Top man: Alex Ferguson now has the upper hand on his old team both financially and on the pitch

THE night before Manchester United were having their media day for the 2008 Champions League final, Rangers were in the city for their own European final. It meant journalists who had to put up with Cristiano Ronaldo refusing to make eye contact and arrogantly proclaiming himself the best in the world also had to wade through the carnage and shattered glass the Rangers fans had left behind after losing to Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League.

Now the clubs have crossed paths again, it's telling that the home supporters are much more worried about what the Scottish club's fans will do to their city again rather than what James Beattie will do to United's defence.

Otherwise, the suspicion is that this match will have little more meaning than the manner the two clubs came across each other two years ago: with United heading for higher-profile stages and Rangers providing a mere inconvenience before crashing out of a lesser competition.

It wasn't always like this. Back in the 1992-93 season, an all-star Rangers team featuring Ally McCoist, Mark Hateley, Ian Durrant, Stuart McCall and Alexei Mikhailichenko were a point away from the Champions League final.

With the quarter-finals and semi-final replaced by a group stage in the rebranded competition's inaugural campaign, Rangers were joint top of the group going into the last night and only two bounces of the ball away from replacing Marseille in the final against Milan.

On their route there, Rangers had encountered English champions Leeds United in a blood-and-thunder Battle of Britain that genuinely demanded attention. At that point, the Heysel ban and healthy state of Rangers' accounts had allowed the Scottish club to accumulate some of England's more high-profile players – such as Hateley and Trevor Steven – to become a genuine European force.

Only emphasising their status apparently, McCoist won the continent's golden boot. And, over the tie, they duly outclassed their English counterparts. Eric Cantona ended up scoring for Leeds but it was no more than a consolation.

Within a month of that match, of course, Cantona would end up at Old Trafford out of desperate necessity. Because at the same time Rangers had serious designs on Europe's premium trophy, United's 'holy grail' wasn't that competition but the league title they had gone 26 years without.

Indeed, Alex Ferguson would even then get a little agitated about being referred to as the "former Rangers player".

Ferguson had joined his boyhood heroes as a 25-year-old and one of the most sought-after strikers in Scotland. He left them with an awful lot of grievances.

In his own autobiography, Ferguson vehemently argued the reason he was frozen out of the team was because of bigotry towards his Catholic wife. While that undoubtedly was a factor at a club as politically conservative as Rangers in the '60s, Michael Crick's brilliant biography The Boss maintains that it was mostly because they simply signed better strikers.

Nevertheless, Ferguson also admitted his time being forced to train with the youth team did give him the drive to succeed as a manager. "I was left out in the cold really... and it was a bit humiliating. But it did give me a certain drive, and also a good learning curve in terms of management about how to treat players."

That also played some part in Rangers' current predicament. The commercial juggernaut Ferguson's guidance helped Manchester United become – and the manner that influenced the growth of the Premier League – has undoubtedly had a direct effect on Scottish football. Fans of the League of Ireland may complain about supporters being sucked towards England but they're hardly unique.

It's a phenomenon also seen in Scotland and the world over. For the same reason there's no comparable competitions nearby the major American sports, the gravitational pull of the behemoth beside them is simply too big.

It's why Rangers can now make barely any money from TV deals and why the SPL's European results have recently been worse than the League of Ireland's. The club themselves had a dismal Champions League last season, getting hammered 4-1 at home by Unirea Urziceni

It's also why, in a far cry from the riches he enjoyed in 1993, manager Walter Smith wasn't able to make a signing in two years until he bought Beattie.

While Rangers have very little money – indeed Lloyds Bank's control of the club forced the sale of top scorer Kris Boyd – they do have an awful lot of spirit thanks to the management of Smith. His defensive organisation could well provide United with a frustrating night.

Score early though and it's hard not to see United's players gaining some level revenge for their city.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP C: Manchester United v Rangers ,Tuesday, 7.45 , Old Trafford, Live, 7.45 Sky Sports 2