The seat in the television studio has been exchanged for one in the dugout, the smart casual attire swapped for the tracksuit and boots. Alex Rae now passes advice rather than judgment, now offers insight and analysis to players rather than punters.

There is a part of that situation that brings more than a tinge of regret for Rory Hamilton. He could well have been sitting beside his old friend and colleague in the Stadium of Light on Thursday evening. Instead, he will take a place on the gantry and look down on Rae doing what he loves doing most against the might of Benfica.

Rangers have saved their best for the European occasions in recent seasons. Hamilton has been the voice to accompany the images, the man who has put words to the drama and Rae was so often part of the BT Sport team with him. When supporters tune in on TNT this time around, Rae will be influencing the action rather than describing it.

It was ahead of the last continental encounter that Rangers confirmed that Rae, Brian Gilmour and Colin Stewart would remain on Philippe Clement’s coaching staff for the remainder of the campaign. Clement inherited all three on his appointment as manager, a move that saw him bring old compatriot Stephan van der Heyden with him to Glasgow. By that stage, Steven Davis had opted to step back from the first-team setup and he has subsequently retired from playing.

“It’s always interesting when you come into a club and have new staff,” Clement said at his pre-match press conference on the eve of the historic win over Real Betis. “They had also not been working with the first team for too long. You need to see what their qualities are and how they do things, how they fit with yourself and the rest of the staff. We took the time to make these observations and I’m happy with the work. They are ambitious.”

Clement referenced the importance of Gilmour’s relationships with the academy system and younger players within the group, while Stewart’s rapport with Jack Butland continued to strengthen alongside his long-standing association with Robby McCrorie. Clement admitted that he looked outside of the club ‘for a while’ and ‘spoke to some people to get to know them’ but he was satisfied with a ‘really good staff.’

“With Alex, we have someone who knows what it is to be a player for Rangers,” Clement said. “All the things around it, how it is in the dressing room. He has experience at every level and he has done a really good job.”

That night in Seville was the most significant of Clement’s reign to that point. Many more triumphs have been secured since then, of course, and the trip to face Benfica is one that Rangers will rightly relish. A place in the last eight is on the line against the Portuguese giants. It is a tie where heroes can be made on the pitch but the team behind the team will have their own levels of excitement.

The impact that Clement has made at Ibrox almost defies logic. The supporters who have lived through it have savoured the silverware and the individual successes and the Belgian is now just ten games away from the league title. It would be almost as unlikely an achievement as the crowning moment of Rae’s career back in May 2005.

“It is always the case with these things, when you look at it from a personal point of view or a selfish point of view, you are almost disappointed because it means that I won’t be working with him,” Hamilton told the Rangers Review of Rae’s involvement as one of Clement’s trusted lieutenants. “Alex is a brilliant guy to work with. You are right, his heart is in coaching and to see him get back in and have another chance is really heart-warming. He is a genuinely good person and he is getting to do what he loves. Alex is one that you don’t want to lose that knowledge and enthusiasm from the game in any capacity, be it on the TV or on the training ground. Him being a part of football and at a club that he holds so dearly to his heart I think is hugely important.”

When Rae agreed to return to Rangers in October, it was akin to a former soldier answering a call of duty. A Scottish Premier League and League Cup winner in that 2004/05 campaign, Rae had never hidden his allegiance for Rangers before or after he was offered a contract by Alex McLeish following his departure from Wolverhampton Wanderers. If the club, his club, needed him, he would be there ready, willing and able.

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The initial approach came late on a Sunday evening. Rae had witnessed Michael Beale’s side lose at home to Aberdeen the previous afternoon and it had become clear that change was in the air. He was asked to report to Auchenhowie on Monday morning. In his own words, he ‘looked out the old Puma Kings and that was that’. Just over five months later, he is still pulling them on.

Rae was a First Division winner with Sunderland in 1998 and earned promotion to the top flight with Wolves four years later. He may not have played at the level that his side will be operating at on Thursday night but his knowledge of the game is undoubted and he has been a pundit on TV, radio and the official club channel for many years. Managerial stints at Dundee and St Mirren were followed by spells alongside Paul Ince, most recently in the Championship with Reading.

It was his move to London alongside his long-time friend that interrupted his appearances on the road to Seville. The famous night in Dortmund stands out for Hamilton, and not just for the performance and the result. He recalls Rae almost predicting the flow of the encounter, picking out the high starting position of James Tavernier on the Rangers right as evidence that Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side were ready to assume control. At a time when there has never been more eyes on a game or more angles available to watch it, a pundit who can spot what others don’t is invaluable.

“I have not played or coached anywhere near professional football level so obviously I will see a game very differently to how Alex will see it,” Hamilton said. “You get different kinds of co-commentators. Some of them will absolutely bring their personalities to it, others will show more of a coaching side to it and be more analytical.

"I think it is something that really gets underrated amongst viewers at times, that skill of the co-commentator to see things that us normal people, as much as we love football and know it, just don’t see as quickly or as clearly. These guys really know it. That comes from their experience playing or coaching, their understanding of the game is better than what we have because they have been right in the thick of it.”

Rae first joined up with Ince at MK Dons back in 2009 and was also with him at Notts County and Blackpool. When he left Bloomfield Road, he headed to the continent and was reunited with the man who allowed him to live his Ibrox dream after being named as assistant to McLeish at Genk, ironically the club that Clement would win his first title with five years later.

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The Ibrox board had to act quickly and decisively after the call was made to remove Beale from office. Rae was an obvious choice to assume a position given his association with the club but that history is only one part of his appeal. Clement could have attracted any one of countless former players onto his staff if he had wished to but he sees the value in Rae the man and the man-manager.

“He is an infectious character, the players love him,” McLeish told the Rangers Review. “He is a ball of energy. He was like that with me and he will be doing that there just now. I was in at one of the games a few weeks ago and went in to say hello to Philippe and Alex was there as well. He came in and they were having their well-earned grub after the game. I managed to get a chat with him and he is loving it, he is loving it. It is great that Clement has put that faith in him.

“He will have done a dossier on Alex’s career, I am sure. Clement is very professional that way. He will have had people in his ear as well and he will have seen that Alex is a good guy that could be a good foil for him and the other coaches, and certainly for the players. That is the kind of role that I anticipated him getting and he has that bond with the club itself as well. It makes for a good potion.”

McLeish and Rae were assisted by Hans Visser during their time at the Cegeka Arena. When Genk missed out on the Championship play-offs on goal difference, the decision was made to change direction at the end of the campaign. It was so near yet so far for Big Eck.

The rapport that Rae had with the squad still stands out for McLeish. He does, though, recall a story about one of his players tearing a muscle during a drill with his right hand man as Rae fired a series of passes at him. Thankfully, history has not repeated itself at Ibrox.

“His interaction with the players was first class, the players loved him,” McLeish said. “We had a good Dutch coach as well and we worked well together to set up the sessions and prepare for the matches. Those two were key to us perfecting positions and tactics during the week. He will take the strikers away and work on movement and finishing, he will do the same with the midfield or the defence. That is Alex, he will take them away and do some good drills and he will be a big part of enjoyable sessions that the players will like very much and get a lot out of.

"He is a terrific guy but that is not his only attribute. He is infectious but he is a tough guy, he will not suffer fools gladly, that is for sure. As a player, he was very strong and powerful in terms of his coaching of players and getting behind them. You could see that side of him and he was destined to become a coach or a manager. Even back in the day, I could spot that a mile away.”

Clement needed Rae to be a link between the playing squad and the managerial staff. The Belgian’s bond with those that he works with and works for has been evident since the first days of his reign and the mood around Ibrox and Auchenhowie is very different today than it was on that first morning. Having been there before that and overseen the defeat to Aris Limassol and win at St Mirren, nobody will understand the change better than Rae himself.

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Clement is a manager that players want to play for. He has the gravitas and stature, and track record of success, to be Rangers manager and he is edging towards adding the Premiership title and Scottish Cup to the League Cup that was lifted just days after the win over Betis that catapulted Rangers into the last 16 in Europe.

In an interview during the winter training camp in La Manga, Rae admitted he had learned a trick or two from his boss and he highlighted his people skills as one of his major strengths. That applies to the 54-year-old as well. So many of those who have been in Rae’s presence will have to agree.

“That is one thing I would say, whether it has been European nights at Ibrox or having the pleasure of travelling abroad with him, what a character he is,” Hamilton said. “He is a fantastic guy to have in your company, his stories are brilliant and he has lived quite the life. At the same time, he is genuinely down-to-earth and a good guy. We talk about it amongst ourselves and with people who have worked with him.

"See if you were stuck by the roadside at three in the morning and your car had broken down and you needed someone to come and help you, Alex Rae would be the guy that you would call. He is just one of those people, he will do the right thing and the good thing and no job is too big for him. I am not surprised at all that Philippe Clement has taken to him. It might have taken him a while to understand him! Especially in between the swear words! Seriously, though, you can put him on air and he is absolutely spot on. I can see how that has worked.”

It has been a case of so far so good for Rangers. Beating Benfica would be another eye-catching achievement for a squad and staff that are on the up and up at present but the domestic fixtures with Hibernian and Dundee after the respective legs carry greater significance in terms of silverware ambitions.

The events of Helicopter Sunday will never be topped for McLeish, Rae or many supporters. The manager and the midfielder that day are fully aware of what a title win would mean this term, though. As both can testify, sometimes things just work out for the best.

“I think it would be euphoric for him to achieve that,” McLeish said. “As we speak today, it is achievable. For Alex to come in a few months after working with Incey at Reading and get this opportunity with his beloved club, it has got to be a dream come true for him.

“It is sliding doors, isn’t it? Sometimes you pick the wrong option and sometimes you get the invitation. Alex was asked to go back in with Steven and that gave him a chance to earn a relationship with Clement. Hopefully, it leads them to the title.”