A BITTER blast of wind sweeps past Tannadice Park, but even inside the gates Russell Latapy is totally chilled out. The 34-year-old, who became Ian McCall's latest signing at Dundee United last week, is speaking frankly about his relationship with Alex McLeish, his former manager, who now has the distinction of being the major protagonist in the messy endings the player has experienced at his previous two clubs. The first, from Hibs, came amid cup final chaos immediately before the 2001 Hampden meeting with Celtic, while the second exit was merely a case of slinking out of Ibrox via the back door.
While the rest of the Rangers squad jetted out to Dubai for the winter break, Latapy was just jettisoned. Given such an unlucky strike rate with one particular manager, it seems slightly incongruous that the languorous former Trinidad and Tobago international is already actively contemplating working with McLeish again in the future.
"I always think what goes around comes around and that is what it is like with Alex," said Latapy, who made his debut for his new club against Dunfermline yesterday. "He came in as manager at Rangers and we worked away, we had a good working relationship and we still have a good working relationship. Like every other relationship you have personally or professionally you don't always agree on things, but at the end of the day he was the manager so even if I didn't like something what could I do about it?
"I don't have to agree with his every single decision, but I have to respect his right to make it. I have always respected him as a manager and a person, and he always showed the same respect to me. Who knows, maybe in 10, 15 years we could be working together again. That is the way the game is."
It would be only natural if the pair's shared history had been a factor from the first moment McLeish arrived at the Ibrox club, whether for good or ill. Dick Advocaat, after all, had upset the applecart of McLeish's side when he enticed Latapy away from the Easter Road club towards the end of the previous season, and Latapy's over-enthusiastic socialising prior to the Edinburgh side's biggest game of the season took things to crisis point. Yet Latapy says it never became an issue.
"If you are going to a club like Rangers then you have to treat everybody equally and even from day one when he came in I wasn't expecting any special treatment," Latapy said. "Alex went about the job the way he was supposed to. And it is a credit to him. Managers are always going to pick whatever team they see fit and I couldn't complain because the team were doing well, and winning, and they're sitting top of the league."
Perhaps, just perhaps, such upbeat soundings off have something to do with the settlement wages that have recently arrived in his bank account from the Ibrox club. Or perhaps such monetary concerns mean little to a player who shows all the symptoms of having a distinctly happy-go-unlucky attitude. Having moved from Hibs with such high hopes, after all, his total contribution in one-and-a-half seasons at Rangers was 23 appearances, many of those from the substitutes' bench.
"I have had some fantastic experiences and I have had experiences that I wish had gone differently," Latapy says, all the while beaming out from beneath those spreadeagled dreadlocks. "But I don't have any regrets about going to Rangers. The time I spent there was fantastic, I had a great year-and-a-half and they were a great bunch of lads. And if I had to do it again, I would do it all over again."
But, hang on, surely he must have been just a little bit miffed by the timing of departure? Apparently not. The player even says that his mid-season departure from Ibrox was partly at his own behest - as it allowed him six months to get his own future sorted.
"It was partly my decision to do things then," he said. "I wasn't playing a lot at the time and wasn't going to be offered another deal so it was in the best interests to get something sorted as soon as possible. You want the opportunity to show what you can do, but it was a situation where it worked out OK for myself and the club, because they have lots of players and they always want to bring in new faces."
So now the player who left Port-of-Spain at the age of 17 to try to follow his dreams of making it big in Europe, is discovering the City of Discovery, where he will stay for two nights each week while retaining his current res-idence in Glasgow. He even has the novelty of an entirely new manager to impress, and a six-month contract in which to win an extended deal. Not that he hasn't already been impressed by McCall's credentials himself.
"I like Ian's philosophy on the game," Latapy said. "I have looked at all his teams playing in the past and they have tried to pass the ball which is good because I don't exactly have the physical stature to be a route one player." The prospect of McCall giving Latapy and Charlie Miller a run in midfield is one that is already enticing the Tannadice faithful, as soon as Miller serves the suspensions that he has accrued so far this season.