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Steven Whittaker: This Rangers team is more entertaining in the way they go about their business than we were. They can win this

© SNS GroupSteven Whittaker in front of the Rangers fans in Manchester
Steven Whittaker in front of the Rangers fans in Manchester

Experience tells Steven Whittaker that Rangers will have no problem shutting out the noise in Seville this week.

The Scot was part of the last Light Blues side to reach a showpiece occasion on the European stage 14 years ago.

Under the wise tutelage of Walter Smith, they negotiated 18 ties on an incredible run that took them all the way to Manchester and the UEFA Cup Final, where they came up against Zenit St Petersburg, managed by former Ibrox boss, Dick Advocaat.

That proved a bridge too far, and a side which also boasted captain Barry Ferguson, David Weir, Carlos Cuellar and Steven Davis went down to two goals in the last 20 minutes.

Whittaker also played that night, with his stunning solo goal away to Sporting Lisbon in the quarter-finals one of the highlights of the campaign.

He draws parallels with the current campaign to what he and his team-mates experienced.

“Going to Manchester to play was a bit different from having the game in Seville,” said the 37-year-old as he looked ahead to a showpiece expected to attract a six-figure invasion of Andalusia by Rangers supporters – and a similar amount of Eintracht Frankfurt fans – the vast majority without tickets.

“With it being a European Final, you imagine getting on a flight to get to the venue. But we were just down the road.

“Driving through the streets to the game, all you could see was red, white and blue everywhere.

“So many people went down without tickets, just to be there for the occasion.

“Although we came out on the wrong end of the result, it was still an experience I will remember for a long, long time.

“At the same time as the Final will feel different for the players, the preparation itself will be exactly the same.

“They might travel a day or two earlier, depending on what the club are comfortable with. But they will train on the pitch the night before, as will have been the case in the earlier rounds.

“The players know that for all the exposure the game will get, they have to focus on their job. That means getting themselves in the right frame of mind to put on the best performance they possibly can.

“You are nervous before the game. But as soon as the whistle goes, you are in the match and it is all about those white lines.

“You have to blank out everything else around it.

“You know your job, you know your opposition, you have done your homework, and you are prepared. It is time to get to work.

“That will be the players’ mindset, and I hope they can go that one step further than we did and grab that trophy.

“Eintracht Frankfurt have impressed me when I’ve watched them during the competition. But I am sure Rangers will go out and do what they do. I am sure they will give a proper account of themselves.”

Steven Whittaker goes head to head with Zenit’s Konstantin Zyryanov (Pic: SNS Group)

Whittaker feels there is plenty of reason to be bullish about the Light Blues’ chances of landing the trophy, a prize that carries with it a guaranteed place in the Champions League next season.

“The run to Manchester was really good. But this current Rangers side really give you your money’s worth when you watch them. This campaign has been unbelievable,” said the man who is now Scott Brown’s assistant at English League One side, Fleetwood Town.

“This team is more entertaining in the way they go about their business than we were.

“They score goals, even at the toughest grounds, and the run they have been on has just been amazing.

“We were slightly different. We knew what we were good at, we kept it tight and – with our spirit and commitment – teams really struggled to break us down.

“We believed in what we were doing, and always thought we could nick a goal. That was the basis of our performances.

“When we came up against Zenit in the Final, we knew they had spent a lot of money on their side.

“Andrey Arshavin, for example, had been a big name in the English Premier League before going out to play for them. Anatoliy Tymoshchuk was another really well-known player at the time.

“But we encountered that throughout the competition.

“Werder Bremen were very strong, Sporting Lisbon likewise. And Fiorentina, who we beat on penalties to get to the Final, had the likes of Mutu and Christian Vieri in their side.

“In the end, though, the Final was just a step too far. There were just 18 minutes left when they went ahead, and we could not get the goals to get back in the game.”

Rangers 2022 side, Whittaker is sure, can enjoy better fortune.

He said: “The big thing for me was after winning the semi-final against Leipzig, everyone was cuddling everyone. It did not matter who you were. It was: ‘Yes, we have done it!’.

“With the staff, the players, and the fans, there was a real togetherness there.

“I remember what it was like for the 2008 team, and when I watched the current Rangers side come through the second leg against Leipzig, it seemed even better.

“The club will be absolutely bouncing right until the Final. And, with a bit of luck, after it too.”