Sunday’s defeat marked the end of the really meaningful games this season. Whilst we have some big games to play (none more so than Saturday) in our last five league fixtures, we’re not going to catch Aberdeen in second, and neither will we be caught by St. Johnstone to drop to fourth. As such, I felt it was a good time to reflect and assess the potential for next season and beyond.
The manner of the defeat on Sunday leads to reactions which may be deemed somewhat over-the-top. There’s no doubt there’s a lot of work required to get to where we want to be, but talk of £50m worth of players being required is neither helpful nor justifiable. It will cost a fortune over the next few years, both in terms of transfer fees and wages, to improve the first team squad, of that there’s no doubt. It hasn’t cost Celtic £50m in transfer fees to build their current team though, so that alone tells us that sort of investment isn’t the only way.
What we do need to consider is that we’re not looking to compete with Celtic just yet, we’ve got Aberdeen to overcome first. Previous Rangers squads were able to win consistently because they were much better than every team outside of Celtic. Even when they weren’t playing well, they were able to win games more often than not. From a thirty-eight game season, you can only realistically expect nine or ten good performances, and fewer great ones. Until we get to a stage where we don’t need to rely on playing well for any sort of positive result, we’ll find even finishing second a challenge as we’ll get dragged into battles with Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts. It’s not enough to be better on paper, or much better when we play well – we have to be better at our worst to make sure we win the vast majority of league games.
I’d love to be wrong, but it’s nigh-on impossible to see anything other than another Celtic title win next season. They’ve had a season which is an aberration, one that’s like the time you found out the corner-kick cheat on Football Manager 2010 and smashed your way to numerous trophies. They won’t be quite as good, they’ll be concentrating more on how they do in Europe, but they’ll still be well ahead domestically.
So just how far away are we from even being a clear second? It’s worth noting that for all of our poor results this season, we’ve lost fewer games than Aberdeen right now. Our issue has been the number of draws we’ve had, hardly a surprise for a team who can be considered one of the poorest in the league in front of goal (statistics would seem to back this up – we miss far too many chances). Seven defeats in thirty-three games is a poor return, but we don’t require a huge improvement to get to second place next season, as at least half of those draws should have been wins as the squad stands already, and that would have had us a point ahead in second place. I also suspect Aberdeen will be a little weaker due to losing important players, Hearts have major work to do and may be looking at a new manager soon, and whilst I believe Hibs will be a top 6 team (Swanson is a cracking signing for them), they’ve shown a bit of fragility and inconsistency in the Championship which teams in the Premiership will take more advantage of. St. Johnstone and Partick Thistle will have solid seasons, but the main teams chasing the European spots will be the aforementioned trio along with ourselves.
When Warburton took over at the start of 2015/16, he had an entire squad to build. Even the start of the current campaign required a lot of players to be signed as a number of the squad were leaving or deemed not good enough. We’re now at a bit of a crossroads under Caixinha, and the direction we take will be dependent upon what the Board feel is realistic. If we show patience and temperance, and continue down the path of manageable progression and putting a strong infrastructure in place, we won’t require a huge amount of players. Successful Rangers squads since the days of big spending ended consisted of four of five really good players lifting the level of those around them, so we’d be able to look for those players whilst knowing we have a squad in place with our current numbers and youth prospects. If we truly believe we should be challenging for the league next season, we’re going to have to find huge amounts of money to rip up the squad and start again, because we’re not even close right now.
MORE RANGERS STORIES
Caixinha seems like the sort of manager who will be happy to work with players who need a lot of guidance and coaching. He’ll be of the Walter Smith mould in terms of getting more out of limited players through pragmatic approaches to games, but if he wants to be successful at all he’ll need good players regardless. It’ll take time, and we really need to get moving on supporting him there with a Director of Football and other scouting resources, but the right move is to accept that we have a couple of years at least of trying to improve gradually before a real push can be made. If we even make the final qualifying round for the Europa League next season, it’ll be an achievement given where we are just now. Until we’re making the money that qualifying for those sort of competitions brings us (and the attraction of playing there for players), we’ll be struggling to make huge advances in terms of our playing squad.
You have fans saying that the performance and result on Sunday was the legacy of Warburton, or McCoist, or Whyte, or Green, or even down to Mike Ashley – it’s more than all of that really. It’s the result you can expect when a team who was systematically ripped to shreds at every level for the gain of people who can be described as crooks in the very near past face a team who are well run, stable and ambitious. We’re only starting our journey to recovery this season, everything before this has been firefighting and desperation.
There are a number of promising young players at Rangers right now. We have experienced players that’ll be around and able to contribute a lot. What we need now is a touch of realism and a slight check on ambition to understand that we’re on the right road, and time is required. Let’s concentrate on getting the right people and roles in place before we demand the push required to win leagues again. We don’t have the resources or the safety net required to splash serious cash on transfer fees just to win a league no one outside of Scotland cares about, so any talk of £50m worth of players has to be ignored. If the fans buy into that too much, we’ll miss the good stuff that’s actually happening and dismiss it as worthless when it’s the way we need to progress.
Do you agree with this? Or do you feel there’s another way? Tweet us on @rangersnewsuk with your thoughts!