THERE’S nothing wrong with being the underdog, as long as you have a bit of bite. It’s a philosophy that has served Graham Alexander well in his long career in football, and helped him play a part in some notable giant-killings over the years.
Whether for club or country, Alexander has never gone into any game thinking his side couldn’t win, and he sees no reason to change that mindset as his Motherwell team attempt to do something no other side in the Premiership has managed this season; defeat Rangers.
With the greatest of respect to Alexander the player, he certainly wouldn’t bracket himself alongside the likes of Thierry Henry, Franck Ribery, Ryan Giggs or Wayne Rooney, and yet, he has a win to his name over all of them.
So, it would be fair to say that Alexander will have his players fired up at Fir Park tomorrow afternoon, and fully believing they can upset the odds, just as he has.
“I played in both games against France for Scotland,” Alexander said. “There’s none bigger than that.
“I don’t think they had lost for 40-odd qualifiers when we beat them at Hampden, then the second game was all about revenge and them putting us in our box, and we beat them again. Explain that. I still can’t, and it’s 15 years later!
“That’s the reality. In our first home game in the Premier League for Burnley we beat Man United, so it happens. Fortunately [Cristiano] Ronaldo had buggered off, but it was the likes of Giggs and Rooney.
“For us, coming up from the Championship with a team that basically had two players with any Premier League experience, to beat Man United – who were champions – in our first game…it certainly doesn’t happen every week.
“There are teams at the top historically and teams that are not, but you can go throughout the history of football at any level and there’s always an underdog story and one-off hits.
“That’s where I get my belief from because I’ve been part of those games, and in each of those matches I know for a fact there was a thought process in my mind that it was an opportunity to win the game, no matter how big or small it was.”
Unfortunately for Alexander, his memories of coming up against the man in the opposite dugout tomorrow, Steven Gerrard, are not quite so happy, with a Gerrard double consigning Burnley to relegation back in 2010.
“I was pretty much up against him because I was in midfield as well,” he recalled.
“But he was in his twenties and I was 38! Listen, he was a legend at Liverpool and what he achieved as a player was a completely different level to mine generally until we crossed paths.
“It wasn’t a happy experience on a result level but for me after all that time as a player to come up against players like that and compete against them was a privilege.
“But I didn’t go into that game in awe. I wanted to try and compete against him and that’s what you have to have as a professional.
“He scored twice for Liverpool on the day Burnley were relegated. It wasn’t just that game but that was the nail in the coffin and that’s the level he was at. That’s what we were up against as a club.
“There’s always been a history in professional football of the underdog – we’re certainly the underdogs – but I want us to have a bit of bite.
“It’s a brilliant test for us – a brilliant test for me- but I just want to see the players go out and show what they can do.
“I want to be authentic in front of my team, so there’s no point in me saying Rangers aren’t good. That’s a lie, and I don’t lie to my team.
“We have to identify where we can possibly hurt them, and obviously try to nullify as much of their threat as possible.
“I’ve got a thing in life where I’ve never gone into a game of football thinking there wasn’t an opportunity to win.
“It hasn’t always worked out, but if you are going in there beaten mentally already, then you’re finished. You might as well not turn up.”
Alexander already has a new recruit to call upon after making former Motherwell youth player Steven Lawless his first signing as Fir Park boss, with goalkeeper Liam Kelly arriving just before his appointment.
The ex-Livingston and Partick Thistle attacker joins after an unhappy spell in England at Burton Albion, and he feels ready to get back to his best now he is on familiar ground.
“I’m a local boy – I stay five minutes away in Hamilton – so it’s good to be back home,” Lawless said. “Motherwell is a big club and I have lots of connections here.
“My contract at Burton was due to expire at the end of the season but a new deal was about to kick in, but if I’d had to stay there for another six months I’d have lost my head.
“It wasn’t good for me and the situation wasn’t good for my family either. My wife and kids were struggling because they couldn’t have any interaction with anyone else. My missus never met anyone when we were down there – she couldn’t get to the games and meet the other wives even.
“We have three kids – aged seven, four and 10 months – and it was difficult for them because they couldn’t have playmates after school.
“It’s been hard for them and when I told Rhea (7) that we were coming back up the road she started crying because she’s missed her family. My wife and I come from big families so she’s missed all her cousins.
“She’s buzzing now and hasn’t stopped smiling since we got back – she talked non-stop for four-and-a-half-hours in the car on the way home. Braden (4) and Niamh are just as happy.
“I’m not one to throw the towel in and I felt I could have done a job in that [Burton] team, so I would probably stayed and fought my way in, but my family were struggling and Motherwell had an emotional pull for me because I was here when I was younger.
“It was the right decision to go down and try it and I’m glad I did because it’s managed to get me back here. I’m looking forward, not backwards.”