The moment Alex McLeish’s life flashed before his eyes as Rangers hero urges Michael Beale to avoid same fate
THE ball was fired across goal for scoring machine Kris Boyd.
For Alex McLeish, it was a moment his football life flashed before his eyes.
A 2-2 draw in the first leg at Ibrox had the tie on a knife-edge.
And with the odds stacked against them up against the side who had finished third in La Liga, Gers went out on away goals after SunSport columnist Boydy missed a huge chance at 1-1.
McLeish recalled: “It was just heartbreaking for us.
“Boydy, God bless him, he was great for us, but my life flashed before my eyes with a chance he had over there.
“Nine times out of ten the big man would have slotted it away.
“But on that occasion he just didn’t make the right connection.
“It was a great effort by the players against Villarreal. Peter Lovenkrands scored over there to give us the lead, and we gave it a right good go.
“We were more tactical in Europe that season than we’d been before, but the lads were great.
“We were a Treble-winning team and the quality we had was frightening.
“But that night was ultimately one of disappointment.
“These games are always decided on key moments, and unfortunately for us Villarreal got the breaks.
“They went through to play Inter Milan in the next round, which would have been incredible for us.
“They won that on away goals too and eventually lost to Arsenal in the semis.
“It’s all ifs, buts and maybes now. We all have to realise that’s all gone.
“But it was one of those sliding doors moments, really.
“Big Kris took it hard on himself after the game, but it was what it was.
“I remember we drew 2-2 at Ibrox in the first leg, and Villarreal thought they were home and dry after that.
“But we gave them a massive fright over there, and at that one wee moment we thought we would be in the quarter-finals. It just wasn’t to be.
“Hopefully Rangers get a bit more luck this week.”
Gers face Real Betis in the opener in Group C that also features Sparta Prague and Aris Limassol.
It’s another massive night for under-pressure gaffer Beale.
Big Eck will forever be remembered for being a Treble-winning boss, who took Rangers to within a goal of the last eight of the Champions League.
But it wasn’t all glory. Despite making the knockouts with Europe’s elite that season, Gers only won six of their first 17 league games en route to third, and tumbled out of both cups in two games.
Eck added: “I can only speak from my own experience, and I felt the pressure when things weren’t going our way.
“When we weren’t getting the right results, it was tough.
“When you don’t win when you’re expected to, it weighs heavy.
“I remember David Murray saying to me after our barren season that I’d still be at Rangers the following year.
“He told me that in advance, saying I’d been handed a bad deck of cards.
“With Michael Beale now, he’s had to revamp the whole thing and rely on the recruitment.
“We’re waiting on those guys to really exert themselves, show their true quality.
“The big thing about Rangers is they are a massive club where the team is expected to win every single game.
“Believe me, the pressure you feel as a manager at Ibrox when that’s not happening is absolutely crippling.
“It’s very tough so right now I really feel for Michael.
“When you get dodgy results you literally lie awake at night staring at the ceiling, thinking about what you can do to change things.
“You care so much about making tens of thousands of supporters happy.”
McLeish has revealed he’s given Beale the benefit of his experience in a heart-to-heart recently. He said: “I spoke to Michael a few weeks ago, and hope to pay a visit to see him at the training ground soon.
“When we spoke, we both emphasised the recruitment side, and that was before the window closed at Allan McGregor’s testimonial, and most of the signings were already done.
“It’s almost like he’s had to build a brand new team.
“I really hope he gets through this critical period because he’ll be feeling it.
“I remember speaking to Walter Smith, my mentor, when I got the job.
“We went out for dinner — him and I with the wives, Ethel and Jill — and I asked him if he had any tips for me.
“I said, ‘C’mon, you’re the master, give me some advice’.”
“And he looked at me and said, ‘Just f****** win’.”