EXCLUSIVE: Steven Whittaker says return of ex-boss Walter Smith will spark Rangers success

RANGERS will make a rapid return to the forefront of the Scottish game now that legendary manager Walter Smith has returned to the Ibrox club.

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Walter Smith (right) signed Steven Whittaker for Rangers
Walter Smith (right) signed Steven Whittaker for Rangers

That was the confident prediction made by former Gers star Steven Whittaker today as he welcomed the appointment of Smith as a non-executive director.

Whittaker was one of several high-earning players to quit the troubled Glasgow institution in the summer after months off deeply unsettling off-field turmoil.

Having had no hesitation in agreeing to take a massive pay cut to safeguard the jobs of non-playing staff, he was despondent when administrators failed to stave off the threat of liquidation.

And, along with the likes of Kyle Lafferty, Allan McGregor and Steven Naismith, he objected under Tupe legislation to having his contract transferred to the new company.

His actions, and those of his many of his team-mates, disappointed many Rangers supporters.

But the 28-year-old, now playing for Norwich City in the Barclays Premier League, still takes a keen interest in the fortunes of Rangers and keeps in touch with many of the players who remained.

Having enjoyed the best moments of his career during his five years at the Govan giants – including the unforgettable run to the Uefa Cup final in 2008 – he makes no secret of the fact that he would love to see them flourish.

And he was delighted to hear Smith, the manager who signed him from his first club Hibs for £2million back in 2007, has made a return to the Gers and joined the new board.

"Without a shadow of a doubt, Walter's experience and vast knowledge of football will be beneficial to Rangers in the seasons to come," he said.

"I don't know anybody with a bad word to say about Walter. He was certainly fantastic for me and my career. I thoroughly enjoyed working for him at Rangers. He brought me on as a player immensely during his time as manager.

"When I was playing under him he never failed to motivate me. But he always had all the boys, not just me, giving their all for him whenever we took to the field. We all loved our time at Rangers playing under Walter.

"Having him back involved at the club in this new role can only be a good thing and I would expect Rangers to go from strength to strength with him on board."

Rangers have struggled at times during the 2012/13 campaign after being forced to field a team comprised largely of kids and manager Ally McCoist has come in for criticism.

But Whittaker has been astonished to see his former club attracting massive crowds of just under 50,000 at Ibrox despite being forced to restart in the Irn-Bru Third Division by the Scottish football authorities.

He believes that, with that sort of incredible backing from their loyal fans, McCoist's side will win promotion this term and continue to rise up the divisions.

"I still speak to Lee McCulloch and Kyle Hutton and some of the other boys who were there during my spell at the club from time to time about how things are going," he said.

"Listen, they are a massive club. You can see that with the size of the support they are still getting in the Third Division. I have no doubt at all they will get back to where they were at.

"It is going to take a bit of time I'm sure, but with Walter back on board now I am sure they will rise up the divisions and continue to go from strength to strength."

Since recovering from the ankle injury that sidelined him at the start of the season, Whittaker himself has flourished in recent weeks at Carrow Road.

In fact, with Norwich drawing 1-1 with Everton away at Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon – a match in which his old team-mate Naismith scored for the home team – the right-back is undefeated in five appearances.

Despite helping Chris Hughton's team defeat the likes of Manchester United, Spurs and Stoke, he confessed how he has needed to work hard to adapt to life in the English top flight.

But he stressed he is loving life in Norfolk and is convinced that under the guidance of highly-respected coach Hughton the Canaries will continue to defy expectations.

He explained: "There is a big difference in the way Norwich play to the way Rangers played.

"When I was at Rangers, we were always on the attack, we were the team normally trying to break down the opposition.

"At Norwich, we go into most of the games as underdogs and it is the other teams who are trying to break us down. It's a big change for me.

"It is a big change in the aspect of how the two teams that I played for are approaching the games. I am learning different things as I go along.

"The manager obviously has his own ideas on things and is passing them on all the time. I think we are taking that on board and getting better."

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