What Walter Smith told Derek McInnes as Rangers mentor's words still resonate with Kilmarnock boss

Derek McInnes felt a key Walter Smith comment resonate after being nominated for PFA Scotland Manager of the Year.

The Kilmarnock boss is delighted to be alongside his old assistant Tony Docherty and John McGlynn on the three-man list after pushing his side to the brink of Europe. However, in successfully battling to beat relegation at Rugby Park 12 months ago, McInnes believes he might have done even better work.

Smith, his former manager at Rangers, secured an incredible haul of trophies and personal awards at Ibrox. But McInnes noted that even the ex-Scotland boss identified some of his best managerial efforts in tougher times south of the border. He explained: “I remember Walter saying how he got recognised by so many awards when he won trophies, but he felt he did his best work a lot of the time when he was at Everton.

“He was fire fighting, having to put teams out onto the pitch to compete with so many things going against you. There were so many challenges. It’s nice to be recognised this season, but last year was far tougher.

“It is quite ironic. As tough as it was last season, you probably feel you do more as a manager, you feel that you do a lot of your better work when you have to deal with a crisis and try to make sure we are good enough to get over the line.

“This season has actually been a bit easier to manage, even though you get recognition from it because your team is doing well. That is all down to recruitment and players. Managing is easier when you are winning games and when you have trust in your players.

“I don’t think I have become a better manager this year than I was last year. You get nominated, but you have probably not, personally, had to work as hard at it. The players make it easier. There’s no real secret in that. Last year was a tougher test, but this year has been so enjoyable.

“It’s actually been less frantic, less stressful, easier. Management looks easy when you know what you have got with your team. We’ve only lost two games in the league in 19, so that is half the league games and only seven all season.”

Ironically, those two defeats in 19 have come against Rangers’ new manager, whom McInnes will face again on Sunday. Philippe Clement did not make the nominations for Manager of the Year having only arrived in October after the sacking of Michael Beale.

McInnes’ side beat Beale’s men in the opening Premiership match as they dropped off the title pace, but the Belgian has hauled his team back into the flag battle. The Killie boss says Clement has made a strong impression and could have joined many managers on the PFA list.

He said: “Again, just in the Premiership alone, you could have Steven Naismith, Stephen Robinson, Philippe Clement and Brendan Rodgers. All guys who can be recognised as having good seasons. The difficulty is the votes get done before the end of the campaign and both Celtic and Rangers managers can still pick up other bits of silverware.

“Clement has done really well to keep Rangers in the fight. I don’t think it was a perfect situation for him. Clement came in and the team weren’t in a good place.

“He had to try and turn things around quickly and I think he deserves huge credit for the job he has done. He’s had one window in January to try and improve things, but I think the majority of Rangers supporters would be happy with what the manager has given them.”

Naturally, while McInnes has Europe in mind for Killie, Rangers’ angle into Sunday is clearly the title. With Celtic also to play before the end of the season, the Ayrshire side could have a big say, especially given they have beaten the champions twice at Rugby Park already this term. But McInnes discards the notion that his team will have a big influence.

He said: “People say, ‘Oh you can still have a big say in what happens in the title race’. But the biggest say will come from Rangers and Celtic. It’s not from other teams.

“A lot of time people focus on their opponents and say; There is a game they could slip up and there is a tough opponent there. But the team that finds the best form will win the league. Rangers and Celtic are in a situation where it is the first title fight for a while and it is exciting for everybody. We still have our own agenda, we have to try to finish the season strongly.

“We don’t want to feel that the season has finished now because we have reached top six. What’s next is qualifying for Europe and we are almost there. When we play Rangers and Celtic it will be no different from us in terms of facing them and the difficulties and challenges of playing against good teams.

“Obviously, it’s not easy getting over the line and I think both teams have so much to play for, still. We just concentrate on ourselves and know we have to be so good to compete and try to beat these teams. And Clement has at least got Rangers in a position where there is still a title fight.”