James Sands profile as Rangers new boy swaps the Bronx for Ibrox
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

James Sands profile as Rangers new boy swaps the Bronx for Ibrox

Yesterday we shared the first part of our interview with Oliver Strand, managing editor of SB Nation’s NYCFC blog Hudson River Blue, as looked to learn some more about James Sands after the American moved to Rangers on an 18-month loan deal from New York City FC.

The US international is the first signing of Gio van Bronckhorst’s reign as Rangers boss and Gers fans are keen to see what the 21-year-old can bring to the side.

After helping NYCFC win their maiden MLS title this year, Sands was in demand this month with a number of European clubs keen to land the versatile star.

In this part of our interview, we find out more about his international prospects going into a World Cup year, how working with the likes of Patrick Viera helped his development and the origins of his viral ‘bing bong’ catchphrase

Working with Patrick Vieira and Dome Torrent at NYCFC:

“I understand the international scepticism surrounding MLS – and I share it. It’s an exciting league because the wheels can come off at any moment and that’s kinda fun but it’s also exciting because games like Manchester City’s 6-3 win over Leicester recently are normal for MLS.

“The coaches that we’ve had – with the exception of Jason Kreis, NYCFC’s first head coach – we’ve had some really exceptional coaches who have been really good at training players. Patrick (Vieira) absolutely transformed NYCFC and I think changed the league. The whole idea of having a possession-based team in MLS didn’t really exist. He changed that. Dome Torrent, the sidekick of Pep Guardiola, absolutely encouraged that also.

“Sands has that technical ability because it was brought up in him and trained into him by these two exceptional coaches. In terms of Patrick, who would you want to mentor yourself more to become a possession-based, technical, elegant midfielder than Patrick Vieira? The fact he got his chance under him and became a starter is a validation of his skills.”

What are Sands’ international prospects for 2022:

“It’s hard to say to be honest. We’ve been waiting for him to be called up for a while and it probably should have happened in 2020. It’s good that it happened in 2021. The system the USMNT usually play doesn’t really suit him so he performed OK but it wasn’t the same as when he plays for NYCFC so it will be interesting to see how he does at Rangers.

“He’s only really played in one team and one approach. If the system at Rangers is one that slot himself into, or he can adjust to, he’ll be extraordinary but with the USMNT it just didn’t quite click. I think he has the potential to move back into the international setup and I think he will be called up again but it wasn’t the impressive showing we all expected. The way he played in the Playoffs, he was one of the stars but the way he played for the USMNT, let’s be honest, it wasn’t that great.”

Is it the right time for Sands to move to Europe:

“I think it is the right time. I think it’s the right time for him to be in that environment, to be in a place where the football culture is so deep and I think it’ll be interesting to watch him adapt to that.

“NYCFC is a great team and we have a lot of fans but we play in Yankee Stadium which, among other things, means the scheduling is dictated by the Yankees so it is hard to get fans in the stands. Some of the most expensive seats are far away from the pitch because they are over on the side and then you’ll have a schedule – and this has happened to me as a season-ticket holder – when it’s the hottest week in August and they play Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday and you don’t really want to go to three games in eight days in the Bronx. It just doesn’t work. I think it’ll be interesting to see what he’s like with packed stands and engaged fans because that’s something you have in general in Europe and especially at Rangers.

Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“He’s going to face a lot of pressure and scrutiny but I’m excited for him to be at a club with that history and that connection with the community, the city and the country when we’re not there yet in the US and definitely not in New York. You have the Knicks and the Giants and the Rangers all playing at the same time and NYCFC is definitely second-tier compared to those. The Knicks are giants and they take up all the space in town.”

What sort of person is James Sands away from the pitch and what is ‘bing bong’ about?

“He’s a little wry, pretty low-key and the fans loved him and he loved them back. He’s not a huge ‘character’ but he’s incredibly likeable and he’s one of those players where you watch him play and see what he does off the ball and see how intelligent he is and he just quietly shows up and disrupts them again and again – and that’s sort of like his personality.

“That said…there was this viral thing…there’s was a thing on Tik-Tok or Instagram which was basically just these loud, obnoxious guys doing really hilarious things in New York. It’s super aggressive and super New York and the accent is just dripping there. In the subway there’s a thing before the door closes, a little chime that goes ‘bing bong’ and in the voice of these guys it sounds very different [think of the most obnoxious stereotypical New Yoik accent and you’re almost there] and turns into a bit of a ‘**** you’ so ‘bing bong’ became one of our cheers on our title run and then it somehow became associated with Sands.

“In the end, whenever anything would happen, they’d give him a mic and quiet everyone down and he’d go ‘bing bong’ and everyone would lose their minds.

“There was also a connection with the fans that was very unusual that I don’t think could have happened in any other place. We were all in Portland (for the MLS Cup Final). 2500 fans went to the game and, you have to remember, we found out on the Saturday and the game was the Sunday so everyone had to buy their tickets that day.

“Most of the fans were in one hotel and the team were in another – Portland’s a great town – and when we were in the stands the NYCFC fans didn’t shut up for the whole game and you could see how the energy fed the team. After the game, the fans all stayed and celebrated and Ronny Deila stripped to his underwear, holding up his end of an agreement.

“Once we all went left and went for a beer after it and the team showered and everything and got dressed at their hotel, they grabbed the MLS Cup and walked down the street to where the fans were enjoying a buffet dinner paid for by the club. Out-of-the-blue, the whole team walked in holding the trophy and any fan who wanted to meet a player just walked up and fans who wanted a picture with the trophy could just grab it – you’ll see there are thousands of pictures online of fans with the trophy.

“Sands was very much a part of that and was central to that identity of there being no line between the team, the staff and the fans. For that day everyone was just hanging out and throwing their arms around each other. Maybe not the best in Covid times but it’s not every day you win a national championship.

“In that environment, he’s very low-key but charismatic. He doesn’t go broadcast himself but he’s incredibly likeable because he’s a really good player and he says bing bong.

“Now you’re going to have a bunch of New Yorkers trying to figure out how to watch your games. There’s going to be a lot of cross-pollination. We’re proud of the players who have moved on so Rangers are going to have a few thousand more fans here in New York.”

You can find more from Oliver Strand and Hudson River Blue HERE.

In other news, a Rangers Academy player has joined Falkirk on an emergency seven-day loan deal