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By ESPN Staff

Rangers and SFA at loggerheads over Smith

Rangers and the Scottish Football Association remained at loggerheads today as Walter Smith's seemingly inevitable return to club football was put on hold.

There seemed little prospect of Smith returning to work for the SFA, given his stated desire to return to his old job at Ibrox.

And it was understood that Rangers remained confident that Smith would return to the club he led to seven league titles, however long the impasse might last.

However the SFA were clinging on to the manager who is under contract to them until the end of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

It was in their powers to make life difficult for Rangers and for Smith, if they so wanted.

But as discussions continued behind closed doors at the SFA, it was hard to imagine they focused on anything but the compensation treasure chest which might be unlocked if Scotland release the man who has revived national team fortunes.

Figures ranging from £200,000 to £600,000 have been bandied about, yet both would be small consolation for the SFA if the momentum gained under Smith dissipates under a successor.

And such sums would be laughed off by, for instance, Derby if the SFA were to ask for permission to speak with Billy Davies about replacing Smith.

It is believed that Derby paid more than £500,000 in compensation to Preston only last June to secure Davies' services, since when his stock has risen further.

Assuming there is no U-turn from Smith, Tartan Army supporters and the SFA may have to reconcile themselves with losing a top-class coach and then taking a punt on one of the brightest home-based managers.

Craig Levein of Dundee United might have struggled in the Coca-Cola Championship with Leicester, but with the Tannadice club and with Hearts and Cowdenbeath beforehand he has gathered a legion of admirers.

He would command support, as would Tommy Burns, a long-standing servant of the national team who has worked under Berti Vogts and Smith.

There are also cases to be made for Alex McLeish, who has been out of management since leaving Rangers at the end of last season, and Gary McAllister.

Neither man would require a compensation payment which might appeal to the SFA power-brokers.

Scotland and Rangers were reluctant to update on whatever progress had been made since yesterday's meeting at Hampden Park.

The SFA insisted there was ``no change'' but this was a deadlock with only one foreseeable conclusion.

Within minutes of Paul Le Guen resigning as Light Blues boss last week, Smith emerged as favourite for the job.

Almost nine years have passed since he left the club to join Everton - but with the current team in a state of turmoil, he is seen by executive chairman Sir David Murray as just the man to bring back silverware to Ibrox.

After a difficult spell with Everton, he has fully restored and arguably enhanced his reputation with Scotland.

Smith's side surprisingly top their group, ahead of Italy and France, the two World Cup finalists.

They have come so far under Smith that to lose him at this stage would be agonising.

SFA chief executive David Taylor insists that Smith understands the SFA's stance, even if it goes against his wishes.

And any decision to abandon a half-finished job will not have been taken lightly.

However it may take his resignation to force the SFA's hand, and tonight that looked the most likely way for the stand-off to end.