One On One with: Maurice Ross

The opinions of Maurice Ross are split between Glasgow Rangers fans. The majority view him as a product of the club’s youth development team who broke into the first team and gave his all for the shirt. Others peg him as a player who was out of his depth in a team full of stars. The player himself admits that he knew he didn’t have the same level of talent that some of his teammates had, but he still approached the challenge much like he has approached his entire career – with a will and determination to succeed. Being catapulted into that team at such an early age was both beneficial and detrimental to the player’s career prospects.  He learned from the best, day in day out, but in doing so he set the benchmark so high that it was almost impossible to replicate or reach as his career progressed. Wishing his career had happened in reverse is a strong indication of that high benchmark. Regardless of your opinion, his career stats say a lot. Ross played for Rangers over 80 times, winning several domestic honours in the process, which rightly earned him 12 international caps for Scotland. He also played in several countries across the world as he developed both as a player and as a person. Now as a manager with a growing reputation, Ross is using his experiences as a player to his own benefit and to the benefit of those who play for him. We sat down with him recently to find out more.

BackOfTheNet: Let’s start at the beginning with Glasgow Rangers. You signed for the club as a trainee before eventually breaking into the first team, partly under Dick Advocaat, but more when Alex McLeish took over. As a younger player coming into that squad, how did you cope with the pressure of playing in front of 50,000 people at Ibrox each week?

Maurice Ross: It’s sounds really strange but because I had been traveling to Glasgow three times a week playing and training with Rangers since I was 13 years old you are somewhat indoctrinated. I remember guys like Alex Hosie and John Chalmers preaching to us with the all familiar ‘no one likes us we don’t care’ on a daily basis. We were bred to believe we were better than everyone else, even Celtic. I was never one blessed with masses of talent but I was very quick and a brilliant reader of the game. When we trained at the Astro turf we had around 3,000 people watching us, so even at 13, you’re being put into situations that have you perform under pressure and great numbers of folks watching. So, when it came to the stadium being full in a competitive game, it was actually ‘normal’. It’s a sensational feeling running out to 50,000 Rangers fans. Nothing can ever replace that. I miss it.

BOTN: Were there times when you had doubts about your ability to perform at that level?

MR: I doubted my ability on a daily basis, to be honest, but John Brown, who I give much credit in my mental development, encouraged me to suppress any doubt and show no weakness, which at times would be hidden behind a cloak of bravado. How could I not have doubted myself in a backdrop of Murray Park playing with Ronald De Boer, Barry Ferguson and Claudio Cannigia? I was not even close to these guys but I had to somehow compartmentalize my negative thoughts and focus on what I was good at! Which was giving it to the good players, running all day, fighting like hell and delivering crosses from wide areas. Long passing, dribbling etc. were not my thing so I focused on the strengths I had.

BOTN: In past interviews, you talked about receiving your football education from the Rangers training session you took part in and working daily as you mentioned with the likes of De Boer, Caniggia, Ferguson, Jorg Albertz and Lorenzo Amoruso, to name a few. Is there one player in particular who took you under his wing and helped you develop as a player?

MR: There isn’t one individual that I can say I learned more from or took me under their wing, but I do hold Craig Moore in high esteem because of his manner and how he conducted himself as a man. He also had limited talent set but he was class. I was close with Ronald De Boer and Shota Arveladze whom I still have contact with today. These guys, along with Jan Wouters, altered my typical Scottish way of thinking, and I believe these guys, along with the other top internationalists, taught me “proper football”.

BOTN: How important was it for you as a younger player to be exposed to these guys on a daily basis?

MR: My way of thinking is simple. You train with these boys 280 days a year, yet you only play 40 games. Where is it most probable you will learn the most? Of course, it’s in training. I loved training with these guys. It was a pleasure. An education. I will never forget the chance Dick Advocaat and Alex McLeish gave me. Alex and I had a somewhat tempestuous relationship which is mostly down to my immaturity and lack of self-belief, but he still played me in four cup finals, which I’m eternally grateful. He has given me the greatest gift ever. I can proudly say I am a treble winner for one of the biggest clubs in the world. I say that with a smile on my face.

Ross gives his all in an Old Firm match against Celtic (image from Maurice Ross)

BOTN: Eventually it was time to move on from Rangers, and despite a failed move to West Ham that you were keen on, you eventually did move to England in 2005, first with Sheffield Wednesday, then Wolves and Millwall. It’s fair to say your time down there didn’t go quite to plan. Looking back now, were there reasons why it didn’t work out?

MR: The West Ham move fell through because Chris Burke got injured in a session when I was in the training park just about to sign for West Ham. Martin Bain pulled me back up the road and Alan Pardew didn’t take too kindly to it and pulled out of the deal. Boom. Football can be that cruel at times. Then my agent called me that summer and asked me if I was ready to travel to Wolves, as I was second choice right back behind Jackie McNamara, but “they would never get the Celtic captain”. Celtic stalled on the deal and he signed a three-year deal there that could have easily been mine and it would have altered my career. Sod’s law, Jackie injured his crucial ligament and two months later Wolves are on the phone again asking me to come in for a season. Once he was back fit they also had two young lads coming through, so there was no justification for Glenn Hoddle to sign me when he has his main guy back fit and two backups. Again circumstantial!

BOTN: Would you have done anything differently?

MR: At Millwall, I just couldn’t settle. It was just not what I was brought up with and I couldn’t leave quick enough.

BOTN: Before you left Rangers, you made your international debut for Scotland against South Korea during the Berti Vogts era. Vogts was heavily criticized for his approach while he was Scotland’s manager, but he did manage to blood a lot of players who would play pivotal roles for Scotland in the future, including James McFadden, Darren Fletcher and Craig Gordon. Do you think he was treated badly during his stint in charge? And how did it feel making your debut in that dark blue shirt?

MR: I felt it was terrible how the press treated Berti Vogts. This is a man that won the World Cup. Incredibly poor taste if you ask me. Can I tell you, Paul Daniels couldn’t conjure up wins with the squad we had. It’s was very much a transitional time in the national team and I feel that he was made a scape goat. Ok, maybe he didn’t help himself with handing out caps to so many people in such a short period of time. He is a gentleman and a man I am very fond of because he allowed me to represent my country in many big European qualifiers. I can sympathize with him now because I too have coached abroad for six years now and it’s easy to be misunderstood when you don’t speak in your mother tongue.

Ross represented Scotland on twelve occasions (Image from Maurice Ross)

BOTN: Over your career, you have played in a variety of different countries including Norway, Turkey, & even China. A vast majority of British players choose to stay in Scotland or England because it’s comfortable for them, but you decided to try something new and see how the game is played elsewhere. What was the driving force behind you doing that? What did you learn from those experiences?

MR: Initially my move abroad to Norway was a chance to come away from Millwall. Once abroad you learn to understand different cultures and different training regimes, different attitudes to drawing a game or losing a game (something I never got used to). It’s like anytime you go abroad, you see something different. I also learned by evaluating what not to do. In Scotland we tend to believe the foreign way is the best etc. – far from it. We have many fantastic traits and beliefs in our Scottish game and I would hope I never lose those. I believe it’s important to see and learn from as many different facets of your life as possible. Ignore what you don’t believe in and grow as a coach and as a person. I wholeheartedly believe I am a better person now since I embraced other cultures.

BOTN: Let’s talk a little more about your move to China. China has a lofty goal of winning the World Cup by 2050. To do this they are spending large amounts of money on youth development as well as bringing in top players to improve the CSL. Having played out there, do you think that is going to be possible for them to achieve (to win the WC)?

MR: Do I believe China will win the World Cup? Maybe, who knows? Anyone can win it, right? From a numbers point of view, they statistically could achieve it if enough people are exposed to the right footballing understanding. Throwing up pitches right left and center doesn’t cut it for me. Education liberates people! Football is no different. Putting in place UEFA licensed coaches at the low levels is key to any development. To put it into perspective, I was coached twice a week from the age of 9 by the likes of Paul Sturrock, Maurice Malpas, and Jim McLean…….I firmly believe those days were a fundamental part in how I became a pro footballer. If China can first and foremost educate the majority of their young population, then integrate football into the education system, then set up footballing academies, then I believe they will have a chance to succeed.

BOTN: After retiring at 31, you moved into management firstly in Norway and now in the Faroe Islands. Was management always something you wanted to do? How did that transition come about?

MR: I was always talking as a player, always organizing, always pushing and pulling players into positions. I don’t know if it came natural to me but I believe coaching is in my blood. I will not be remembered as a player, but I think I will be remembered as a coach/manager. When I quit at 31, I enlisted on an open university course for engineering which took me into the oil industry quite rapidly. I then took over a recently relegated team in Norway. I convinced these players who were only paid petrol money to train four times a week plus the game. This dedication to the cause allowed us to complete a back to back double promotion and finish 5th in the league – one of the Norwegian ‘top football’ pyramid, which was the club’s highest ever ranking. Then I was hooked. So, I have taken my badges and am now a qualified A license coach and will seek to take the pro license ASAP.

Winning ways – Ross has tasted success as a manager (Image from Maurice Ross Instagram)

BOTN: What would you say is your managerial style, and how does that compare to the managers you have played under?

MR: My style is a mixture between Glenn Hoddle’s pedagogical approach and Uwe Rosler; the great Man city striker who had a fantastic passion for the game. Learning day to day is essential for players and partnering that with controlled passion is a recipe for success in my book.

BOTN: What is next for Maurice Ross? Do you have ambitions to manage back in Scotland or do you see your future abroad?

MR: Coaching is my life, whether that be a Glasgow Rangers or Texas Rangers. Under the watchful eye of my advisor Raymond Sparkes we will evaluate all options. For us, the only criteria is environment. I will not make a career move based on finance. The main thing for me is that I become a better coach and the players in my care feel that they learn every single day. When I can achieve those two things then I am a happy man.

Older but wiser – With his playing days behind him, Ross is forging ahead with his managerial career (image from Maurice Ross)

BOTN: Finally, some quick one or two-word answers please – toughest opponent you played against?

MR: Mark Overmars – standing on your shoulder all the time, waiting to pounce in behind you with that electric pace. If you dropped too deep to combat that pace he popped into the hole and received it to feet, then you were in trouble! Great talent.

BOTN: Best player you played with?

MR: Pound for pound Barry Ferguson

BOTN: Will Steve Gerrard be a success at Rangers?

MR: First and foremost, I hope he can succeed, the club needs it! Will he? With the contacts and scouting network, I’m sure he will have the best chance of recent managers to succeed. There are no guarantees in football but he certainly has a back bone and he’s very much his own man. So, with that belief, the massive network will give him a solid chance to succeed. With 48,000 season tickets sold already, it shows the public also believe in it. Let’s get fully behind him and close the chasm that is between us and Celtic. Good luck to Steven and Gary Mac.

BOTN: And who do you think will win the World Cup?

MR: Germany.

Thanks again to Maurice Ross for taking the time to speak with us!

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