MARVIN ANDREWS has surprised a lot of people this season, including Alex McLeish. However, the man who has become Rangers’ unlikely cult hero may have to defy the odds if he wants to avoid missing out on the CIS Insurance Cup final against Motherwell on Sunday.
The Trinidad and Tobago defender is struggling to be fit for the showpiece occasion at Hampden Park because of a knee injury that he picked up at Dundee last Sunday in scoring the late goal that secured a Bank of Scotland Premierleague victory.
McLeish admitted yesterday that even he had not expected Andrews to make his imprint so forcefully on the Ibrox scene this season. Public opinion believed that the towering centre-back, who was signed from Livingston as a free agent last summer, was going to be fortunate to get a regular game. However, since then, Rangers have sold Craig Moore to Borussia Moenchengladbach and Jean-Alain Boumsong to Newcastle United, and Andrews has responded to the responsibility by forming an impressive partnership with Sotirios Kyrgiakos, who was signed from Panathinaikos during the January transfer window.
“Marvin is one of the players who have exceeded my expectations, as has Nacho Novo,” McLeish reflected. “Both were stepping up to a big club from relatively smaller ones in the Premierleague. There is a lot of expectation at a club like Rangers for players to handle.
“I always felt that Marvin was going to be a very useful addition here. If I am honest, I think if we had not signed him, then every other side in the Premierleague would have gladly taken him as a free agent. That tells you his contribution.”
McLeish revealed that the robust Andrews, a born-again Christian who attends prayer meetings every Sunday night in Kirkcaldy — where he was first introduced to Scottish football with Raith Rovers — is not the subject of ridicule about his religious faith among the normally fearsome cynics who make up the body of the kirk in football dressing-rooms.
“The boys respect him,” McLeish said. “He takes jokes in good spirit but the players love him as a person and I don’t think Marvin is the kind of guy who people would take liberties with over his beliefs.”
McLeish feels that his side’s progress since his frenetic transfer activity last summer and in the January window — which saw 12 arrivals at Ibrox, in total — has been ahead of schedule. Aside from this cup final, there is the little matter of a title duel with Celtic to consume attention once Sunday is out of the way.
“It has surprised me,” McLeish said. “We have rebuilt this side and a lot of players have come in this season. We are vying for the title with Celtic and we’re in a cup final this weekend. However, I still feel there is more to come from this squad. I have still to tweak one or two positions but I think we can get even better.
“There are players in our squad who do not yet have the experience of winning trophies and finals. It is new to them but once you experience that, it gives you a stronger mentality. It is a young team but it is to their credit that they were able to gel so quickly.”
It is ironic that this final should bring McLeish up against the club who gave him his start in management. He went to Motherwell in 1994, after spending his entire playing career at Aberdeen and spent four years at Fir Park before moving on to Hibernian and then Ibrox.
His admiration for the job that Terry Butcher has performed in taking Motherwell to their first final since 1991, with no money to speak of, is genuine. “The job Terry has done at Motherwell has caught the eye of people in England and he now has a well-deserved reputation as a manager,” McLeish said, referring to Butcher’s early unsuccessful forays into the role at Coventry City and Sunderland over a decade ago.
“For him to bounce back from those setbacks says it all. A lesser man would have given up. Terry and I used to have great encounters, both when he played for Rangers and I was at Aberdeen, and also during Scotland-England matches. He was a fearsome competitor, though I once accidentally broke his leg in a game at Ibrox which I don’t know if he’s forgiven me for.
“When his Motherwell side played us in the Scottish Cup semi-final two years ago at Hampden, Rangers won 4-3 but we were 2-1 down and I will warn my players that we will have to guard against that sort of performance this weekend.”