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Ally McCoist confident Giovanni van Bronckhorst can handle the Old Firm heat

WHEN Giovanni van Bronckhorst leads his team out at Celtic Park on Wednesday night, the Dutchman will be under no illusions about the ferocity of the contest that awaits him. He played in his fair share of Old Firm derbies during his three-year stint in Govan at the turn of the century, and this experience will prove vital when the referee blows his whistle and the blood-and-thunder fixture gets under way.

Ally McCoist believes as much and the former Rangers striker is well-placed to say so. His goalscoring exploits as a player elevated him to legendary status at Ibrox and while his spell in charge of the club coincided with the most turbulent and painful period of its history, his contribution as manager is still fondly recalled.

Back in September 2011, McCoist was gearing up for his first match derby as Rangers manager. He’d played in dozens over the years but this time it was different. The responsibility for the result was his and when all was said and done, the buck stopped with him.

He knew full well what to expect from the match and understood perfectly just how important it was to supporters. Van Bronckhorst will find himself in a similar situation in a few days’ time and McCoist reckons his experience as a player will prove beneficial – even if it will put the Rangers manager’s cool and composed demeanor to the test.

“He’ll be fine,” McCoist asserts. “It’s massive. When you’ve had a career like Gio’s had as a player – and he’s still very early on in his coaching career – he’s been involved in big games at Feyenoord and in Holland. He’ll be fine.

“The big bonus is that he knows about the Old Firm game: he’s played in it; he’s handled it; he knows exactly what it’s all about. I don’t think for a minute that it will faze him or surprise him.

“100 per cent [his previous experience as a player is a significant advantage]. It might have been a little bit different had he not known about the game or if he’d only watched it from the outside but it’s very much the opposite. He’s sampled the game from the inside when all these Dutch players were coming over – Artur Numan, Bert Konterman, Michael Mols, Fernando Ricksen and wee Dick [Advocaat]. Nothing will surprise him.

“The Old Firm is absolutely electric. He looks a very cool, calm and organised person anyway. Having said that, it does have the potential to turn those men into quivering wrecks, I’ve done it myself! I don’t think anything will surprise him. It’s a real bonus having played in one before.”

McCoist’s first derby as manager ended in a 4-2 victory and it was a typically see-saw encounter. Celtic held a narrow lead at the break before Rangers roared back in the second, undoing the knot of dread in McCoist’s stomach that had formed. There wasn’t a sense of triumphalism or ecstasy come the full-time whistle, though.

“We were 2-1 down at half-time,” he recalled. “Allan McGregor had made a very uncharacteristic error and allowed a shot underneath him after Steven Naismith had given us the lead. All of a sudden we were 2-1 down at half-time and I can remember chatting to the boys.

“We went out for the second half and we were very, very good. Big [Nikica] Jelavic scored a header, [Kyle] Lafferty scored and Naismith got the fourth. I remember it as if it was yesterday! You tend to remember them all to be honest with you but the occasion always stays with you, particularly the victories you have.

“It’s the same as a player really – there’s no real euphoria or massive celebrations. It’s just a relief more than anything. It’s difficult to explain but guys who have played and managed in the Old Firm will know what I’m talking about.

“After the game, of course you’re delighted – you have a drink with the boys after the game, the opposition and your own staff. Then maybe an hour after the game there’s the biggest sigh you’ve ever released in your life. It’s like ‘ahh, let’s get on with our life again’.”

He pauses for a moment and then laughs. “There will be a bit of that for everybody!”

Two players from that match over a decade ago have since departed and returned to Ibrox and are now in the twilight of their careers. Allan McGregor, 40 years old tomorrow and Steven Davis, 37.

Both players will be hoping to be involved on Wednesday night – and let’s face it, they probably don’t have too many more Old Firms to look forward to – and McCoist reckons the pair deserve a place in the club’s pantheon of modern greats.

“It is remarkable,” he said of their longevity. “I think it gives you an indication of how good they’ve been and how they look after themselves to have played at that level for so long.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, when you back and look at the last 20-30 years of Rangers’ history, two of the names that will come out at you are Steven Davis and Allan McGregor.

“They’ve been fantastic servants for the football club and to the football club, and it’s just fantastic that they’re still playing at this stage of their careers. It’s amazing.”

Rangers received a boost ahead of this week’s top-of-the-table clash when Ryan Jack clambered off the bench to replace Scott Wright in the recent 1-0 win over Livingston at Ibrox as the midfielder made a tentative comeback from a serious long-term injury.

McCoist is in no doubt that Van Bronckhorst will benefit from the 28-year-old’s return to action as Rangers seek back-to-back titles. And having been on the receiving end of a few nasty injuries during his own playing career, he couldn’t be happier to see Jack’s resilience paying off.

“I’m delighted for him because having been out myself a couple of times for a long time with a broken leg, I know how difficult it can be,” McCoist added. “I really know how hard it is.

“Ryan Jack was in terrific form and make no mistake about it, Rangers missed Ryan. I’m really pleased to see him back at full fitness and I hope he gets a run in the team and continues where he left off. A fit Ryan Jack is without doubt a benefit to both Rangers and Scotland.”

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