11 March 2013

Lost In Transition

by Andy McKellar | Deputy Editor


It was supposed to be the beginning of a bright and exciting new chapter in our illustrious history where we would hand something back to the ground level of the Scottish game and develop a modern, forward-thinking football philosophy that would provide the foundation for decades to come. Somewhere down the line however we already seem to have lost our sense of direction, our sense of ambition and sight of the standards which have been maintained since the days when Mr Struth shaped the way for Rangers Football Club.
Like so many supporters I was eagerly anticipating this season and was looking forward to our journey back to the top. In my eyes this was a completely unique opportunity where we could blood our young players, develop talent from within and encourage an attractive, attacking brand of football. The circumstances may have been far from ideal thanks to the procrastination and sheer incompetence of the football authorities but nevertheless there was a chance to bravely forge the way forward for our club away from the pressure and expectations that would inevitably have accompanied top-tier participation.
The early steps of our journey were encouraging with an emphasis on passing the ball from the back and with the likes of Barrie McKay and Lewis MacLeod providing standout performances that ensured supporters were highly optimistic about the future. A poor run of results away from home however seemed to quickly erode the confidence of our management team and any thought of slick football was quickly shoved aside, replaced with constant long balls and aimless punts up the park. It’s certainly been far from a joy to watch.
The most recent disappointment in our increasingly wearying campaign came on Saturday when we were outran, outthought and outplayed at home by Annan Athletic, our part-time opponents. It wasn’t just the result which was hugely disappointing but more so the manner of the defeat which should leave our coaching staff, our management and our players thoroughly humiliated. The very fact that it has been talked of as the worst result in our history speaks volumes even if it is up for debate.
The summer may have been far from convenient but let’s not get away from the facts. Rangers have training facilities that would rival those of many top clubs across the continent and play at a wonderful stadium in front of some of the biggest crowds in the United Kingdom. On top of that we also have the second-highest wage budget in the country in addition to scouting and youth development resources that can’t be matched by anyone other than Celtic. It therefore shouldn’t be too much to ask for us to dominate the Third Division with considerable comfort and style in addition to putting together some healthy runs in the cup competitions. This season though, we’ve vastly underachieved and underperformed.
While I have regularly mentioned my desire for a free-flowing game there are some people out there that believe this is unrealistic and overly ambitious. Although I strongly disagree with them I would also like to point out that we are currently struggling to get the most basic aspects of our game right despite being well into the season and clear of the mayhem in the summer.
The first main issue, and perhaps one of the most concerning, is the fitness levels of the Rangers players. Let’s not forget that we train full-time at the best facilities and employ a sports scientist while our opponents hold down day-jobs and train a couple of times a week on top of that. There is no doubt that we should be absolutely steamrollering over the top of teams come the last twenty minutes of matches but sadly that simply hasn’t been the case. In fact, in many of our recent matches, it has been the part-timers who have been going strong towards the end while we laboured and toiled. It’s frankly unforgivable.
The next point of contention is the fact that we are unable to execute the simplest of tasks. Basic things like taking set-pieces are regularly made to look very difficult and it appears that we have no designated players to take corners and free-kicks. On top of that we have been leaking goals all season from set-plays and there seems to have been little or nothing done to address the problem despite the obvious damage it is doing to our results.
Considerable question marks now hang over our coaching staff and our training regime at Auchenhowie. There is a growing belief out there that our training just simply isn’t hard or challenging enough and that our coaching would appear to be substandard. The players too have come in for criticism for their lifestyles and fondness of things such as Nando’s and nightclubs. Without access to what goes on at training it is hard to accurately comment however it is clear that whatever is currently going on quite simply isn’t producing the desired results. That’s pretty much beyond contention.
Perhaps the biggest question though is about our manager, Ally McCoist. I feel obliged to highlight how much of a legend the man is and just how much he has done for our club. It’s almost a necessity when discussing the man’s managerial capabilities for some reason. Speaking of which there is undoubtedly an increasing number of fans who are struggling to defend Ally in the face of frequent criticism of his performance in his role. As much as it pains me to say it, I really don’t think he is up to the job.
The major positive when discussing his managerial CV seems to be the amassing of a considerable lead at the beginning of last season which saw Rangers sit fifteen points clear at the top of the table with Celtic having a couple of games in hand. There is however a lengthy list of negatives such as the way in which we surrendered that lead, our cup exits to Falkirk and Dundee United and let’s not forget being knocked out of both European competitions at the start of the season. It’s pretty grim reading unfortunately. And that of course is before we consider the many failings within this campaign.
The latest dire performance and result should certainly be enough to concern Charles Green and his investors. The fact that there were more empty seats in the crowd than normal on Saturday should certainly raise a few eyebrows and with season ticket renewals to be issued in the not too distant future, that is not a good sign. Given that we are already running at a loss the last thing we need is a drop in revenue via ticket sales.
Unfortunately I cannot help but conclude that our management and players have woefully underperformed this season. A campaign which began with fun and laughter has recently been running to the soundtrack of moans and groans. Something certainly has to be done to address the issues although I don’t suspect that the solution will involve a change in manager, at least if Green’s recent comments are anything to go by.
Ally McCoist will most probably get next season to prove his worth. He’ll have the summertime to strengthen the squad and to carry out proper pre-season preparations for the campaign ahead, whether that is in SFL2 or in the reconstructed third-tier of eighteen. There will then be no more room for excuses, he must deliver the goods.
At the moment we are very much a team that is lost in transition. McCoist simply has to prove that he is capable of turning things around and providing the direction needed to take this club forward. If he fails to do so then sadly it will be the end of his spell as the manager of Rangers. No man is bigger than the club and Ally might just find that out if things don’t begin to change.