Last week, I was struggling for something to write for Wednesday. The pieces relating football and psychology from the week before had meant I was running short of something different to produce. The upcoming sale of Garner, and the situation with Forrester, gave me what I felt was an “easy out”, which led to a discussion with my better two-thirds (if the notion behind better half is that a relationship is to be considered as one, she’s easily two-thirds. In fact, I’m selling her short, it’s more like three-quarters. She’s the Lionel Messi of that team) on the way home from work:
“Yeah, I’m really not sure what to go with next.”
“Has the psychology one burnt you out honey?”
“Almost,” I laughed, “but it’s ok, the games start back up in a couple of weeks”
“WHAT? It’s starting again ALREADY?”
And there was my inspiration…
Before the schools have even broken up for the summer holidays, we’re finding ourselves watching draws on the UEFA website. Our board have done a cracking job in getting so many signings completed in time for the first round, where we face a side from Luxembourg called Progres Niederkorn. We’ve had closed door friendlies, airport watches and agents being asked questions on Twitter, and you’re not even sure the summer has really begun yet.
Last season, our pre-season was far from ideal. The League Cup matches didn’t provide enough of a challenge to get players up to speed. Despite all the good work, the new players and the prospect of European qualifiers, this season isn’t ideal either. It’s a very early start when you consider how long the season will be. We’re trying to integrate a number of new signings again. We’ve now appointed a Director of Football who’ll have to come in and assess everything before making their mark. The need to trim the squad will be time consuming. There’s no official friendlies set up at the moment, just games at the training ground. We haven’t even seen the strip for next season yet, by all accounts.
All of that against a backdrop of heightened expectations and a need to win from the first game onward. Pedro Caixinha and his players will not be given the time to settle in which could be reasonably argued as required. We’ll be reliant upon players like Kenny Miller and Lee Wallace getting us through games while others find their feet. Players who many fans want rid of, such as Jason Holt or Martyn Waghorn, will probably be used early on to take pressure off the likes of Pena and Herrera.
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Overall, if we start quickly, it’s against many challenges. In both the matches we’ve played behind closed doors, you can see that we’re attempting to play at a much quicker tempo than before. We press higher up the pitch, and look to get the ball forward quickly whenever it’s on. Ryan Jack looks like he’s settled in very quickly, and Kranjcar has shown he can have an impact this coming season. Dalcio and Cardoso will do fine, and we await the arrival of our more experienced signings.
All of that aside, you can’t take much from pre-season games, even at the best of times. The lack of time between our last game and this one, in relative terms, is just adding to the pressure. We were so desperate to get the season over with, that we’ve been waiting on this one since we lost the semi-final. Quick signings of players who look to be a level above what we’ve had hasn’t even let us catch breath. We’re so focused on what could be, we can be prone to missing what is. Right now, we have a large amount of unknowns going into next season, and loads of work to do to get to where we want to be. There should be excitement for what could be, but that shouldn’t move into what should be just yet. A second place finish inside 20 points of Celtic this season would be pretty good progress, but I suspect many Rangers fans would consider that a failure.
The emphasis on the reaction which prompted this piece isn’t really “already”. It’s “starting again”, because in many ways that’s what we’re doing. A squad built to play a certain way with supposed promise is being ripped up as we look to improve upon a poor season. We have little time to work on this, and a huge gap to pull back in the league never mind the European challenges we face. It’s going to take far more than £10m in fees and one transfer window to turn things around. If you start to expect big things straight away despite everything we’ve had to contend with for years now, it’s likely to make you miss the things we’re getting right.
But let’s be honest here – I’m just being one of those negative, self-important types, yeah?
If we’re football fans, it’s supposed to be about the results and what’s happening on the pitch more than anything. There’s nothing wrong with that approach at all. I just hope we can temper it with a realistic view of what’s required and where we are. I don’t think anyone expected the board to push the boat out as much as they have this summer just a few months ago. Let’s enjoy the progress and hope for a good season, rather than be bogged down by expectations.