It proved to be a déjà vu in Israel as Tel Aviv won 2-1 to take a first-leg advantage to Ibrox. Although the away goal scored by Nacho Novo would be priceless. It was a poor performance from the side as Smith was missing players such as Kevin Thomson and Ugo Ehiogu due to injury and was still tinkering with his best lineup.
The days of calling on Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup were well gone, and the Scot had to make do with the remnants of the le Guen era until he could rebuild in the summer.
The Ibrox side got revenge a week later as they crushed Tel Aviv 4-0, progressing to the last 16. This proved to be a round too far in the embryonic stages of Smith’s return as Spanish side Osasuna prevailed 2-1 on aggregate to progress to the quarter-finals.
These initial European struggles were soon forgotten about as Rangers embarked on a remarkable European run the following season. Smith reach the UEFA Cup final and although the Gers lost 2-0 against Zenit St Petersburg, it was an achievement that might take a while to replicate.
There will never be another like Walter Smith, that’s for sure.