THE tributes that have been paid to Walter Smith this week have been an indication of how much he was admired, respected and loved by the football fraternity.

Sadly, the greatest loss was to his family and I was always fully aware that they all adored him because of the type of man he was.

I met Walter many times over the years and I have to say that I also found him to be a lovely person as well as being socially great company.

His career in football management was outstanding and even although some people were saying he wasn’t such a good footballer, I disagree with that opinion. I played against him when he was both a Dundee United player and a Dumbarton player and I always had the utmost respect for him. I remember shaking his hand after a match against Dumbarton when I was playing for Kilmarnock and he said that he felt that, with my skill, I would move on to a higher level. I really appreciated that coming from an experienced player who had played at the top level in Scottish football for a number of years.

When he moved back to United as player coach, this was a sign of his managerial potential as Jim McLean wouldn’t have considered anyone to work along with him who didn’t have the necessary coaching qualities required for the top level in Scottish football. I truly believe that working under McLean was a great development experience for Walter as, without doubt, McLean had a great coaching ability that enabled him to keep United at the top of the Scottish game throughout the eighties. From my discussions with players who played for United, Walter also had a much better style of interacting with the players while McLean, despite being so knowledgeable regarding what players should do in matches, was a very aggressive individual and was always very critical of mistakes or poor performances.

I believe that this experience allowed him to form a style of management that was initially ideal for Graeme Souness to work along with and then to take it forward on an individual level when he became manager in 1991. To deal with the players at a major club, you have to be able to convince them that you know what is required tactically and also have an understanding of the egos that pertain within the dressing room. When you hear any of the tributes being given this week by former players, it becomes apparent that Walter had massive respect from his players and they were of the opinion that he had great football insight but was also always willing to listen to their opinions.

It’s also a component of being a top manager that your team has continual success as opposed to just the odd one. Sir Alex Ferguson spoke to me about this a few years ago when he was Manchester United manager. He stipulated that he had to keep his players building a desire to be successful every season even after a great one had just been enjoyed. He said that players can switch off subconsciously when they achieve their goal and that he had to streamline their motivation on a season-by-season basis, so that they continued to challenge for the major trophies. Walter Smith achieved this in his tenure with Rangers and his second spell from 2007 was even more significant as he came into the job with a strong Celtic team on a league-winning roll that continued into the 07/08 season. After that, he took Rangers to three consecutive title victories in addition to five cup victories and a European final before retiring in May 2011.

This is clearly a sign of his undoubted ability as a manager and why he certainly justifies the esteem that he is held in. This is, of course, secondary to the respect and the adoration that has been bestowed upon him this week due to his wonderful character.

And another thing

Last week I was looking at the competition we have at the top of the Premiership. I did state that I still believe the championship will go to either Celtic or Rangers and currently Celtic are looking the stronger side. There’s a long way to go though and that also applies to the challenge to avoid relegation. I was really interested to see if Ross County could avoid defeat on Wednesday night against second bottom Dundee as this would have isolated them in bottom place with a seven-point gap. Not only did they avoid defeat, they were comfortable 5-0 winners. It was a great performance producing an astonishing result. When you consider that so far in the campaign they had three draws and seven defeats you wouldn’t have thought for one minute that such a result would be possible, especially with the motivation that Dundee should have had to achieve a safer position. Well done to Malky Mackay.