Skip to main content

Sir Alex Ferguson leads tributes to his two-time former assistant

Birmingham City v Manchester United
(Image credit: David Davies)

Sir Alex Ferguson hailed Walter Smith’s “immense” contribution to football following his two-time former assistant’s death at the age of 73.

Smith briefly worked under Ferguson with Scotland and Manchester United and rejected the chance to do so on a more lasting basis when the then Aberdeen manager considered an offer from Arsenal in 1986.

Smith, then Dundee United assistant to Jim McLean, had already accepted an invitation to work with Graeme Souness at Rangers.

The two friends both achieved huge success on their own – Smith ultimately won 10 titles with Rangers – before teaming up again at Old Trafford in 2004, where they won the FA Cup together.

Ferguson declared himself “absolutely devastated” at the loss of his “great friend” and added on United’s website: “In all that time you were dealing with a man with great moral compass in how he lived his life and the friendship he offered so many people.

“His contribution to football with Dundee United, Rangers, Scotland, Everton and Man United was immense.

“He was only at United a short time. But he was fantastic. He listened and showed an interest in people and helped everyone he could.”

Former Celtic player and manager Sir Kenny Dalglish said Smith was “one of the few able to transcend rivalries” and added: “Though we were on opposing sides on the pitch, he was a real footballing friend off of it.”

Ally McCoist, who played under Smith for 12 years and then served as his assistant with Scotland and Rangers, told talkSPORT: “He was everything to a lot of folk, myself included. He was my boss, my coach, he was my second father and then he turned into one of my best friends, to be honest. The loss is absolutely incredible.”

Souness and former Rangers chairman Sir David Murray declared that Scottish football had lost “one of its finest”.

In a joint statement to the PA news agency, they added: “Even in the proud history of Glasgow Rangers, Walter Smith stands out as a colossus. He will never be forgotten.

“Walter had a profound effect on both of our lives – certainly as a manager and a leader and a wise and trusted adviser but always as a close and treasured friend. He made time for so many people.

“Both of us had spoken to him privately over the past few weeks. The topic rarely strayed from football.”

Smith’s loss was also felt at Everton, where he served as manager for nearly four years from 1998.

Middlesbrough v Everton

Bill Kenwright, right, paid tribute to his former manager (PA).

Everton chairman Bill Kenwright told his club’s website: “He was one of the very best people I was lucky enough to meet in my lifetime in football.

“A man of loyalty, integrity and great talent. Strong when he needed to be but with a mischievous sense of humour that could ease even the most tense situations.

“Walter and I shared a lot together during the takeover years but among many, many examples of real friendship, one will always stick out.

“We had just… tearfully… agreed his farewell to Goodison, when he slapped his hands together and said ‘OK Bill, who are we going to get to manage this great club of ours?’

“Even in a moment of real sadness, he refused to put himself first…one of the true attributes of a great leader. And that’s exactly what Walter Smith was. A great leader. And a great man.”

See more

Former Everton striker Wayne Rooney, who was coming through the youth ranks at Goodison Park during Smith’s time in charge, said he was “devastated” by the news of his death.

The former England captain tweeted: “Great man and a legend of the game. Condolences go to all his family and friends. RIP Walter.”

Although Smith retired in 2011, his influence continued.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola spoke about being “very fortunate” to get to know Smith through the latter’s role with the League Managers Association.

“Through his role as technical consultant for the LMA, I have had the opportunity over the past five years to get to know him and see what a humble, insightful and very genuine man he was,” Guardiola said.

Manchester City v Burnley – Premier League – Etihad Stadium

Pep Guardiola has fond memories of Walter Smith (Martin Rickett/PA)

“I always enjoyed spending time with Walter and we had been planning to have dinner together again.”

West Ham boss David Moyes, who succeeded Smith at Everton, added: “I looked up to Walter with so much respect. He was such a great Scottish manager but, to me, he was an even better man.

“He was honourable, he showed great dignity, and always demonstrated such class. He was a true friend and mentor, and a man I feel privileged to have known.”

Current bosses in Scottish football outlined how highly respected Smith was.

St Mirren boss Jim Goodwin said: “I had the pleasure of being in his company on a couple of occasions and I knew I was in the presence of real greatness.

“He came on a coaching license that I was on as well and he had the whole room in the palm of his hand with stories he was telling and the education he was giving us.”

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson was given his only Scotland appearance by Smith and also enjoyed learning from him.

He said: “Walter’s a giant of the Scottish game and somebody I have massive respect for. He gave me my Scotland debut and I’ll be forever indebted to him for that.

“To play under him was brilliant. He was straight down the middle. He could be quiet or loud. He had all the things you need to be a top manager. He had an aura about him that made you want to do well for him.

“He always had time for other coaches and understood the ins and outs and the pressures that come with it. He was always brilliant with me.”