It would be possible for cynics to have a field day with Pedro Caixinha’s new-found optimism for the impending domestic season. Since coming to Scotland in March, the Portuguese coach has never felt better about his Rangers team than in recent weeks… a period during which his side haven’t played a competitive game.
Except for the fact that Caixinha understands full well that fine friendly performances – with a Marseille draw at Ibrox followed by wins away to Watford and Sheffield Wednesday in the past fortnight – will not provide the basis on which he is judged.
The Premiership opener at Motherwell on Sunday for a Rangers side that will be missing James Tavernier and Niko Kranjcar through injury will be the first occasion to assess properly Caixinha’s newest new-look team. The Ibrox manager is convinced a formation that has come together in only the past two weeks is far removed from the one that exited the Europa League qualifiers in humiliating fashion to Luxembourg side Progres Niederkorn a month ago – the club’s last competitive outing.
The subsequent introduction of Bruno Alves, Graham Dorrans and Eduardo Herrera among a clutch of summer signings, and the switch to a 4-4-2 system would appear to have made Rangers a different proposition from any time prior in Caixinha’s tenure. He certainly thinks so, but will make no great predictions about the season ahead – where an all-powerful Celtic will defend all three domestic trophies – or give much thought to the stain he will always carry following the club’s most egregious European result.
“We’ve worked really hard in the last three matches of pre-season to get the momentum,” he said. “I believe this is the best moment of the team since I arrived. That’s what I feel and that’s what the players feel. Once you get that momentum now it’s important to take it to the real world.
“The real world is a competitive match that really counts. The focus needs to be on the three points. Let’s extend the momentum game by game. ‘In two more weeks’ time, for sure, we need to be better. That’s the progression we need.
“Bringing 10 new players on board is not easy but in two weeks’ time the players will be better because they have character, are men, are winners, they know the club they are representing. They really want to gel and win as a team. I cannot change the past. I live in the real world and that’s today. In a few days’ time we start the league. We want to start it with full power and that’s what matters. We can change the course of the future. We cannot change the past.”
Yet, that past could stalk him. Going into this domestic campaign, Caixinha was being presented as the second most vulnerable manager in the top flight following a spell in charge wherein the Progres backsliding followed finishing nine points behind Aberdeen in the race for second place last season. Hearts’ Ian Cathro was the first.
Caixinha expressed his regret at Cathro’s demise and agreed it did highlight how football management is becoming more cut-throat. “We need to understand that our responsibilities start on day one. It starts like a balloon full of oxygen at 100 per cent and on the second day things are counting down. That’s the way it is. It only gets full again if you win. This is our life.”
The Ibrox manager is unwilling to countenance that events over the summer might have placed him under more pressure to inflate his win rate.
“‘I don’t know what that word means. I don’t know what pressure means. I’ve never understood what it means,” he said. “Pressure for me is a physics concept. So I don’t know what it means. I know that I have a responsibility by being in this chair since the first day I arrived here. I know how massive my challenge, responsibility and work are. I’m glad to try to do it in the best possible way. That’s all I can tell you. My work is to blow the balloon. The air goes out of it for everyone when you have bad results but I don’t take that as a pressure.”