Rangers winger Neil McCann made his debut on 19th December 1998, returning to Tynecastle just days after having left Heart of Midlothian in a deal worth a reported £1.9M.
The left-sided 24 year old had been linked with both Glasgow sides for at least a couple of seasons and despite the change of manager at Ibrox in the summer of 1998, he had remained firmly on the radar of Rangers (along with Hearts team mate David Weir). McCann had caused Rangers problems in the past for both Dundee and Hearts, most notably the 1996 League Cup Final when he was unfortunate to finish on the wrong side of a 4-3 scoreline with the Edinburgh club. With incoming manager Dick Advocaat present at the league match versus Hearts in February 1998, Neil again caught the eye in a 2-2 draw. The Rangers goals that day were scored by Jorg Albertz and both he and McCann would soon be competing for that left sided berth.
It would be a happy return to Tynecastle as Rangers ran out 3-2 winners, Neil coming off the bench towards the end of the game with Gers already leading through goals from Rodney Wallace and Stephane Guivarc’h (2). His home debut came on Boxing Day as he came on as an early second half substitute in a 2-0 win over St.Johnstone (Colin Hendry having been sent off). By the time the ‘New Year’ clash with Celtic came around (2-2) Neil was in the starting line up. His first goal for Rangers came on Valentines Day as Hamilton Academical were thrashed 6-0 in a Scottish Cup tie at Firhill (he would also score in the Semi Final win over St.Johnstone). A run of 4 goals in his next 3 games (including 2 against ex-side Dundee) saw him firmly cement his place in the team as Advocaat’s Gers were on a great run domestically.
After a brief ‘wobble’ in the Spring, Rangers had the opportunity to win the title at the home of their old rivals on 2nd May 1999. On what proved to be an incredible day which is often over shadowed due to the behaviour of the home side’s players and supporters, Rangers turned in a tremendous performance and none more so than Neil McCann. It was Neil who opened and completed the scoring as Celtic were humiliated 3-0 on their own patch, McCann already writing his name into the history books.
With his first league title medal secured, he would add the Scottish Cup by the end of the month as the same opponents were defeated at Hampden. It was his second successive Scottish Cup win, having tasted victory twelve months previously, ironically against Rangers. He would make it three in a row in 2000 as Aberdeen were swept aside in a 4-0 win by which time his second league championship had already been wrapped up. Neil would play in 30 of the league matches during that 1999/00 campaign although often starting from the bench.
Neil was more of an old fashioned winger as opposed to a left sided midfielder and his game time was often determined by the tactics for that particular game. Competing with Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Jorg Albertz for a left sided position, he also had to contend with Arthur Numan and Tony Vidmar who were both capable of playing in a more offensive role if required. Neil loved to beat a player and he had an outstanding delivery. His pin point crossing accuracy would provide countless assists during his time at Ibrox and he was capable of getting in on the goal scoring act himself (scoring 26 times in total). His electric pace was a useful weapon and one that Alex McLeish, in particular, would turn to in Old Firm games. He also possessed a fiery temper, despite his small stature he was not one to back down from confrontation and was red carded 3 times during his Rangers career.
The arrival of Alex McLeish resulted in a return of silverware to Ibrox and Neil completed his domestic set of medals when he came off the bench against Ayr United in the 2002 League Cup Final. He was back in the starting line up for the Scottish Cup Final two months later as McLeish turned to the pace of Caniggia/Lovenkrands/McCann up top to thwart Celtic. It was a decision that was vindicated as Lovenkrands score twice with Neil laying on the winning goal in the dying seconds of an epic encounter.
Neil’s final season, 2002/03, ended in the same way as his first. The title was secured in dramatic circumstances as Dunfermline were beaten 6-1 at Ibrox to clinch on goal difference. Neil had been introduced at half time with proceedings threatening to go slightly flat after a blistering opening. His appearance was a master stroke as he tore the Pars defence apart and Rangers found the net another three times. The treble was again clinched with a 1-0 win, this time against Dundee. It was his fifth Scottish Cup Winners medal in six years, an incredible personal record.
Whilst it was clear that there would be changes in personnel during the summer of 2003 as a result of cost cutting requirements, the departure of Neil was perhaps not one that was overly anticipated. The Hampden win would sadly prove to be his 169th and final appearance. He was in good company with Amoruso and Numan also leaving after this match on a high. Neil would try his luck in the English Premiership with Southampton, Rangers recouping most of their outlay. The signing of Neil McCann had represented great value.
Neil remains close to the Club, a regular pundit on Rangers TV and also appearing in 'Rangers Legends' matches.