SIR ALEX FERGUSON has led the tributes to Walter Smith, the former Rangers and Scotland manager who has passed away at the age of 73.
The Ibrox legend worked as an assistant to Ferguson at Manchester United and at international level and the two friends achieved huge success on their own.
Smith won 10 titles with Rangers – before teaming up again at Old Trafford in 2004, where they lifted the FA Cup together.
The Old Trafford icon 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 Manchester 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.”
STEVEN GERRARD, speaking on Rangers TV, said: “Walter was an incredible leader, a very successful manager here at Rangers and he epitomised everything this club stands for. His DNA is all over the club and it’s obviously very sad news.
“He has been right behind me since day one. We had many lunches and dinners and coffees and chats and private time with him in my office. He is obviously going to be a very big loss and a miss to a lot of people.
“He is decorated all over the club and he will be forever because he gave many, many years to this football club.
“He loved the club, he was honest, he was genuine. And he has made me a better person. I have got nothing but good words to say.”
GRAEME SOUNESS and former Rangers chairman Sir David Murray issued a joint statement declaring Scottish football had lost “one of its finest”.
It 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.”
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.”
PAUL GASCOIGNE, speaking to Sky Sports News, said: “I am extremely upset to hear the news of Walter’s passing.
“I really looked up to Walter, he gave me something to smile again with football and he supported me like a father figure whilst at Rangers. I will miss our frequent telephone chats.
“I am thinking about Walter’s family at this sad time.”
NEIL LENNON, the former Celtic boss, said: “Walter was a great man, first and foremost. He was a class act with how he dealt with people and the respect he showed everyone.
“No-one was ever in any doubt how big a Rangers man he was. What he did for the club, his incredible success, will rightly never be forgotten.
“But I always appreciated how well he spoke of Celtic, too. He had nothing but respect for the club and its history.
“Of course, the rivalry was always there, as it should be. But Walter always spoke well, carried himself brilliantly. He was very dignified.
“I relished the challenge, but I was just starting out, while Walter had already done so much and earned the status as one of Scottish football’s best-ever managers.
“Walter was a really intelligent football guy. He was always immaculate in his appearance.
“We had seven derbies in that 2010-11 season. It was a titanic year and we got pipped at the post in the league and also lost to Rangers in the League Cup.
“It was still a great learning experience for me and I picked up a lot that season going up against Walter.
“It was only after he left Rangers that I’d meet him at functions and events and get to know him better.
“Just before the lockdown, I sat with him and Graeme Souness for a couple of hours at a charity dinner. I really enjoyed that.”
Smith, who retired in 2011, continued to be proactive with the League Managers Association until his death.
PEP GUARDIOLA, the Manchester City manager, spoke about being “very fortunate” to get to know him.
The Spaniard said: “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.
“I always enjoyed spending time with Walter and we had been planning to have dinner together again.”
DAVIE 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.”