LEE McCulloch has experienced the trials and tribulations of life at Rangers for the past 17 months with barely a word of complaint.
But the Rangers captain would welcome some respite all the same from the problems that have beset the club since it was placed in administration in February last year.
So, it is with a sense of relief that McCulloch is eagerly anticipating the start of the new season, in the belief that Rangers may at last be emerging from the clouds of uncertainty that have cast a menacing shadow over Ibrox.
McCulloch has seen evidence on the playing side at least that there is genuine hope for a much brighter future.
He bases his optimism on the camaraderie he has witnessed since the squad returned for pre-season training with several new members in its ranks and the atmosphere at their camp in the Highlands.
“There’s a totally different feel to this time last year and, after winning the league last season, I think we’ve got to put the past behind us,” McCulloch said.
“We can just look forward to the season ahead and getting off to a good start and becoming champions again convincingly.
“We’ve come back to hard work in pre-season training and that can only be good for us. Now we’ve got six games left of pre-season so there’s plenty of time to set ourselves up for the first match and the new boys have fitted into the squad really well. I think the new faces have given everyone a lift, which is something we haven’t had for a while.
“Everyone has been getting on really well. We are staying in apartments, three or four of us in each one, and that’s helping foster team spirit.”
Rangers fielded no fewer than 21 players in their opening pre-season match against Brora Rangers on Sunday when two second-half goals by Lewis MacLeod determined the outcome. And McCulloch realises that the increased competition for places will almost certainly also make life harder for him at the age of 35.
“I don’t think anyone is guaranteed a place and certainly not me,” he said. “I’ll be expected to fight for my place like the rest and I’ll need to prove myself worthy of a start.
“I’m no different to anyone else, because we’ve got a really big squad now and it will be about trying to hold on to your place, if you get one.”
The arrival of Cammy Bell from Kilmarnock, Richard Foster from Bristol City, Steven Smith from Portland Timbers, Nicky Law from Motherwell, Nicky Clark from Queen of the South and Jon Daly from Dundee United has enriched manager Ally McCoist’s squad.
With so many options, McCoist will mull over the various possible permutations, in particular in attack and who leads the line alongside Daly. McCulloch has no doubt that he can form a profitable partnership with Daly, but he is reluctant to put pressure on the manger, given that Clarke and Andrew Little are also vying for places in attack.
He added: “It’s not my call, that’s up to the manager and what he wants to do, but I think we could play together as we are similar types. But I’ll play anywhere, up front or centre-half, wherever I’m asked, and give it my best shot.”
Rangers have been dealt a blow with the news that Ross Perry is set to miss the start of the new season. The defender suffered ankle ligament damage during the Brora game and is expected to be sidelined for several weeks.
Perry was thrown into the action as a substitute at half-time but came off worse in a collision with Ryan Watson and left the pitch on a stretcher. According to the club’s website, the 23-year-old has been ruled out for “the foreseeable future”.