Saturday, January 29, 2022

November Rain Or November Gain For Rangers?

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The Highland Bear
Unashamedly watching the world through Blue tinted specs. Contributor to The 4th Official.

November. The crisp Autumnal season of Fireworks. The celebration of a treasonous plot that failed to blow up the Parliament in 1605 that British society celebrates annually with explosions of colour to fill the air.

416 years later, almost within a week, we have witnessed our very own storyline develop over the skies of Govan. A hero to some, maybe now the Villain we never envisaged. The celebrations of fire that turned the River Clyde into a scene from Game of Thrones barely six months ago, now extinguished by the cold hard cash of the English Premier League. The leader of our ship over the past 3.5 years now jumping overboard without any indication we were taking on water. Instead of Fireworks, we witnessed a November Rain not even Axel Rose could have predicted.

Make no mistake; Rangers Football Club were sinking over this past decade. A rudderless ship, cast adrift in the pond of the Scottish football system. Our rivals were so far ahead it was simply watching an Aircraft carrier playing with a rowing boat. Rudderless, powerless after years of decimation from pirates who had plundered everything that wasn’t nailed down. An iconic institution now destitute as we suffered every humiliation we could never have imagined as the club that once hoarded every silver the Scottish game had to offer now barely had any brass to its name.

Despite the horrors that had ensued, we had something that could not be stolen, plundered or destroyed. We had a support with immortal spirit. It may have taken some titanic battles, but regain control of our club we did. From the Generals on the street such as the late Sandy Jardine to the Regality in our boardroom in Dave King.

There were many battles to follow. Some we lost badly and had to regroup. From the ill-fated command of Pedro and the heaviest Ibrox defeat of my lifetime to our rivals to the white flag being raised in Luxembourg. A far cry from our conquests of Barcelona just a few decades previously.

We may not have won every battle, but one tactical masterstroke from the Ibrox boardroom would prove decisive with a little navigation from the stars. As we limped towards the port from yet another storm, pride wounded, stifled; we had found someone to take the helm. A former crewmate from the engine room that provided 9 in a row. Now risen through Scottish football ranks as an able sailor and a safe pair of hands at Aberdeen. Derek McInnes was about to take the bridge when the anchor broke loose. The Board of directors thought they had found their Napoleon, yet they were closer to Davy Jones Locker. The weight of expectation from the Ibrox helm, some say, maybe too much for everyone. The navigation systems now relying on the stars rather than the process that had now failed.

And so came to be the boldest decision Rangers had made in several years.

Steven Gerrard sailed into Ibrox on a wind of anticipation in May 2018. A young, energetic global superpower was here to take command of his first vessel. You could have been forgiven for thinking it was a hoax. However, history will now tell you that when Humza Yousaf opens his mouth even satirically, the polar opposite is more than likely to happen, such as when the transport minister announced that our manager wouldn’t be signing. It would have been tragic if it wasn’t so pathetic, the start of a pattern of behaviour that would follow in the years to come.

This wasn’t a quick stopover in port. This was a complete systematic overhaul that was required. Gerrard had arrived with a support team in tow that would be crucial in the assembly of this new destroyer we had prayed would come to the surface. Gary McAllister as a trusty Lieutenant alongside cultured coach Michael Beale, Tom Culshaw and Jordan Milsom. These men were trusted with the keys to a sacred institution, and the task wasn’t just to refloat us. It was to annihilate an opposition that was light years ahead of us. Not since the Graeme Souness revolution had we felt the excitement fill the air. We knew this wouldn’t be an overnight fix.  The battle damage from 2012 onwards was simply too catastrophic for one attempt.

On a glorious sunny 12th of July in Govan, 2018, Steven Gerrard took his new side into battle for the 1st time as Rangers manager. A 2 nil defeat of Shkupi of Macedonia in a first leg Europa League qualifier. A mammoth result considering where we were pulling ourselves back from. We slowly assembled players on a budget. Some young loans from Liverpool coupled with experienced campaigners such Allan McGregor and Scott Arfield welcomed additions as we looked to battle.

By August, Rangers had their first major battlefield victory in almost six years. Europa League group stage qualification after four rounds. The first side to achieve such a feat. A resounding victory that enabled the prestige of major European football to return to Ibrox Park, and the long suffering fans, at last, had a glimpse of the golden future they desired. Of course, with this came the treasure of UEFA prize money, the fuel that this prized destroyer required to power the journey forward. Nobody can ever underestimate the turning point on the journey than the night nine men came home from Russia with their very own charge of the light brigade.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes. Only 72 hours from our Russian exploits, maybe a little battle weary as we suffered damage in the east end of Glasgow. We limped away defeated but not humiliated as we had been used to over the past few campaigns. The mood was indeed shifting as a change was in the air. Our sails may not have fully caught the wind of change; however, destiny would bring us around once more to face the danger. We lined up on Saturday 29th December 2018 as electric charged the Ibrox air. Ryan Jack was the Gunner as we inflicted the first defeat of our great rivals in the league for six years. We had torpedoed the hull of the very ship that had spent the past few years attempting to sink us for good. For the first time, they knew this was now war. It was also the last time we witnessed Brendan Rodgers at the opposing bridge, who opted to leave mid season for Leicester City and the riches of the English league. Be careful what you wish for never more apt.

Look up ‘charisma’ in the Oxford dictionary, and you will find it partially owned by Steven Gerrard. A truly world class global sporting icon. It still defied belief that he was now the leader at Rangers. Gerrard always insisted he needed a 4-year plan, despite maybe some of us being carried away as we had gone into the new year of 2019.  Rangers were simply not strong enough and faded away as the season progressed.

Celtic has cleaned up yet again, but this time they had to get their sleeves dirty. Rangers were no longer the plaything they had become accustomed to. Still dominant after a free run of Champions League money and a squad to match, they had to at least be on their guard.

Europe was now the arena that Gerrard was excelling as a rookie manager. Another Group stage qualification after four ties delivered. More pieces of 8 to fund the voyage as this task force was now gathering pace. The last 16 qualification was also delivered as we held our own against opposition such as Porto, Feyenoord and Young Boys.

League form again dipped off a cliff as the hope being harnessed by the European positivity wasn’t enough to fight on all fronts. An old adversary in Neil Lennon had Celtic too far ahead as the world suddenly faced its greatest fight since World War 2. This war, now a deadly pandemic, effectively shut down the world. Although it did take a rousing speech to cling onto a title that was awarded rather than merited on the field of play.

Blue tinted specs off. Would Celtic have won it? More than likely. However, they didn’t. If we had stopped the Champions League final of 1999 on 90 minutes, Manchester United wouldn’t have had that glorious chapter. The beauty of sport is that the unthinkable can happen. Helicopter Sunday 2003 & 2005 anyone? I rest my case.

For this reason and this alone, the much coveted 9 in a row will forever be tainted and undeserved. Sporting integrity is only applicable when it’s the right team that gains. All we were missing was a virtual tour of Japan to ensure games couldn’t be completed.

2020 would see football restart in the weirdest setting. Empty stadiums as we began the task of stopping the one title they wanted more than most. We had to go to war, missing 50k in our ranks every time we stepped out. However, this would be the season of our dreams. From winning at Celtic Park to Flying sharks. We unleashed a barrage of total football and Celtic caved in. For the first time in a decade, their own firepower was no match for ours. Not only did we blast them away, but we also left them listless. Like rats, the ship was deserted at the first sign of trouble. A manager and chief executive both fleeing into the night as we didn’t just wrestle the title back; we simply walked off without any resistance. Not even a white flag could be raised quickly enough; such was the state of the surrender. An undefeated league campaign gave us the holy grail of 55.

Take a moment. Close your eyes and recall where you were on two fronts. The day 55 was secured, and the day we lifted the trophy. Take in everything. Edmiston Drive, the river Clyde. The euphoria, the images. The celebrations some of us may have feared we would never see again. The togetherness. The first title some of our children had seen. The first title some sadly never lived to witness.

Bottle this up and hold it for now. We will come back shortly.

Four points clear at the top of the league. A fourth successive Group stage European campaign delivered, one game away from European football after Christmas for a third straight year. Steaming along quite nicely as we hear the fireworks of 5th November, an alarming chain of events were brewing. Ross Wilson’s former club Southampton defeating Aston Villa and causing the sacking of Dean Smith. Blink, and you miss it. A mid-table Premier League club changing manager for the 11th time in 20 years.

And so the fuse had been lit. Nobody could have imagined that Sunday 7th November would be the last time we saw Steven Gerrard as Rangers manager. The English Premier League came calling, and the man we all believed would be here for more was gone. The Liverpool fairy-tale was blown apart in a cruel instance. Our hero only a few months ago, now departed despite his passionate please of “do I look happy”. Now nothing more than empty words as we now faced the loss of not just the manager but the entire coaching team, not even halfway through the season.

Steven Gerrard
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – MAY 15: Rangers Manager Steven Gerrard poses with his medal during the Scottish Premiership match between Rangers and Aberdeen on May 15, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images) The 4th Official uses images provided by the following image agency: Getty Images (https://www.gettyimages.de/) and Imago Images (https://www.imago-images.de/)

This may be hit home more for a number of reasons. The first trophy in a decade not even settled in the cabinet from the multiple tours to the devastation of losing the man we call called a father figure just a matter of days earlier, in Walter Smith. Emotions at this moment are without a doubt heightened.

There is no right or wrong feeling. Some are apoplectic with rage. A sense of anger and hurt. Others will wish him well and thank him for his time. Opinion is a beautiful thing because every individual has the right to one. It’s ours and ours alone. Nobody has the right to dictate what you should or shouldn’t feel.

My own view is I always knew the day was coming. I just never expected it to be mid November for mid-table Aston Villa in a season that has 40 million at stake with automatic Champions League qualification. Undoubtedly Steven Gerrard has been a success for our club. Some will argue 1 in 9 trophies, and that’s fine. The one he delivered was the one to shatter one million dreams, or the away support in Seville, whatever you want to believe. Make no mistake; he hurt them. Look at the rejoice of his departure, especially the puppets in the media.

Gerrard leaves Rangers completely unrecognisable from the one he took over. A squad now filled with assets that command transfer fees that we unfortunately should have had long before now. He leaves with the club in good health off the field, despite what the sevcopathic moonhowling tax expert accountants would have you believe. Go and listen to Kieran Maguire and his unbiased views if you want balance and reason. He also leaves with a sizeable compensation package agreed, and most importantly, he leaves a winner.

The timing and manner will leave a sour taste for some. That’s undeniable. However, Ross Wilson and the Board have an opportunity to appoint a worthy heir that will have a far better outfit than what Gerrard inherited. This is a crucial decision that we simply cannot afford to get wrong for 40million reasons.

If everything goes to plan, then maybe this cloud won’t have a silver lining but a very bright oranje one.

Giovanni Van Bronckhorst And Rangers

A Rolls Royce of a player. Dutch captain in a World Cup final. La Liga and Champions League winner with Barcelona. A Premier League and FA Cup winner with Arsenal and of course 2 Scottish Premiership titles, 2 Scottish Cups and a league cup with Rangers as a player. Managerial ability backed up with 1 Eredivisie title and 2 Dutch cups with Feyenoord up against a dominant Ajax side. He ticks every single box.

The argument is compelling to appoint Gio. Some may say he is an upgrade of what we had. Regardless of the outcome, this calibre of appointment shows how far we have come as a club and how our stature and reputation has been well and truly restored in the past 3.5 years under Gerrard.

Van Bronckhorst made 126 appearances for his hometown club at Feyenoord before the lure of former Dutch manager Dick Advocaat at Rangers came in the summer of 1998. The biggest summer rebuild arguably we had ever seen on a spending scale would see the Dutchman arrive with World Cup 1998 squad member Arthur Numan as well as Manchester United and Everton legend Andrei Kanchelskis.

Like Gerrard’s Rangers, Advocaat sought European redemption after a largely disappointing era since the famous inaugural Champions League campaign of 1992, where Rangers came within a whisker of a final. The years to follow were largely early exits in between humiliation from the big guns such as Juventus and Ajax.

Van Bronckhorst’s debut was the most bizarre game I have ever seen. A European tie against minnows Shelbourne of Ireland at Tranmere’s Prenton Park. Rangers 3 nil down after 57 minutes and facing abject humiliation, winning 5-3 with Gio scoring the equalising goal. A sign of what was to come.

GVB would become a mainstay of Advocaat’s side. A tenacious goal scoring midfielder who was class personified.  He had the guile and skill yet the physical side to match the Scottish game. He would see Rangers go back into the European arena and restore pride. From defeating Leverkusen in Germany to dumping the Italian giants of Parma out of the Champions League. A match winner in Monaco to a thumping free-kick against Galatasaray. Add in goals domestically, especially some sensational efforts against Celtic; he had it all.

GVB would sign for Arsenal in 2001 as the Murray overspend would dramatically draw to a close. It would be an exit for now, but the start of a footballing success story that may ultimately lead all the way back to Ibrox.

A glutton of success with Arsenal, Barcelona and Holland would see him retire at his home club Feyenoord with 585 appearances and 85 goals in his career. 117 and 22 coming in the Royal Blue of Rangers. This included captaining his side to the 2010 World Cup final.

As a manager, GVB took on the Feyenoord role in 2015 after a stint as assistant to another Dutch and Barcelona legend in Ronald Koeman. GVB, in his first full season, delivered the Dutch Cup. In his second season, despite a budget substantially lower than Ajax, he led the De Kuip side to their first Eredivisie title in 18 years.

A second Dutch cup would follow the next season after a disappointing 4th place league campaign. Champions League was also a step too far with five losses out of 6 in a group with Man City, Shakhtar and Napoli. Three clubs with vastly superior budgets,

A third place Europa league campaign that did include a one nil defeat of Manchester United in Rotterdam being a highlight.

2018/19 season would be his last as Feyenoord finished third and qualified for a Europa League group that fate would see play Rangers without GVB in the dugout. Maybe poetic justice.

If this is the road the club do decide to go down, I believe it will be almost a unanimous nod from the Rangers support. An ex-player with stature in world football that is up there with Gerrard and crucially managerial success at a high level to back it up.

A manager who played under the likes of Advocaat, Rijkaard, Wenger, Guardiola and Van Basten.  A plethora of world class knowledge to be tapped into from a golden playing career.

Rangers this week have shown once again that no man is bigger than the club.  We are an iconic 150 year old institution. A global name and one known throughout Europe. We are an attractive prospect despite the financial gulf between us and England that was brutally exposed once again.

Ross Wilson and Stewart Robertson need to get this decision right. Rangers have had some flying Dutchmen in our ranks over the past 25 years. From Michael Mols to the late Fernando Ricksen. Arthur Numan to the De Boer twins.  GVB was an outstanding player for our club. I hope he becomes just as good a manager and joins an elite club such as Struth, Souness, Smith, Advocaat, McLeish and Gerrard. He knows the quirky game that is Scottish football as well as refined Continental success. Crucially he is a winner. As simple as that.

I believe the future could be very bright indeed.

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