So we survived. Yippee.
Actually that sounds rather flippant. In truth I thank our collective lucky stars for this every single day. Almost losing the club you love so dearly really reinforces the "appreciate what you've got" message. And at the heart of that message is Alistair Murdoch McCoist MBE, the pillar of strength in our survival fight. Quite simply he became Rangers Football Club for a period of time because he had to. And for that, every one of us recognises and thanks Ally.
It was, if you’ll forgive my language, a complete bastard of a year with the strong staying the pace against the many forces that wanted us dead and buried. But it has taught us that sentiment and resting on laurels is foolhardy and that constant self-examination is an absolute necessity.
It's now March 2013. The dust has settled on our fall from grace. We are in the Scottish Football League Third Division. To be frank though, we look like a fourth-tier side at the moment and, at times, not a particularly good one.
I get it. Ally had numerous players, including so-called Rangers men, jump ship. He had others leave for financial gain and a couple went out on loan. He had about a fortnight to bring players in. The players that arrived were a mixture of top performers from the SPL and various free transfers. In hindsight there was certainly an air of desperation about it all and I suppose that's understandable. It was a desperate situation after all.
At that point what we needed was a plan. We needed a vision of how we would play and we needed to stick to it. But here we are seven months on stumbling our way to the SFL3 title. We seem to have missed a trick.
We should be turning the bitter-tasting negatives of 2012 into positives. We have an unquestionable opportunity here at the moment. Rangers have the potential to create a new footballing regime and ethos throughout the club, from top to bottom. It’s a chance to reinvent the team if you like, to loosen the "defend for your lives & win at all costs" mantra of the SPL that we all too often practiced under Walter Smith and latterly under Ally.
We have the chance to wipe the slate clean, to choose an ethos and a formation around it that the players could work on and perfect. No-one can tell me that we haven't got an exciting crop of youngsters that we should be capable of doing this with. We have the raw tools. We do however need the shape, direction & vision.
Bringing things back down to earth and into our reality, we currently have four key areas of pain in the current setup that prevent us from achieving that idealistic view: playing style, fitness, formation, desire.
Playing style - I just don't get it. When we play at pace, with width, with passing and get the basics right, we rip teams apart. Just think back to our victory over Motherwell. We can do it. The evidence is there. Instead however we seem to choose not to. It's bizarre and infuriating.
Fitness - I am not a fitness guru but even I’m aware that it is an area which our squad needs to improve on. In fact, it is simply appalling and unacceptable. At the outset the lack of pre-season will have been a factor but we are now well down the line and have had more than ample opportunity to address this issue. A lack of fitness will, in turn, influence the playing style. Our lack of sharpness will inevitably hinder our performance.
Formation & shape - Unfortunately I simply don't see one. Look at the players available, select a formation that suits their capabilities and play everyone in their best positions. That might mean promoting some youngsters for a game or two but surely that’s a good thing? Instead what we continually have is a poor shape that is overly defensive and the constant shoehorning of senior players into the side. The recent demotion of Andrew Little to the wings after scoring numerous goals as a striker is a prime example.
Desire - This has to be one of the most disappointing aspects. There are Rangers players that are evidently not pulling their weight while others are simply hiding. There can be no excuses. Rangers players should always match their opposition for hunger and desire, that is the minimum expectation. To have players in the Third Division, on thousands of pounds per week, who are not putting that shift in, whilst continually being picked, is unforgivable.
In short, I want to see a Blueprint. And at the moment I just don’t think one exists. We have the opportunity to put one in place, to learn and improve in the understanding of and endeavour to achieve what we are working towards. The supporters are not stupid, they would buy into this. We can either realise it, embrace it, reinvent the playing ethos of the Club and get back to top league ready, or we can do the usual Rangers thing and accept short-term fixes with no focus on long-term gain.
I’ve been told that Ally needs the next transfer window to strengthen. Really?! So both he and his management team, who are incidentally on a very good wage, cannot develop the players we currently have and, instead of getting the best out of them, think that the only solution is to bring in new players. I really do despair.
Unfortunately I have seen little evidence that any money made available will be spent on anything other than short-term solutions. In fact, I have seen little evidence to suggest that Ally deserves any money to spend for next season.
All I ask for are some simple things:
1. A sound formation and for players to play in their natural positions.
2. The ability to pass the ball, we are Rangers after all. Passing the ball 10 yards should be a given, not an accomplishment.
3. The ability to play the ball on the ground - the panicky hot potato approach simply doesn’t work. For the money we pay, is it really too much to ask that we can knock the ball around a little bit?
4. A fast-paced game - we should be retaining possession and pressing opponents. If we can’t do it against part-timers then when can we?
5. The basics fulfilled - players that can pass, move into space and who demand the ball and refuse to hide.
In other words, what I really want is a visible and logical plan for the team. It should be one that new signings can be considered for or evaluated against and one that can be utilised at all levels. The successful sides in Europe do this. Why? Because it bloody makes sense.
My real fear is that this whole experience will be for nothing. I worry that we’ll simply stumble from lower league title to lower league title. I’m concerned that we won’t be ready for the top league, that we won’t have revitalised the playing, coaching & fitness side to a brand worthy of Rangers Football Club. And I know many fans out there share these feelings.
In my view, winning consecutive lower leagues alone is not enough. It's not success. Any claims that getting promoted is all that matters need to be challenged. Have we really lowered our standards that much? We have the second-highest wage budget in the country, so we should & must expect more. We also have to ask ourselves some searching questions. Sentiment must be put aside and we must query whether Ally & his management team are the right guys for the task ahead.
Now, keep in mind that I started going to see Rangers in 1980. I grew up watching McCoist and Durrant engrave their legendary status into our history. These guys are my heroes. They always will be. I therefore sincerely hope that they prove to be worthy of their positions. Sadly, though, I’m seeing little evidence of it.
It really is over to them. Can they fulfil the above needs? I suppose only time will tell.
And what about the great Rangers support? We've been through decades of winning, of being everything. Surely we must accept that in the lower leagues it has got to be about more than just grinding out results? It's about the opportunity presented and whether or not we grasp it.
As I’ve stated above, I have serious doubts as to whether the current management team will make the most of our chance. I have my concerns that we are going to let this golden opportunity pass us by.
I can only hope I am proved convincingly wrong.