Obdurate David Weir turns back the clock

David Weir was lavished with praise after an excellent performance for Rangers in their opening Champions’ League group game at Old Trafford which ended in a stalemate, but while the performance deserved praise, it’s simply hard to believe that this is the same player that looked to be all but finished when he left our borders for a swansong season at Rangers after an eight year spell at Everton in 2007.

It is impossible to talk about Weir now without first mentioning his age, and at 40 years old, while the term evergreen may be a bit too far, he still looks like he has at least a season or two left at the top level.

Weir’s obdurate performance at the heart of the Rangers defence, where he marshalled the backline with consummate ease, meant that Man Utd rarely looked like scoring. With an out of sorts Rooney rather understandably looking off the pace, a lacklustre performance from Valencia down the wing before his injury and new signing Javier Hernandez seemingly all too eager to please, manager Ferguson’s decision to make 10 changes to his line-up was certainly not vindicated. Make no bones about it though, this was still a strong side Ferguson put out, not as strong as he protested after the result mind you, but despite the changes most fans would have only envisaged a comfortable win.

The phrase ‘anti-football’ is bandied about, and while I quite frankly detest this phrase casually being used by papers and punters up and down the breadth of the country, it’s clear that Rangers set out their stall to play extremely defensively and therefore to Weir’s strengths as they operated with a very deep line.

But in all honesty, can you blame them for their caution? They simply don’t have the players at their disposal to compete against Utd in an open, free-flowing match, and with the club under some severe financial restraints, the Champions League money is invaluable to them, and if that means going away to Old Trafford and being boring, then so be it, it’s entirely their prerogative.

Jamie Carragher went through a notable poor run of form at the beginning of last season, as the side operated a higher defensive line to accommodate the attacking instincts of new signing Glen Johnson at right back, what you saw was a penalty waiting to happen in Carragher.

Players of his age and lack of pace do not want to be running towards their own goal, they don’t want that ball put in the space behind them, and with a deep line, this becomes nye on impossible and means players of Weir and Carragher’s ilk, the sort of players who are good at reading the game but as slow as a cart horse, don’t have their most evident of weaknesses exploited time and time again. With Liverpool returning to a deeper line mid way through last season, which coincided with a return to form for Carragher and Rangers playing barely out of their own 18 yard box, I wouldn’t be surprised if Weir continued for some time in this vein. The return of the ‘sweeper’ position is upon us.

At Everton, Weir was never considered sprightly, but he formed a solid defensive partnership, at first with Richard Gough and then Alan Stubbs. Excellent in the air, with a great reading of the game, Weir has never relied on pace to get him by, but during his last few performances in an Everton shirt it was all too noticeable that this lack of pace was seriously hindering the side and Yobo and Stubbs were often preferred.

Weir looked to be finished, barring a year or two at most in Scotland, but only last season did he go on to scoop the Clydesdale Bank Premier League Player of the Year award for the 2009-10 season and later go onto add the Scottish Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year Award, the oldest player ever to receive this accolade – just three days before his 40th birthday. He’s still playing for Scotland too and started in their game against Lithuania, becoming the oldest Scottish international ever.

These were not Lifetime Achievement awards either, like Ryan Giggs PFA Player of the Year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards award in 2009, despite the player only starting 13 league matches that season, with Weir however, these accolades were fully merited..

I don’t want to eulogise a player too much while he’s still playing as has happened with Paul Scholes recently but I’m not too sure quite how he’s still doing it, especially considering that he looked all but set for the scrapheap 4 seasons ago, but after obdurate displays such as the one on Tuesday night, he doesn’t look like leaving us any time soon.

Written By James McManus