26 March 2013

Looking for the root of the problems? Better keep on digging

by Andy McGowan | Contributor

Another week has passed and we’ve witnessed yet another round of anger, negativity and pessimism surrounding Rangers Football Club and its manager, Ally McCoist. Pouring over the Stirling Albion performance is futile. It would simply be a rehash of what I and every other CRO blogger have said in the last 8 months or so and, quite frankly, my worry is that our problems are much bigger than the superficial issues that have been all too evident this season.

For a long time now many supporters have been asking for certain concessions from an overly stubborn Ally McCoist. We’ve called for the return of a 4-4-2 formation, or at least for the end of the lone striker system that has clearly been a failure for us. We’ve called for players, such as top scorer Andy Little, to be played in their natural and best positions. We’ve questioned the players’ fitness levels and attitudes, something which should never really have to be done at Rangers, and we’ve become increasingly frustrated at the lack of response from the manager who is either ignoring the issues or is incapable of addressing them. 

Since the turn of the year, and in the last month particularly, it’s become increasingly concerning, not that Ally won’t make these changes, but that they simply won’t make a difference anymore. Compared man-for-man on paper, it is almost indisputable that Rangers have a squad which any SFL club would desire and I’m sure which even a few SPL clubs would struggle to match at full strength. But the theory doesn’t always accurately reflect the reality of the situation and, when the debate is on grass rather than on paper, we fall short by a considerable distance. The question therefore has to be asked - the question that the majority of fans are reluctant to ponder - whether or not signing another batch of players is really going to change anything. 

On the surface you could argue that new players may fit into the formation that Ally is determined to play or that they will provide him with the quality he needs to change things to a more palatable playing style. These assumptions though are purely hypothetical. Is there any reason why we haven’t seen improvements already? Our squad and management have had almost a full season to tweak and tinker with our formation and selection but yet are still unable to perform in the fourth-tier against part-time opposition. 

Rangers are the only full-time club in the Third Division which means presumably that we are training at least twice as often as our competition. And after all, let’s not forget that “there is no problem with the amount and level of training” and that the players work “exceptionally hard”. Despite these words the supporters unfortunately are anything but reassured about the quality and intensity of training but let’s just assume for a minute that everything is just as Ally has informed us. In my opinion, if anything, that makes our current situation all the more troubling.

If the players are training properly, are fit and learning what McCoist wants them to on a daily basis then why do they look so lethargic, unimpressive and completely lacking in professionalism on a match day? Our team displays a basic lack of positional awareness week after week and our set-pieces, both offensive and defensive, are nothing short of shambolic. At corners and free-kicks for example we continually struggle to beat the first man and, when it comes to defending them, it becomes a completely chaotic and ineffective mess. 

We could of course simply attribute such faults to the playing staff and argue that they aren’t good enough to perform such tasks but, even allowing for everything mentioned earlier about our squad on paper, we can go one further and look back to last season when a far more talented group of players had problems disturbingly similar to this group. From Ally’s debut match against Malmo to the latest embarrassment against Stirling Albion there have been consistently reoccurring problems. I take on board and fully acknowledge the unbelievable set of circumstances that Ally has had to contend with since taking over however even they fail to explain a great many of our problems. 

Craig Whyte isn’t the reason that Rangers look sluggish in opening halves of football matches. Nor are the SFA to blame for the team looking unfit and unprofessional. They banned us from signing players, not from coaching the ones we already have. Adding 5-10 players on top of what we currently have may temporarily mask the symptoms but it certainly won’t cure the underlying problems.

Many fans are wondering why we need the likes of Jon Daly to win Division Two in addition to the group we already have. Supporters are also questioning whether or not Ally’s solution to everything will simply be to sign more players. He’s already been blessed with the luxury of bringing a gun into a knife-fight for our current campaign. Should we really need to go looking for more ammunition? 

If Ally brings players in and there is no improvement to the attitudes, performances and results, then the frustration which has bubbled over into anger at Ibrox will inevitably become relentless and unbearable. The flip side of course is that we sign these players and it pays off. We may very well get the performances we should already be getting and, very soon, this season will seem like nothing but a bad dream, a minor speed-bump on our journey. But until we address the fundamental problems which have plagued us under McCoist’s entire tenure as Rangers manager, it is unlikely we will be able to simply buy good performances by bringing in players.

Charles Green has backed Ally publicly in the last few weeks and indeed has since he walked in the door at Rangers. The vote of confidence is often a dreaded kiss of death for a manager but Green is a man I think the majority feel can be taken at face value and, if that is the case, then Ally McCoist will still be the Rangers manager next season. And if Ally does indeed continue to manage the club then we undoubtedly need a massive overhaul of the coaching staff, as CRO Executive Editor Shane Nicholson has pointed out on more than one occasion, and McCoist himself must find a way to change the attitude of our under performing players. 

The most important signings the club can make next season may well be the additions, if any, to the non-playing side of things. And the most vital change on the pitch won’t be our formation or team selection but instead the addressing of the standards expected of our squad as professional footballers and more specifically as Rangers players. The Club also needs to instil a sense of humility that is sorely lacking off the park, something which seems to be increasingly manifesting itself on the park with each passing week. 

It’s already been suggested here at the CRO that Ally needs to drop the Mr Nice Guy act and I completely agree. Sugar coating things, as he tends to do in press conferences, only serves to insult the intelligence of the fans and increase the anger felt following a poor performance. If we are also to believe even half of the stories coming out of Rangers then the soft approach has earned Ally nothing but a lack of respect from his players, something which certain members also seem to have for the fans.

Changing the mentality of our current crop of stars should be the number one priority before we even consider adding more members to the dysfunctional, disjointed procedures that are in place at the moment. There are an increasingly large number of supporters who want Ally McCoist to step down or be sacked, and the players are certainly doing little to suggest that they desperately want to keep him in his job.

Our current situation is certainly far from being unrecoverable however Ally has to act quickly and decisively to show the players and the fans that he has the stomach to deal with the issues currently facing us. Doing so will certainly go a long way to restoring my faith in our manager. Sadly though for Fran Sandaza, he may well find himself to be the man of whom an example is made if Ally does decide it’s time to get tough and more public with his approach when dealing with the players. Although Sandaza’s fate won’t be entirely up to the manager, it is probably safe to assume that Ally will have a big say on his future at Rangers, should it be decided the club has legal grounds to terminate his contract. 

We already know that Ally is the type of manager, and type of man, to shield others and step into the firing line himself. Now however may be the perfect opportunity to take a step back and make these men accountable for their actions and to start looking out for number one before Charles Green decides he needs to find a new manager. Put the rule book before the cheque book please, Ally, or we may find ourselves feeling an overpowering sense of déjà vu next season and at a much greater cost to our bank balance.