Scottish soccer coaching great Walter Smith dies at 73

Walter Smith, the Scottish soccer coach who won 21 trophies over two spells with Rangers and restored respectability to his national team in a brief stint in charge, has died. He was 73.

Smith had been “battling illness,” Rangers chairman Douglas Park said Tuesday in a statement from the Glasgow team announcing the death.

“It is almost impossible to encapsulate what Walter meant to every one of us at Rangers,” Park said. “He embodied everything that a Ranger should be. His character and leadership was second to none.”

With a dry sense of humor and an endearing humbleness belying his status as one of Scotland’s greatest ever coaches, Smith established Rangers as the country’s biggest force in soccer by winning seven straight Scottish league titles as well as three Scottish Cups and three Scottish League Cups in his first spell at Ibrox from 1991-98.

Among the players in Smith’s team were Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup, and Rangers tied rival Celtic’s record of nine consecutive league titles in 1997.

Smith returned to stabilize the club in 2007, winning three straight league titles from 2009-11, five domestic cups, and guiding Rangers to the final of the now-defunct UEFA Cup in 2008.

Park described Smith as “one of the great modern-day football managers.”

“However, for Rangers supporters,” Park said, “he was much more than just a football manager. Walter was a friend to many, a leader, an ambassador and most of all, a legend.”

In between his stints at Rangers, Smith managed Premier League club Everton from 1998-2002, had a short period as assistant to close friend Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and took charge of the Scottish national team from 2004-07.

Scotland was at a low ebb after a disappointing two years under German-born coach Berti Vogts, and Smith improved the team’s fortunes and lifted it 70 places in the FIFA rankings.

His best result was the win over France at Hampden Park in a European Championship qualifier that left Scotland in first place in their group, but he never completed the qualification campaign after being enticed back to Rangers — the team he supported growing up in Glasgow.

Smith was also briefly non-executive director and then chairman of Rangers, and developed a close bond with the club’s current manager, Steven Gerrard, who led the team last season to its first Scottish league title since 2011.

“Thank you for all your wisdom, support and friendship,” Gerrard said on social media. “You meant the world to everyone at Rangers.”

As a player, Smith had a modest career — his clubs were Dundee United and Dumbarton — before retiring because of injury at the age of 32 and going straight into coaching, initially with Scotland’s youth teams.

“He was respected by all and one of the few able to transcend rivalries,” Scotland great Kenny Dalglish, who played for and coached Celtic, wrote on Twitter. “Today we have lost a truly great man.”

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