“History will have to decide whether I was good for Glasgow Rangers but certainly Glasgow Rangers were good for me.” (Graeme Souness)

 “‘Hey Smith, do we have to watch this rubbish all season?’ I looked at my watch. We had been playing for 17 minutes” (Walter Smith)

To spend more than a minute in the Blue Room is to be seduced by history. The murals, frames and artefacts all draw you in immediately. But, as I took my place there on December 1 for Michael Beale’s unveiling, it was a relatively nondescript door in the left-hand corner of the room that was the real gateway to the past. A kind of vortex straight into the collective memory of any Rangers supporter of my generation. It is impossible to see it without thinking of that news bulletin footage from the same type of event 36 years ago. The day that it opened and everything changed.

Beale’s wasn’t quite as dramatic - none have been at Ibrox, not even his former boss's - but, for better or worse, the whole conversation before and after, has still been shaped by Graeme Souness and Walter Smith. Expectations, styles and personalities of managers at Ibrox since have all been measured by the scale set by the men who created the revolution, and in so doing, gave birth to modern Rangers.

Beale knows the script. Instant references were made to standards - both sartorial and footballing - and he has always been a man who has sought to buy into the little things that connect the generations whilst trying to adapt for the future. Smith himself - at an early and difficult spell in his career - asked for portraits of all his predecessors to be hung up in the manager’s office at the stadium. There is no point trying to hide from history at this club. It will catch you in the end. He knew that it had to be embraced and used as fuel or there was to be no successful ending to his dream job. Like Beale, he too had the inside track before moving into the hot seat, as if there can be any apprenticeship for this level of pressure.

And there I am, comparing already. The same happened when Gerrard arrived. The similarities with Souness: his club career, position, success, personality and it being his first job were all raised in an instant. They were all unfair - as many with Beale and Smith are - because the position of the club at the time was just as big a factor as the men who were tasked with making the most of it. The times aren’t remotely the same but it doesn’t stop us. Advocaat brought the kind of tough taskmaster energy of Souness, McLeish the calmer assurance of Smith. Even the discourse in the time between Giovanni van Bronckhorst departing and Beale being confirmed was dominated by these two archetypal models. The younger ones - with their hair and stat bombs - tried to have an educated conversation about some imaginative appointments and how their technical ideas could work in Scotland, only to be drowned out by their elders and their infinite search for those ethereal qualities that they struggle to quite pin down. Leadership. Charisma. Character. It.

READ MORE: From 1993 CSKA tears to Seville fantasy come true: A personal reflection on following Rangers in Europe - Martyn Ramsay

What they are mostly searching for - okay, who am I kidding? - what we are mostly searching for is, of course, our youth back, full as it was with Rangers success. In our mind, these styles - these men - equal a guarantee of trophies and titles. Context be damned. Circumstances, opportunities, strength of opponents, market position are mere trivia. These two managers had total agency in ensuring that glory! They didn’t, obviously, but as misty-eyed as this kind of reminiscence can get, there is still some truth to be mindful of.

This isn’t a normal manager’s job, regardless of how much we may wish to dismiss the past as old hat and distil the role down to purely numbers and charts. Rangers are never only looking for a football coach, they’re always searching for a president of an institution. Perhaps too often, the latter takes precedence over the former but men who are overawed by the surrounding noise just won’t do.

Souness and Smith also had to adapt the past to suit their present. Clones of Bill Struth and Scott Symon wouldn’t work but they knew what qualities to lean on - discipline, presence, calmness and dignity to name but a few - whilst they set about their revolution. Those of us who came of age in the nineties should know better than to simplify history down the agency of personality. It was we who demanded more than that, pleaded for more technique and continental nous and advocated regicide as a result.

There’s more to Michael Beale than just an infectious personality. A great communicator with a genuine love for the game and the club he may be, but there’s a sharp mind behind the heart. A natural football obsessive, one big challenge will be finding the balance between being smart and being natural. Under-thinking spelt the end of the nineties. Overthinking cost his predecessor. Such is the dynamic of the Old Firm in football’s ecosystem that you can be both the bear and the salmon in a matter of days.

Beale ticked a lot of boxes in that first meeting. There were glimpses of the future as he spoke excitedly about how he wants to see things develop on the park without getting too lost in technical jargon and management-speak (he did indulge in a Brentian ‘seeing the whole pie’ but thankfully there were no accompanying actions). And there were plenty of nods to the past too, club suits aside. He dealt with the thorny QPR issue with the grace of Smith and fired me a bit of Souness bombast when I pressed him on whether he felt the need to win a cup in order to build some momentum into that first crucial summer. "We have to try and win every cup no?" One doesn’t need to be a Jedi knight to know that trying and doing are two very different things but he knows as well as anyone that the latter will be the ultimate marker.

It is success that has drawn these two shadows over the office inhabited by anyone else since. The two men are synonymous with silverware. Beale’s biggest issue isn’t himself, his attributes or personality, but the situation he inherits: the logistical constraints of any club in a medium-sized league but tightened by the lasting neurosis of 2012. Souness and Smith walked into an even bigger shambles, it must be remembered. Yes, they had bigger opportunities available to them but no one else could see them at the time. There was no blueprint for them to pick up that showed them how to reverse the traditional flow of footballing labour in the post-Heysel world or that speculating off the field to accumulate on it was the path to take. It is that kind of imagination about how to shape the future - albeit finding different solutions than in 1986 - that Beale will need to have in order to achieve success.

Time simplifies everything. Too often all that is left is the black and white of results but, as a support, we would do well to remind ourselves that these icons too had difficulties, contradictions and failures lest we overburden the future with a false representation of the past. Playing down glory in order to lower expectations does no one any favours and reduces the magic of those links we all share but the real story to be celebrated is in the richness of those tensions, caveats and complexities. Understanding the men who filled the blazer before may help us better understand the reality of the man who has to do it now.

“Maradona is vastly over-rated.” 

It was classic Souness then and remains so now. The excessive language, loaded for effect and the unmistakable masculinity that was to follow. “I don’t doubt his skills for a moment but sometimes I think he should be in a circus. What I mean is that he hasn’t won too many medals has he?” He soon would. Souness was speaking from the Scotland World Cup camp in Mexico in 1986 the day before the second group game against West Germany by which point Maradona had already scored against the holders Italy, on his way to staking his claim as the greatest of all time. Technically the new Rangers manager was correct - the boy wonder had not yet matched his hype with silverware - but the lack of appreciation for individual talent in a team sport was underlined by that most reductive and machismo piece of football verbiage: show us your medals.

It is so typically Souness that it is almost impossible to imagine it coming from anyone else in the game. It certainly wouldn’t have come from Walter Smith. On the face of it, the men who changed Rangers were very different people. Souness, loud and verbose. Smith, more studious and careful with his words. The outspoken Thatcherite and the dignified Labour man. One who wouldn’t shirk confrontation if it reared its head, the other who seemed to need it with his morning coffee. In the words of Sue Mott in a piece from 1992, "To Smith, the former apprentice electrician, Gucci is something you say to babies when tickling them under the chin. To Souness, it was lifestyle." Together they were a dream, amassing precious metal at a rapid rate but, in the end, it was Souness’s apprentice who let his work do the talking, more than doubling his record of managerial achievement with 21 major successes to Souness’s ten. Despite their different characters, both demonstrated that one had to have it in abundance if they were to be successful at Ibrox. ‘Tracksuit managers’ had failed before and have done so since, suggesting that a real Rangers manager needs to own the office. They need to fill the blazer.

Both Souness and Smith did but their time in the job was not without difficulty. One challenge in trying to compare the two managers is the extent to which the game had changed during their reign. The dynamics of the sport in 1986 were almost unrecognisable by 1998 thanks in part to the player power and market reform that they had both helped to unleash. In 1986/87, reigning champions Liverpool spent just over £1.5m and Tottenham a million more whereas Manchester United wouldn’t commit the funds to get Terry Butcher. In 1998 however, English Premier League clubs spent over £335m in total, with Dwight Yorke’s move from Aston Villa to Old Trafford being the most expensive at just over £12m. Compared to the challenges that Smith had in navigating the limitations of foreign players, the impact of the Bosman ruling and the growing influence of agents, the world that Souness worked in during his spell as Rangers manager was a far simpler one.

He thrived in it. Given his success at Ibrox with transfers, it is remarkable that, after his managerial career ended, Souness the market trader was thought of as more Derek Trotter than George Soros. His Liverpool career was beset by bad dealings, trying too hard to clear out the ageing legends too quickly. Peter Beardsley had a few good years left in him when he was replaced by Dean Saunders, the sale of Steve Staunton was something he could have done without and Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock and Julian Dicks were redolent of an older era of English football. His nadir came at Southampton in 1996 when he was duped into believing that Ali Dia was the cousin of the then FIFA World Player of the Year, George Weah. Dia came on as a substitute before being taken off and never seen again. It was the ultimate embarrassment. In his first managerial job, however, Souness rarely put a foot wrong.

READ MORE: Michael Beale, Alex McLeish and echoes from Rangers' past

It was easy to buy your way to success, the Scottish footballing public would often tell Graeme Souness but sporting history is full of expensive failure. The players need to be right for the job and the money used wisely. Although he wasn’t around when all of his signings were eventually sold on, Rangers made a profit of over £1,000,000 on Souness’s signings as well as the £2,500,000 he generated from the players he inherited. If signings didn’t work, he moved them on quickly, a ruthlessness that perhaps Smith would go on to lack. Even the medium success stories did their job and departed - for good money - when something better raised its head. But the big calls were the best of all. Only Oleg Kusnetzov and Colin West, because of injury, could be regarded as a flop. The vast majority of occasions where Souness stuck his neck out for a player, they delivered for Rangers, in some cases long after he was gone. In fact, a best XI of Souness signings - Woods, Stevens, Gough, Butcher, Brown, Walters, Wilkins, Ferguson, Steven, Johnston and Hateley (with Roberts, Huistra and Drinkell on the bench) - might be hard for any other Rangers manager to beat in terms of what they gave the club, for as long and relative to the standards of the time.

The standards of his successor’s time changed sharply and often. Where Souness had the carrot of European football, the draw of a modern stadium and the willingness of a board to spend what their rivals couldn’t Walter Smith needed to keep meeting the rising expectations of a support demanding bigger and better prizes in a footballing world that was exploding. He was backed, however, in a way that Souness could only dream of. Between 1991 and 1997, Smith spent £59,340,000 on transfers, recouping £26,635,000 in that time. Ostensibly it was an outlay required to conquer Europe. In reality, it was all to stay ahead of a Celtic side who had spent less than half of that during the same period and who lacked the head start that Rangers had created for themselves, both on and off the field. Whether his market activity was as much value for money as his predecessor is questionable but Smith wouldn’t have had the success that he did, without identifying the right men.

When UEFA’s limitation on foreign players really started to bite in 1991/92, he mostly ensured that Rangers found the best Scottish talent available and in each summer between 1994 and 1997, Smith signed a genuine Rangers legend in Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne, Jörg Albertz and Lorenzo Amoruso. In Robertson, Petric, McLaren, Björklund, Cleland and Porrini he was always able to build a rearguard but failed to find a suitable replacement for McCoist, with Salenko, Rozental and Negri failing for different reasons. Smith enjoyed bringing in a winter gift with which to energise his squad for the final push with Dale Gordon, Gordon Durie and Erik Bo Andersen being used to great effect when there were required in the middle of a campaign. After 1992, Smith’s biggest market failure was marquee signings that did not solve the problems that he had. Breaking the British transfer record for Duncan Ferguson in 1993 when Rangers had one of the best target men in Britain already in place and then having to play him out on the left wing on occasion, created problems just as it did when he brought in the right-sided dominant centre half, Basile Boli when his captain already played in that position. Rozental’s injury, weeks after arriving from Chile in 1997 was unfortunate but the wages given to Jönas Thern later that year when it was known that he was literally on his last legs, was an act of reckless hubris.

Smith’s two most famous signings spoke to his main strength as a manager but arguably helped to create his biggest weakness when assessing his first spell at Ibrox. No manager needed expert scouting to discover Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne in the mid-1990s but it took a special man-manager to whisper them back into the groove following a difficult spell for both players in Italy. As a result, it arguably changed Smith’s mid-1990s side into a more individualistic one. In a period of general change, when it comes to tactics, neither Souness nor Smith were particularly revolutionary, although the patient build-up introduced in 1986 was certainly a big adjustment for the Ibrox faithful to deal with. The two dominant ideas of the time between 1986 and 1992 were Arrigo Sacchi’s muscular version of ‘Total Football’ at Milan and the West German 3-5-2 sweeper system. According to Alistair Bain of the excellent tactics website retrofootballanalysis.com, the Souness era, of which Smith played a huge part on the training ground, was originally more in line with the former, with an immediate appetite to dominate a game through to the experimentation with ball-playing centre midfielders, twin strikers instead of a target man and the key ability to use width on both sides with Steven and Stevens, instead of mainly through Walters on the left. His attempted transition to the increasingly en-vogue 3-5-2 needed more and better, foreign players and when it was clear that this was an impossibility, the end was nigh.

READ MORE: Rangers 2 Marseille 2: How the Champions League was born with Ibrox classic as its curtain raiser - Martyn Ramsay

Bain’s analysis of the incredible 1992/93 Champions League run makes the case that - perhaps because what came after was so disappointing - Smith’s early tactical success has been forgotten or dismissed. Smith built a cohesive 4-4-2 unit that could squeeze the space domestically in the knowledge that pace at full-back would often provide cover but against better opposition in the 1992/93 European campaign, they were happy to concede possession and the best chances but instead tried to exploit specific weaknesses that he had identified in their opponent’s set up. It was smart and secure and so nearly pulled off the greatest result of all time. As the heroes of that campaign suffered physically in the years afterwards, there was an increasing reliance on new individual brilliance. What worked well enough at home was easily isolated in Europe. Any confidence in a systemic reliability was soon non-existent and a decade of tactical sophistication throughout the continent further sharpened the disappointment and sense of regression at the time.

Regardless of system and ability, every club needs players who are fit and tuned to execute their plans and it is here that both managers struggled to change the culture completely. Souness endeavoured to revolutionise the dietary and social habits of his players and, although there were some definite improvements in cultural attitudes, there were always limits as to what he could ultimately do. By 1992, Smith appeared to have relaxed the stance. A profile piece for the short-lived monthly magazine Scottish Football, followed Smith and his squad as they prepared for a league match at Tynecastle and then the visit of Marseille to Ibrox for the first-ever Champions League encounter. An Italian TV crew were also following them and watched in stunned disbelief as Smith and his players walked out the front door of Ibrox, up along Paisley Road West to a cafe outside Bellahouston Park where they enjoyed bacon rolls and cups of tea. Later in the afternoon - before the trip to Edinburgh for an overnight stay - training at a local cricket club consisted of knocking the ball around for twenty minutes before heading back to the minibus. "We don’t really train", said Smith. "You can’t. There are so many games and so many injuries to contend with that you just keep the players going. The hard work is done in pre-season when the players build up their basic fitness. After that? It’s just a question of them ticking over."

It wouldn’t have been out of place in many British setups - Arsene Wenger’s more successful dietary revolution was still four years away - but it wouldn’t have happened in Milan or Marseille. There were no complaints that season because the European run had generated so much pride. When it soon provided humiliation, the questions started, especially when the players themselves spoke out. In an infamous interview with L’Equipe in September 1994, Basile Boli was candid in his criticism of Smith’s failure to guide his side past AEK Athens and into the 1994/95 Champions League. He described the tactics as “crazy” (Boli was played at right-back and both Mark Hateley and Duncan Ferguson were selected alongside one another) and the attitude was “all wrong” in the build-up. Some years before, Ally McCoist had made a revealing statement when he ruled out the prospect of him becoming a manager in the future. "It’s not for me. I couldn’t wield the big stick. I’d only be fining my players if they hadn’t been out the night before." When Rangers players were on the front pages more often than the back because of drink-driving, domestic abuse and affairs, the criticism intensified. As did questions about why Rangers were picking up so many muscle injuries or buying players who were immediately out for sustained periods of time. Souness’s blind spot for a proper medical staff wasn’t corrected by Smith. The physical strain of success would eventually show and any advances in professionalism that were made since 1986 seemed to regress. In Smith’s final season of this era, 1997/98 the year that the domestic juggernaut finally stopped, France Football would describe Rangers as the “stupidest club on the continent”.

That was all in the future of course after Smith had got his hands on 13 trophies in six years. It wasn’t simply a case of buying big to stay ahead of weakened opposition, there were crucial moments when his Rangers side had to show character and he, more than anyone else, infused his side with that in spades. From the baptism of fire that was the conclusion to that 1990/91 season, through to his final ever match as a manager in 2011, there were plenty of footballers who were willing to run through fire for Walter Smith. ‘The team that drinks together, wins together’ was an oft-repeated phrase during the nineties but, although it created limitations in more rarefied environments, domestically there was truth in it. Spirits helped to produce spirit and Smith was an expert at building a culture where his players felt ten foot tall. "You do less coaching and more man-management," Smith said in a Sunday Times interview from 1992. "There was no way a Walter Smith or Graeme Souness was going to tell Terry Butcher how to play football. All you do is give them an enjoyable environment to play in." There is a sharp contrast here with the way that football management was heading. The age of the auteur was beginning, with Saachi, Wenger and Mourinho - none of them players of great note - more than willing to tell world-class talent what to do and how they wanted them to play. It was about the players fitting into their particular vision, not the other way around. Smith’s only vision was silverware and empowering his players to execute what they could do under pressure was the quickest way he saw to achieving that. Brian Laudrup would call Rangers the best move he ever made and that was, without question, because of the freedom that Smith allowed him on the field. He, like Terry Venables, was the father figure that Paul Gascoigne needed in order to feel secure enough to express himself properly.

READ MORE: 'Most days I think of Walter': David Weir on Smith's Rangers influence

And there was the handling of Ally McCoist, who was managed in a very different way to his predecessor. Smith could easily have got that wrong or failed to get over the line in front of Aberdeen, ensuring that the history of Rangers would have looked very different indeed. He instinctively knew, however, how to press the correct buttons and had observed how Souness would often misjudge it badly. "I don’t think I’m particularly confrontational as a person. These five years have made me a wee bit wary of situations like that. I’ve learnt, you might say, how to avoid bold headlines." It would be a mistake to paint Smith as a soft touch. He too could leave players trembling in the dressing room - Gascoigne’s need for new underwear after a particular tirade was evidence of that - and he could be just as caustic with the media as Souness had been. It just wasn’t as incessant as his predecessor, where it felt as if there was a battle to be had every week, outside or in. Smith seemed to know when to use it for maximum impact. He had a very limited career as a player and understood the realities of a struggling professional footballer. Souness was not the first or last superstar player-turned-manager whose boiling frustration with the mere mortals at his disposal never seemed to cool for long enough. It is impossible to think of Smith’s insecurity leading to him treating a player in the way Souness did McCoist but likewise, Smith rarely - if ever - displayed the kind of ruthlessness with big names on the way down in their career as Souness had done with Butcher.

We should be cautious of broad brush strokes. Both men were as contradictory as the rest of us. Walter Smith, a reserved man of overwhelming class and dignity could still be terrifying with colleagues and was once arrested for a touchline fight at McDiarmid Park with Alex Totten. A man who could pin-point weaknesses in the best in Europe and consistently deliver Old Firm success but who saw no real value in coaching the players he bought and once said in a newspaper interview ‘what is a tactic anyway?’ Graeme Souness, the wolf in an empty room, who somehow still managed to inspire a togetherness in title-winning teams, even under the most intense moments of pressure. Fearless in the tackle, literal and metaphorical, but who shirked the further modernisation of his Rangers side when he abandoned his compact ball-playing team halfway through 1989/90 and replaced Ray Wilkins with Nigel Spackman and later Terry Hurlock. Nevertheless, the Rangers support saw in both what they needed to. The man who was a revolutionary agent of change and the man who had a reliable grip on power. The man who gave them swagger and the man who gave them assurance. For a younger generation, Souness had provided the hope of an exciting future. For an older one, Smith slew the ghosts of their domestic past. Consistent with this whole story, they were just the right characters for the circumstances of their time. Souness would never have lasted much longer at that speed, Rangers needed more control at the time he left. Smith could never have created the Big Bang that started it all, Rangers needed a figurehead much larger than life.

Despite the bumps and bruises, their failures and shortcomings, both men were of course incredibly successful for Rangers and part of their legacy is that they created the two templates of the modern Rangers manager. The arrogant fire when the whole place needed to be shaken up like Dick Advocaat and Steven Gerrard and the cooler reserve when an even keel was required, like Alex McLeish and Giovanni van Bronkhorst. When Rangers found themselves in a mess in 2007, it was Smith who got the call to return and steady the ship as only he could. Even post-retirement in 2011, fans still called for another temporary return during the darkest of times in the lower leagues. He’s still the man in the dugout that the support craves. His unrelenting success is an unforgiving benchmark.

They’ve rarely craved Souness back in that seat since his departure but interestingly, throughout the years between the plunge to Division 3 in 2012 and Gerrard’s arrival in 2018, his image adorned a thousand avatars on social media. Whether it was the aftermath of a heavy tackle, a raised fist in celebration or him looking down the barrel of a shotgun, he became a go-to icon for a support who badly needed leadership and strength. Something bigger and more ethereal that getting the next signing right, choosing who to play up front or even winning cups. He was symbolic of a lost sense of identity. His contagious sense of self-belief is the gold standard.

Graeme Souness and Walter Smith still bestride the modern history that they themselves created. Whether it be the diligent collection of trophies or the force of personality required to embody the club, they are still the men against whom every future Rangers manager is compared. It could be generations before we see their likes again.