Rangers handed ‘hero to zero’ warning as Kevin Thomson felt furious Walter Smith’s wrath after Champions League failure


Kevin Thomson was treated to a hot blast from the Walter Smith hairdryer as Rangers’ Uefa Cup saints became Champions League sinners all in the space of 12 weeks.

And he’s warning Gio van Bronckhorst’s current team it will be no breeze backing up their Seville exploits, even with a Europa League safety net already in place.

Furious Smith let rip after the team he’d guided all the way to Manchester in May 2008 fell at the first hurdle the following season as they kicked off their Champions League qualifying bid against Lithuanians FBK Kauas.

After a goalless first leg in Glasgow, Thomson thought he’d done enough in the return showdown as he fired the Light Blues in front.

But the over casual Ibrox outfit switched off and were hit with a pair of sucker punches that dumped them out of Europe altogether before their domestic season had even got up and running.

Thomo had no hiding place as the late, great Smith bared his teeth after the final whistle.

But at least there won’t be the same level of jeopardy facing van Bronckhorst’s team.

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Their surge up the Uefa co-efficient table means they’re guaranteed to be playing group stage action all the way to Christmas, and will be seeded in pot 1 for the Europa League if they fail to join Celtic in the continent’s premier competition.

But Thomson reckons the pressure will still be on if Gers fail to live up to the standards they set on their stunning march to Spain.

Looking back on being KO’d in Kaunas, the Kelty Hearts boss recalled: “It felt like we’d gone from heroes to zeros.

“We achieved something the year before that was special.

“But being an Old Firm player, you’re judged season to season. In fact, it’s game to game. That’s just the way it is.

“So to lose against Kaunas having only 12 weeks prior having been in the Uefa Cup final was a real blow.

“After the game was the angriest I ever saw Walter – and it was me who got it!

“The night did not go according to plan. When I scored early, we thought we’d done enough. We hadn’t – and got what we deserved.

“We conceded from a long-range free-kick right on half-time. When they scored another late on, we were out.

“We under performed and Walter was quick to tell us that after the game.

“I’d acted a bit like a spoiled brat. I was frustrated at us giving the ball away at times, taking it out on my team-mates.

“Walter found that disrespectful so he let me know. It was the Walter Smith hairdryer right in my face.

“But these are the experiences that make you.

“To be successful at the Old Firm you can not rest on your laurels. You can not think you were a good player last week so it’s OK. You have to do it every game at Rangers.

“There’s always pressure at Ibrox, even in friendslies. The fans demand you win.

“The new format and the fact the team has been so successful in Europe means they’ll be playing group stage football whatever happens in the qualifiers, which is brilliant.


“But I’m not sure I’d agree there was no pressure.

“No matter who Rangers are drawn against, people expect you to go through, especially now after the results they’ve had recently.

“Of course they will back themselves. It won’t be easy.

“But they will have belief as they’ve been great in Europe these past few years.”

Rangers started the campaign believing they were well set to build on last year title triumph as Celtic embarked on a rebuild under Ange Postecoglou.

But it ends with the Ibrox side having only the Scottish Cup to show for their efforts.

Yet Thomson – who won two league titles and three cup winners’ medals during his three-and-a-half year stay in Govan – reckons the players can take satisfaction from their achievements.

He said: “I think they’ve had a good season. People may say losing in Seville was a failure but I think you only have to see how the fans reacted to see the appreciation for going that far.

“So for me it has to be deemed a great success even just getting to the final.

“Of course everyone wanted them to go on and win it but unfortunately they fell short in the cruellest of circumstances with the Ryan Kent chance and then losing on penalties.

“But they still finished on a high by winning the Scottish Cup.

“It’s a rare occasion when you can look at a Rangers team that hasn’t won the league and still say they’ve had a really good season.

“Some people won’t agree but I think they’ve built up a lot of prestige with results this year.”

So was Thomson satisfied with his lot in 2008?

At one point his side believed a domestic clean sweep was as much on the cards as Uefa Cup glory.

In the end, they had to settle for winning the Scottish Cup and League Cup after Celtic pipped them to SPL glory just days after Zenit St Petersburg proved too strong in Manchester.

“Probably not, to be honest,” he admitted.

“I still look back on 2008 and think we underachieved. I wanted more.

“We did win the cup double but there was an opportunity there for the quadruple.

“You look at the prestigious Liverpool have carried trying to do something similar with the Champions League and the three trophies down south.

“Listen, I’m not saying what we were going for was in the same breath as what these superstars have achieved.

“But we only lost the league on the last day of the season and made the Uefa Cup final. It’s as close as any team will have got to winning a quadruple in recent memory.

“It’s human nature to always want more and that’s how I feel.

“Of the boys I know in today’s team, I think they’ll be desperate to go again.

“In 2009, we did win the league back as well as another cup.

“You have to have that mindset that you never rest on your laurels.

“Celtic will be the same now after this season’s success.

“But these Rangers boys will have had a taste too and I’m sure they’ll be hungry for more.”



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