Madjid Bougherra interview: ‘It’s part of the genetics to be a Rangers player that you never give up until the end’

Madjid Bougherra interview: ‘It’s part of the genetics to be a Rangers player that you never give up until the end’

[ad_1]

In the unusually muted build-up to the final Old Firm derby of this season, there has been the temptation to bill the meeting as incidental or even inconsequential. There are two reasons for this: with just four games remaining of the Premiership season, Celtic are six points clear of Rangers with a vastly superior goal difference, and Rangers have the small matter of being 90 minutes away from a European final, before RB Leipzig’s visit on Thursday.

Celtic can virtually crown themselves champions if they win at Celtic Park today (Sunday) but Rangers could add a bit of pressure to the run-in if they cut the gap to three points.

It would still take a minor miracle for them to retain the title as they would need to take a maximum 12 points from here while hoping Celtic earn five or less in their final three games (Hearts and Motherwell at home, either side of a trip to Dundee United), but out in Dubai there is one man with good reason not to give up hope.

Former Rangers centre-back Madjid Bougherra won the championship in all three of his three seasons at Ibrox between 2008 and 2011, with Rangers twice coming from behind Celtic in the title race to clinch the trophy.

Like many foreign players who immerse themselves in Glasgow’s footballing tombola after signing for one of the clubs, Bougherra knows what the rivalry means and what the fixture can do to those involved.

He experienced just about every emotion possible from putting four past Celtic, to losing by three, being acrimoniously sent off, involved in heated battles and scoring a crucial winner — well, almost.

But when searching for a reason Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side should not concede defeat in their attempts to retain their domestic crown, he refers back to his 2008-09 debut season, when Gordon Strachan’s Celtic side looked destined to make it four in a row.

A season that had began with great momentum, including a 4-2 win away to their rivals, had gone off the rails for Rangers after losing against Inverness Caledonian Thistle and then drawing with Hearts in consecutive games. It left Walter Smith’s side six point behind Celtic in the April; they had a game in hand, but it seemed like they had lost their grip.

“It’s part of the genetics to be a Glasgow Rangers player, that you never give up until the end,” says Bougherra, who is now manager of Algeria ‘A’ — the national team compromised of home-based players.

“The mentality is to win and win and win. Anything is possible in football, so they need to give everything as the fans will remember that, even if the result doesn’t work out.

“In that first season, I still believed. We knew it would not come easily but Steven Davis scored (the only goal of a May derby at Ibrox), which meant we won the last derby of the season, and we never looked back.”

Davis may well have a part to play this afternoon too, 13 years later. The midfielder, now 37, was a key part of that period along with Bougherra, as Rangers won two of those three titles on the last game of the season — away to Dundee United in 2009 and then Kilmarnock two years later.

Maurice Edu’s stoppage-time winner in a February 2010 derby helped seal their second title, but it was a rebound from Bougherra’s initial shot. “I gave him a kick once we got inside,” he laughs.

If Rangers are to pull off a minor miracle in the coming weeks it will require an even greater Houdini act than when they lost 3-0 to Celtic in February 2011 to fall eight points behind in the race before clawing back the deficit, culminating in an exhilarating 5-1 final day victory away to Kilmarnock.

“To win in the last game gave it more charm, more flavour to winning the trophy. When we won against Dundee United (in 2009), I remember the helicopter waiting for us.

“You are focused on the game, so you don’t hear the helicopter. Sometimes you don’t even hear the fans either. The second year we won, it was good as we won with games to spare but it was not as good as the first and third seasons.”

In what turned out to be Bougherra’s final season at the club, the two teams played each other no fewer than seven times across the three domestic competitions as the rivalry reached boiling point in the March.

Rangers had three men sent off in a 1-0 Scottish Cup last-16 loss at Celtic Park. Bougherra admits the red mist descended as referee Calum Murray gave him a second yellow card in the 93rd minute, and saw him grab the official’s wrist to try to prevent Murray ordering him off.

“I made a tackle (on Kris Commons) when I was already booked. Ally (McCoist, then Smith’s No 2) had been shouting to me to calm down and be careful. I just gave him a wink to say, ‘It’s OK, no worries’.

“It is part of the derby that sometimes you need to be strong and your emotions go up and down with the referee. I was controlling it but the tackle was a very good tackle as I took the ball, not the player. We were losing 1-0 and had a few minutes left so I was not happy to have a second card, as in the derby that tackle is good.

“After I was a little nervous, as I didn’t want him to give me another yellow. When you are in the game you can lose control, so I went to see him and apologise.

“The crazy thing (about Rangers-Celtic matches) is you can play six times, seven times or 10 times and all the players have the same spirit and desire to win. You are never fed up with this game, it is special and you feel the hatred.

“I call this a real, real derby. The people are too passionate. The spirit, the noise and the intensity of the game is unique in Europe.”

Steven Whittaker was also sent off for two yellows in the first half, as was El Hadji Diouf — who spent the season on loan from Blackburn Rovers — in a melee after full time.

Diouf and Bougherra produced somewhat of an iconic image as they left Hampden in the week that followed, having had additional bans for their behaviour quashed. So did McCoist for his touchline fracas with Celtic manager Neil Lennon, an incident the Scottish government saw fit to hold a national summit over.

“It was a special season as Diouf signed and had some fights with Scott Brown, so there were things that pushed the atmosphere more,” Bougherra says. Among these was Diouf mocking Brown’s celebrations a couple of weeks later after Rangers beat Celtic in the League Cup final.

“He just did it himself,” laughs Bougherra. “He’s a unique player but people don’t know him outside of football. I didn’t know him before but he’s a funny guy and amazing to know. He has a big personality but he is one of those players that when he goes on the pitch he is a different person as he is a winner.

“He had a lot of respect for the coaches but I would see Walter smile at him many times in training — and it’s not easy to get a smile from Walter!”

This was the type of intensity that Bougherra quickly realised he had to live with if he was to be a success in Glasgow. But only two and a half years before he joined Rangers from Charlton Athletic of the English Championship for £2.5 million it would have seemed far-fetched.

“It was a dream to be a footballer, but I was concentrated on my studies in Dijon — which was about programming software on computers,” Bougherra says of a football journey that began in France in 2002. “I was playing in the amateur league on a Sunday mornings but (second-tier club) Gueugnon came to watch me as they were just an hour away.


Bougherra went from studying computer programming and playing amateur football in France to being a Scottish champion with Rangers in seven years (Photo: Getty Images)

“The first year, it was very hard training every day. I had pain everywhere but my body started changing over time. The second year I was with the first team, and the third year I was playing all the time. But in the fourth year a new coach came in and didn’t want me.

“I was looking for a loan and had an opportunity in Greece but at the last moment (in the January 2006 window) Crewe Alexandra came in, as they were looking for a centre-back. I was playing for the Algeria Under-23s and an agent was talking about me. We played Port Vale and I played well so I signed and had a fantastic three months (playing 11 games in the Championship).

“I had gone from a No 10 to a No 5, so it was easy for me to become a defender as the game was in front of me now, not behind.”

His loan at Crewe brought a move to Sheffield Wednesday, also in the Championship, that summer. Six months later, then-Premier League Charlton bought him, but he suffered an injury on his debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford that meant he didn’t start again until the final day of the season, by which time the south London club had been relegated.

After a season back in the Championship, Bougherra was all set to join Premier League-bound West Bromwich Albion in the summer of 2008 when he received an 11th-hour phone call from a familiar voice.

“My fitness coach at Sheffield Wednesday, Adam Owen (by then working at Ibrox), phoned me and told me to sign for Rangers,” he says.

“I took a flight during the night and signed in Glasgow the next day. They had just sold Carlos Cuellar (to Aston Villa) for big money so he showed my profile to Walter Smith and decided to take me.

“Ally McCoist came to meet me. I felt very comfortable with him. He talks to you as a friend and a brother, so I felt I had signed for a family club.”

It had taken until the age of 25 for Bougherra to reach that level but countryman Riyad Mahrez, who he rates as the best he has ever played with, almost joined him in Scottish football after he went on trial to St Mirren the following year as an unknown teenager. Despite scoring seven goals in his trial games a deal wasn’t offered, and the rest is history.

“He had a long story before Leicester and Man City, a little bit like me, as it is hard to find a club who trusts you,” says Bougherra.

“That’s the difficulty, as it sometimes takes time to find the coach who sees something in you. I have many friends who never found that coach to push them higher so that is the bad side. Football is a little bit like Jenga. You need to survive and never give up.”

Bougherra found that coach in Smith, who passed away in November at the age of 73.

“He’s a legend. People love him and all the players loved him. In the UK, and especially Glasgow, they respect the people who do good things for the club. Not many places do, so it is amazing. I have no words other than: we miss him.”

Smith’s impact on Bougherra can be felt in the emotion of the 39-year-old’s voice when he speaks.

“Walter was very calm due to his experience and he had a big character. Without talking, you respected him and were afraid to miss something,” Bougherra says. “Ally had our mentality, because he was young he was close to us. So Walter was the big boss and it was the perfect mix.

“The first time I saw him very sad, he started shouting in the changing room. Trust me, no one in the dressing room was speaking.


The late Walter Smith was a “perfect” manager says an emotional Bougherra (Photo: Jeff HolmesSNS Group via Getty Images

“I experienced it too as I had a habit of being five minutes later for training but he put me on the bench after I qualified for the World Cup (in 2010) and came back late.

“It was the first time we had qualified in my life, so the atmosphere was amazing and I wanted to stay two days more to enjoy it. I lost my French passport. I had my Algerian one but they needed it for the visa or something.

“He was not happy at all. I said sorry and that was the good thing about Walter as when you tell him you are wrong and are sorry, he turns very quickly — although he still put me on the bench! I made an assist in the next game, though, so he put me back on the pitch.”

Bougherra, whose sturdy physique made him instantly recognisable, says he used to give Rangers kit man Jimmy Bell a headache as he would ask for bigger shorts and shirts, particularly when, one season, the supplied shirts came in a skin-tight fit.

That may have been easier to sell to him during Ramadan, which he is currently observing as he takes a break in Dubai, but Smith was always accommodating when it came to his fasting, and that compassion is what stood out to Bougherra as his greatest quality.

“When I had the space, I had the habit to go forward (from centre-back). I gave him a headache! It was my need to run every game. I cannot stay in my position — but when I went forward I came back very fast!

“You can find some coaches who change you and the way you play but he used what I have and tried to improve on it, not to take things away from my game. There are too many coaches who try to change a player, but he was different. Tactically, he gave me things to follow every game but he was different.

“This is why I felt comfortable with him and why I gave everything for him. He told me, ‘As long as everything you do is for the team and not for yourself, it will be OK’.

“He gave me that confidence and sometimes I liked to go straight forward or other times I gave the ball to the attacker and keep going to offer a cross. I never remember him saying to stay back once.”

Although Bougherra’s defensive qualities were what helped build a solid foundation alongside David Weir, the freedom he was given in possession is what helped produce two memorable goals, against Dundee United and Stuttgart, as he went on mazy runs before finishing off what were solo strikes any striker would have been proud of.

“I was waiting for this one for a long time — after about 200 runs, I finally succeeded,” he says.

“The Stuttgart one was good but I went really far by myself against Dundee United, so that is the best one I’ve ever scored.”

Bougherra had fellow Algerians Brahim Hemdani and Salim Kerkar as team-mates at Ibrox and the latter’s role as a cult figure in his two seasons at the club between 2010 and 2012 is what proves his love of the club.

“I played with his brother who was a very good player. Salim was at Gueugnon too when he was young, so I knew him from there,” Bougherra says. “The club couldn’t sign many players as the finances were controlled so I brought him to the coach for a trial.”

Kerkar was signed and, despite only making a handful of starts in cup competitions, was regularly cheered like a hero while warming up.

“This is why I love the fans in Glasgow, as small things can be turned into funny or lovely things. I was happy as he helped us in some situations and was like my smaller brother.”

Bougherra left Rangers the season before the club imploded to join the Lekhwiya club in Qatar, but says if he’d had his way he would have stayed longer.

“I was close to signing for four more years, but the financial situation meant that the offer from Qatar gave them (Rangers) money,” he says.

“Rangers was the highlight of my career there and I could not have found better anywhere. I didn’t know what the competitive mentality was before I joined Rangers but I learned how to win not just one game but to become a winner.”

(Top photo: Craig Halkett/PA Images via Getty Images)



[ad_2]

Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: