18 November 2013

'Perfect' at what cost?

by Garry Carmody | Contributor

Don’t let Ally McCoist catch you saying it, but the strive for perfection is on the tip of every Rangers fans’ tongue. 

It is impossible for any fan to not allow the thought to cross their mind. Rangers have defeated every league opponent that has entered their crossfire, with most home victories being extremely convincing. This Rangers team appears a more fit and comfortable outfit from the one that gave such an apathetic performance in last year’s Scottish Third Division.

The goals and victories have flowed, and the matter was today picked up upon by Matthew Lindsay at the Evening Times. The idea of winning every game in a season is certainly a fairly exciting prospect – regardless of the level it is being played at. 

The level of consistency and concentration that would be required would represent quite a feat. However, the likes of the Gers’ 4-3 recovery against Brechin showed that there will be days when Rangers struggle to maintain that 100% record, and many more similar tricky away days seem likely to follow.

As stated by Lindsay today, a “perfect season” would stand out in the illusive history of Rangers Football Club – even though they went through season 1898-99 with a 100 per cent record after winning all 18 league games, it was just 18 opposed to 36. Rangers have settled into a fairly relaxed pattern in terms of the first-team choices, and to carry on winning, it would likely have to continue in a similar vein.

The question remains, though – is it something that is of the utmost importance to the Rangers support? And is it something that is of real value to the longer term future of Rangers?

The more settled and balanced team that has taken League One by storm has been flooded by seasoned professionals; players that are tried and tested at the top level. Some that will be passed their best (or ready to retire) by the time Rangers make their return to the top division. Are Rangers properly preparing to replace these players?

To the untrained eye of the fan, it would certainly appear the answer to that question is no. If McCoist was satisfied giving a slow build to the likes of McKay, Aird and Gasparotto last year, it has come to a stunning halt during this campaign. The youngsters that showed glimpses of talent during last year have been dropped and are almost a distant memory.

Widespread condemnation also followed McCoist’s decision to loan out Kyle McAusland whilst continuing to favour the largely unimpressive Richard Foster. Andy Mitchell also impressed towards the end of last season, yet finds himself out on loan to Annan Athletic despite fighting for, and earning his contract.

Even Rangers’ one shining light, Lewis MacLeod has found himself dropped in recent times in favour of David Templeton. However, when he has been played, he would appear to have been played out of his favoured position -which has been a concern to many.

The league is largely judged to have been sewn up – it would take a monumental disaster for Rangers not to make the step up to the Scottish Championship. The rest of the season can go one of two ways – Rangers can continue to attack the jugular of every team they play with the likes of Lee McCulloch and Jon Daly continuing to take the central roles. The dream of the “perfect season”, or even an unbeaten season, could certainly carry on.

The other option could be that McCoist tries to experiment. Beyond the group of professionals that currently populate the Rangers first team lies a group of talented, raw youngsters in need of shaping. Some can continue to go on loan, but over the years, history shows that can be the stepping stone for a permanent move out of Ibrox.

The need to develop young players should not be lost upon anyone at Ibrox. Playing at Under-20’s level very rarely leads to attention being drawn by clubs in the position to pay money for talent. Selling on youngsters for a profit is something that has to become a stable income for Rangers in the continued rebuilding of the club. In recent times, it has been almost a rare treat, but not something that is expected. Not to forget the fact that fans find little more exciting than watching youths progress through the system, and out onto the field at Ibrox.

If a fresher approach is taken to the Rangers team, the likelihood is that the hope of a “perfect season” would come to ahead. However, if it saw the progression of even two or three more youth players, it could easily be more valuable. It is easy to say we can simply wait until the club is on a stable footing again before doing so, but it is a cliché that cannot hold us back any longer.

The league is in the bag – time to start taking a few small risks and start shaping the long term future of this club.