09 February 2013

In crafting The Rangers Way, we should visit our old friends in Dortmund

by Alan Clark | CRO Contributor

Comparisons to the German Bundesliga have been ‘flavour of the month’ in the United Kingdom in the last year or so - but a serious contemplation of how the league is set up and how clubs run themselves should be carried out.

It may be obvious to some, and people have mentioned it briefly, but studying Borussia Dortmund’s story could be beneficial to Rangers.

There has been much discussion on the issue of Rangers building their own “footballing philosophy” as the club works its way through the lower divisions of Scottish football to re-appear in the top league, whatever that may be called.

It’s not just on-field standards that supporters want to see developed – a clear financial strategy avoiding situations like signing Tore Andre Flo for £12 million, or not paying PAYE and National Insurance ala Craig Whyte (boo, hiss!), is sought after by the legions.

Current Bundesliga champions (two years in a row) and in the last 16 of the Champions League, Dortmund as a team and club are in heaven right now. But in 2005, they avoided bankruptcy by the skin of their teeth. It was the leniency of small investors who were owed money that saved BVB from being sent to the amateur regions of German football.

In many ways, what happened to die Borussen is probably seen as a good thing by their large and dedicated following. It allowed the club to state they would no longer waste their money on big transfer fees and wages to compete with other clubs, instead turning to youth development and an improved scouting network.

In 18 months, the club slashed its budget by over half and the club rung in the changes. There would be no more splashing out ridiculous fees for players on the hope that they’d deliver and bring in enough income to pay their crazy wage packet.

The planning all came to fruition in 2010/2011 when they won their first title in a decade – and followed that up with another one last season. Anyone who knows about Dortmund’s squad will notice the core of the team is relatively young - key figures such as Mario Götze (20), Marco Reus (23) and Mats Hummels (24) prove this.

Reus was a youth at Dortmund before leaving and then returning via Borussia Monchengladbach for €17 million, which shows how healthy the club is financially that it can comfortably shell out that fee and not worry about 2005 happening all over again.

Dortmund were forced to invest in a training complex shortly after their near-miss with oblivion, the German powerbrokers threatening relegation if they did not comply with a nationwide policy of creating centres of excellence after Germany’s failure at Euro 2000. Right from then, the focus was on nurturing young talent from within and also finding the best young players out with Westfalenstadion.

Finding a young football player isn’t of course finished at the “he’s a youngster” stage – they have to show ability, potential and especially a strong attitude. An example of this was Dortmund finding Kevin Grosskreutz, who slotted into the club’s mentality perfectly and is still a first-team regular at his boyhood heroes.

The Yellow-Blacks, under gaffer Jurgen Klopp, have adopted a hugely successful pressing game and their opponents are often overwhelmed by the sheer determination of the Dortmund players as the whole team work tirelessly on and off the ball. Their performance away to Manchester City in late 2012 showed that.

It’s been drilled into them at an early age, every day at training and probably every minute from the touchlines during matches from the eccentric boss-man Klopp.

If we apply this model to Rangers, whilst working up from the Third Division, it could set the club on a promising path for the years to come. We already have a state-of-the-art training centre in the form of Auchenhowie, and have produced some talent in the years since its inception.

Players like Alan Hutton, Allan McGregor, Barry Ferguson, Chris Burke, Charlie Adam and others have progressed from the Milngavie complex to move on to better leagues and some have arguably enhanced their international prospects.

Indeed, manager Ally McCoist has given Auchenhowie youth its chance to an extent this season with the likes of Lewis MacLeod, Barrie McKay, Chris Hegarty, Kal Naismith, Kyle Hutton, Ross Perry, Robbie Crawford and Fraser Aird getting regular game-time. With the exception of Hutton and Perry who are slightly older, these players have had next to no experience of first-team football at Rangers and it has to be said they have more than held their own.

Midfielder MacLeod, before his injury, had started just about every game in all competitions for Rangers and was one of the key players in the team. The 18-year-old has a very promising future at the club and in the game in general.

However, the club still has a reported £7 million wage bill with SPL-standard players like Dean Shiels, David Templeton and Ian Black brought in during the summer. Black in particular has failed to impress in his debut season and it does beg the question – are we better off fielding younger players in the part-time Third Division? For me, it’s a yes.

Charles Green has already stated he won’t put Rangers into any sort of bank debt and will cut the wage bill to turnover ratio to 33%, which is encouraging in the sense that the chief executive is clearly not going to follow David Murray’s mantra of spend, spend, spend.

As we discussed on several CROpods, Rangers haven’t played attractive football at all in SFL3, and there seems to be no “footballing philosophy” being concocted. You can’t directly compare or copy Dortmund’s strategy, for obvious reasons, but would it kill McCoist and his coaching team to sit down and study some videos of how Klopp organises his teams? We do have that £50,000 video analysis suite, afterall.

A 30-minute brainstorm on BVB won’t transform Rangers into masters of the pressing game, but lessons can be learned. Young players can gain experience of playing in front of 50,000 every second week at Ibrox, all the while getting more used to the Rangers mentality of having to win every game. They get used to the spotlight from the media and the fans in the street through playing in the first-team regularly.

With a style of play that every Rangers team - from the first-team right down to the under-12s or whatever – can follow, constantly trying out at training and implementing on match days, it makes the demotion down to the fourth tier ‘worthwhile’.

Returning to the top league will be difficult at first with our east side rivals having such an advantage. Imagine how much difficulty we will have if we continue to play turgid football with long balls from the back, no clear passing plan or clever tactics and with most of the Premier-standard players past their best.

By the time comes we are in the top tier, the youngsters gaining experience will have made well over 100 appearances for Rangers and will firmly know all about being a player at Ibrox. If fans are excited at MacLeod and McKay now, imagine them in a few years with that under their belt along with a dedicated football strategy.

It’s not too late to start a proper re-build. Get it done Rangers.