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French revolution fails to fire

Paul Le Guen sailed into Ibrox five months ago on a wave of controversy and expectation.

His time in the Rangers' hot seat has so far provided plenty of the former but he has a long way to go to fulfill the initial dreams his arrival instilled in Gers fans.

The Frenchman's report card must surely read 'could do better' as he faces increasing doubt over his ability to live up to the high expectations placed upon him.

After nine games in the SPL, Rangers are languishing in third place, seven points behind title favourites Celtic, and four behind an inconsistent Hearts, with only qualification for the UEFA Cup group stages providing succour for the former Olympique Lyonnais manager.

In the boiler room of Scottish football, fans and pundits alike are now beginning to question whether the urbane economics graduate is cut out for life under the intense scrutiny and restrictions that dominate the life of any Old Firm manager.

During his time at Lyon, Le Guen led the French club to three consecutive titles, before resigning to be replaced by Gerard Houllier at the end of the 2004-2005 season.

Following a year's sabbatical, during which time he worked as a football pundit for Canal +, and competed in the grueling 240km Marathon des sables in the Morocco desert, Le Guen was recruited by Rangers' chairman David Murray to replace dead duck manager Alex McLeish.

His arrival shocked the Scottish game, with many expressing incredulity that he should choose to come to the relative backwaters of the SPL when the English Premiership was likely to come calling.

For Rangers fans it must have seemed like a long awaited statement of intention from chairman David Murray, following what a had been a disappointing season, a strong run in Europe aside, with failure to qualify for the Champions League.

Le Guen was hailed as the harbinger of a new era, aligning his managerial success in one of Europe's top leagues with a newfound ambition at the Glasgow club.

But, after frantic activity in the summer transfer window and the passing of the first two months of the season, both the league table and the Rangers' team-sheet bear a startling resemblance to last year. Last month's starting eleven for the Gers 2-0 loss to Celtic, featured only one - Sasa Papac - of Le Guen's twelve summer acquisitions.

In the case of Jeremy Clement and Lionel Letizi this was down to injury, but it has become clear that fans talk of a 'French Revolution' a la Wenger at Arsenal may well turn out to be a more protracted affair than a storming of the Bastille.

During last month's Old Firm derby, Celtic fans were quick to pour scorn on the much touted manager's recent shortcomings, mocking their arch rivals with taunts of 'Paul Le Guen, you're having a laugh' throughout the second half, a stinging reminder of the personal nature of the game in a small country where the sport is followed so fervently.

For a relatively young manager Le Guen, just 42, has a calm view of his fortunes so far, pointing out that he experienced an even worse start to his tenure at Lyon - three victories from nine matches - before eventually leading them to three consecutive French titles.

He said: 'There are similarities between now and at Lyon. Criticism is normal when we don't win and don't play well enough. But, to do something about it is far harder than to criticise.

'Last year I worked for television and it is sometimes easy to see and be aware of things. It is a difficult job to solve the problems, but I am pleased to do it.

'My experience at Lyon helped me and I think it is good when you know the situation. It could be very useful.'

In Rangers' last two games, Le Guen has gone some way to steadying the Ibrox ship, posting a vital win in the UEFA Cup over Norway's Molde, and snatching an at-the-death league win at home to Aberdeen.

However, as important as these results may prove to be, there is still not enough evidence of a massive upswing in Rangers' form or fortunes, with uninspired victories sewing doubt in the minds of the Ibrox faithful.

Le Guen himself refused to talk up his team's chances in the league, saying after the Aberdeen match: 'I don't want to speak about that. I want to speak about the victory and the way we played.'

In taking a long-term view of Rangers' fortunes, Le Guen has tried to change the culture of the club, turning them into a disciplined and athletic European team, with second afternoon training sessions for players in midweek, sacrificing their golf handicaps to improve their footballing fortunes.

His no-nonsense approach to team discipline was most aptly demonstrated during pre-season when wayward Dutch midfielder Fernando Ricksen was sent home for 'inappropriate behaviour' after allegedly drinking and verbally abusing a stewardess on a club flight to South Africa.

Ricksen was soon exiled to Russia on loan. It was not to Siberia but a spell at Zenit St Petersburg was surely far enough from home to demonstrate Le Guen's attitude to discipline. The benefits of Le Guen's professionalism will need to start showing in the team's performances and results if the fans are to take him back to their hearts.

In the pressure cooker of the Old Firm, results are demanded immediately, heaping added pressure on the more cerebral and calculating managers more inclined to take the long view.

Failure to secure an improvement in Rangers' fortunes by the season's end, by bringing them back into contention with Celtic and Hearts, is likely to see the man whose arrival was once hailed as a coup for Scottish football being regarded as another false dawn at Ibrox.

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